Remembering Lou Costello

Lou Costello and Marjorie Reynolds as Horatio Prim and Melody Allen, respectively, in the Charles Barton directed romantic comedy “The Time of Their Lives” (1946)

Lou Costello, a legend in his own lifetime, was actor of radio, stage, television and film and burlesque comedian.

Costello, best known for being one half of the comedy double act Abbott and Costello with straight-man Budd Abbott, began his credited acting career in 1940 with the A. Edward Sutherland directed musical comedy “One Night in the Tropics.”

Despite this point, even though the actor’s first credited film performance came in 1940, Costello is known to have appeared in film productions as early as 1926. In 1926, the actor made an uncredited appearance as an extra in the King Vidor directed “Bardelys the Magnificent.” For the next two years, Costello was an extra in six other productions.

Born in Paterson, New Jersey on 6 March 1906, Louis Francis Cristillo worked as burlesque performer with straight-man Abbott. For people unfamiliar with burlesque, it is literary, dramatic and or musical work. This form of entertainment, satirising either the manner and or spirit of more sombre works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects, is specifically designed to cause laughter in its audience.

When writing of either of these two great performers, it would be remiss of any writer to not mention the classic comedy routine “Who’s on First?”

In stead of explaining the routine in any great detail, it would be better to simply watch it.

Lou Costello (1906–1959)

By the beginning of the 1930s, it is understood Cristillo was living in New York. Having begun working in burlesque on the Mutual Burlesque wheel. It was the Great Depression. With life not being easy, Cristillo looked to broaden his public appeal. It was when living in New York, Cristillo changed his name to “Costello.” While there is no definitive evidence supporting the belief, it is rumoured the actor chose the name “Costello” because of actress Hellene Costello.

If you know the history of the Mutual Wheel, you will know it collapsed. With the collapse of the Mutual Wheel, Costello had to find himself some form of employment. With that in mind, the actor started working for the Minsk’s Burlesque. This is where Costello first met up with straight-man Budd Abbott.

Even though they first worked together in 1935, at New York City’s Eltinge Theatre, the two actors formally cemented their comedic relationship a year later. The comedic duo Abbott and Costello was born.

In the early days of their partnership, it is known the two actors had a minor disagreement pertaining to a booking in a minstrel show. Abbott was initially resistant of taking a gig, one that was performed at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, but Costello was successful in convincing Abbott to do it. Costello offered Abbott a larger percentage of the salary, a 60-40 split in the straight-man’s favour. When the duo saw success with their Hollywood produced films, this payment arrangement was reversed.

Not long thereafter, the comedy-duo was seen transferring their routines to radio, Broadway and various Hollywood produced films.

Beginning with the 1940 Sutherland directed film, the duo made no less than 36 films together. The last comedy film they appeared in together was the 1956 Charles Barton directed “Dance with Me, Henry.” If you have seen these productions, there is a good chance you will know Costello’s catchphrase is “Heeeeyyy, Abbott!” and “I’m a baaaaad boy!”

Lou Costello, Adele Jergens, Arthur Franz and Bud Abbott as Lou Francis, Boots Marsden, “Invisible Man” Tommy Nelson and Bud Alexander, respectively, in the Charles Lamont directed science fiction horror comedy “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (1951)

During a 16 year run, some of the duo’s most popular productions included but was not limited to “Buck Privates,” “Hold That Ghost” (1941), “Pardon My Sarong,” “Who Done It?” (1942), “The Time of Their Lives” (1946), “Buck Privates Come Home” (1947), “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” “Mexican Hayride” (1948), “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion” (1950) and “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (1951).

With a disappointing reception for their final film together, “Dance with Me, Henry” (1956),  the duo officially dissolved their partnership a year later. This was a decision they arrived at amicably.

Not long after filming wrapped on the Sidney Miller directed science fiction comedy “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock” (1959), the only film Costello appeared in without Abbott, the comedian suffered a heart attack.

Costello died in Los Angeles, California on 3 March 1959. He was 52 years old. Costello’s last film performance, the Miller directed science fiction comedy, was premiered in these United States some five months after the comedian’s death.