Growing up as a kid, I used to watch a lot of the classic Abbot and Costello movies. I remember laughing out loud sitting in front of the TV with my dad as Abbot and Costello did their famous “whos on first ” baseball routine. Lou was the comic and Bud Abbot was the straight man. It was in fact Lou and his comic genius who was the star of that team though.
Lou was raised in Patterson N.J.His father was Italian (Calabrese) and his mother was French and Irish. As a kid he was a gifted athlete who excelled in basketball. He was once the New Jersey state foul shot champion. Lou showed his basketball moves in Here come the Coeds (1945) in which he did all his own trick hoop shots. Lou also fought as an amateur boxer an amateur boxer under the name “Lou King”
He quit high school to go to Hollywood to become an actor but couldn’t find work. Changing his name to “Costello”, he went back to New York and began working in vaudville and burlesque theaters there. Unlike a lot of the burlesque comics of the era, he didn’t use “off-color” material an approach that continued for the rest of his career. While working in vaudeville in the 1930s, Lou met a talented straight man named Bud Abbott. After working a few gigs together “Abbott and Costello” formally teamed up in 1936. They performed together in burlesque shows, minstrel shows, vaudeville and movie houses.
The comedy team’s breakout movie was Buck Privates released early in 1941. They immediately became the top-ranking comedy stars in Hollywood and their fans looked forward to each movie like it was a major event. They made 36 films between 1940 and 1956, and were among the most popular entertainers in the world. Some of their best film successes included Hold That Ghost, Who Done It?, Pardon My Sarong, The Time of Their Lives, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. As for how they felt making monster movies, Bud pretty much followed Lou’s lead in business matters for the team. He just did what he was told, pretty much. It was Lou who made the decisions and cared more about the films. He hated the script for Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein when he read it. He threatened not to do it, but eventually he broke down because his mom liked it. The film was a huge success. Abbot and Costello had become world famous. They were also the highest paid entertainers in Hollywood. In 1942, Abbott and Costello were the top box office draw with a reported take of $10 million. They would remain a top ten box office attraction until 1952.
In 1942 Lou’s salary was $393,314, making him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. He insisted that any joint earnings was a 60-40 split in Bud’s favor because of Bud’s skill as a straight man. One of Lou’s favorite sayings was comics are a dime a dozen – good straight men are hard to find!
Bud and Lou split up in July 1957, after troubles with theInternal Revenue Service forced both men to sell off their homes and the rights to some of their films. After making one solo film ”The 30 foot Bride of Candy Rock” Lou Costello died of a heart attack at Doctor’s Hospital in Beverly Hills on March 3, 1959, three days before his 53rd birthday.
As an amateur boxer in Paterson, New Jersey, Costello won 32 straight fights before being knocked out. The loss ended his boxing career. Below in a picture of art imitating life, Costello had just gotten a butt-whooping by the “invisible man” in “Abbot and Costello meet the Invisible Man”.