Abbott and Costello – Comedy Team from Vaudeville to Television

By | Oct 16, 2015

William (Bud) Abbott was born in Asbury Park, NJ, October 2, 1895 and died April 24, 1974 in Woodland Hills, California. Lou Costello (Louis Francis Cristillo) was born in Paterson, NJ, March 6, 1906 and died March 3, 1959 in East Los Angeles, California.

They first began to work together in 1935 at the Eltinge burlesque theater on 42nd Street in New York. Abbott had been working in burlesque for years, usually as the straight man. Costello had tried to become a film actor, but after his failure there, began work on burlesque circuit. In 1936 they formally made the partnership. Their act was built by refining sketches from vaudeville and burlesque with Abbott as the devious straight man and Costello as his stumbling, comprehension-challenged partner.

In the late 1930’s they worked on radio as regulars for 2 years on the Kate Smith Hour. It was there that Costello began using a high-pitched childish voice since it had been difficult for those listening to tell them apart.

In 1940 they appeared in their first movie, One Night in the Tropics, in a supporting capacity. They were the hit of the film and Universal signed them to a long-term contract. The duo made over 30 films between 1940 and 1956 and in many ways saved Universal Studios. Between 1942 and 1952 they were a top 10 box office attraction. Also in the 1940’s they appeared on their own radio program. The Abbott and Costello Show mixed comedy with musical interludes.

In 1951 they moved into television, first as frequent hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour, a live hour of vaudeville. This gave new sparkle to their old routines. Then in 1952 they began a film a half hour comedy casting the duo as unemployed wastrels, similar to their radio program.

By the mid 50’s their popularity was waning, due in part to them glutting the market with the same routines. Universal dropped them in 1955 and after making one last independent film (Dance with me Henry) Abbott retired. In 1956 they were charged by the IRS for back taxes, which forced them to sell most of their assets.


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