Lou Costello

Active - 1926 - 1999  |   Born - Mar 6, 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey, United States  |   Died - Mar 3, 1959   |   Genres - Comedy

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American comedian Lou Costello wasn't the most scholarly of lads growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, although he excelled in baseball and basketball. He won an athletic scholarship to Cornwall-on-Hudson Military School, but left before graduation to try a performing career. Reasoning that there'd be a lot of work for a top athlete in Hollywood, Lou travelled westward, but was only able to secure stunt-man work, specializing in the sort of spectacular falls that he'd still be staging during his later starring career. Tired of working anonymously in Hollywood, Costello decided to give stage work a try, and by the mid '30s he'd achieved minor prominence as a burlesque comedian. What he needed was the right straight man, and that man was Bud Abbott, with whom Lou teamed in 1936. Abbott was satisfied in burlesque, but Costello had bigger ambitions; it was he who actively promoted the team into radio and Broadway. In 1940, Lou finally realized his life's ambition to be a movie star when he and Abbott were signed by Universal Pictures. The team's second feature, Buck Privates, launched an amazingly durable film career; for the next ten years, Abbott and Costello were Hollywood's biggest moneymaking team. Though no pushover in real life, Lou became world famous for his portrayal of the hapless, trodden-upon patsy of the conniving, bullying Abbott; his plaintive "I'm a ba-a-ad boy" became a national catchphrase. A serious 1942 bout with rheumatic fever kept Lou out of radio and films for a full year. On the day of his professional return in 1943, an appalling tragedy struck Costello; his infant son drowned in the family's backyard swimming pool. Waving off mourners, Lou performed his comeback radio show that evening on schedule, as funny as ever, and broke down the minute the show signed off, while a visibly shaken Bud Abbott explained the situation to the studio audience. Lou was never quite the same after that, though his career flourished, surviving the occasional falling out with Bud Abbott and unprofitable attempts to change his screen image in such films as Little Giant and The Time of Their Lives (1946). Seldom making a professional misstep -- he moved from films to TV and back again with enormous success. Costello broke up permanently with Bud Abbott in 1956. His solo dates in nightclubs and television were satisfactory, and a starring appearance as a single in The Thirty Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959) wasn't the disaster it might have been, but Lou Costello was basically unhappy going it alone. Still, he was thriving in show business and seemingly had a rosy future ahead of him in early 1959; sadly, in March of that year Lou Costello lost his lifelong battle with his rheumatic heart and died three days before his 53rd birthday.

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Factsheet

  • Was considered a gifted athlete in high school and showed off his basketball skills in the 1945 film Here Come the Co-Eds, in which he performed his own trick shots.
  • Dropped out of high school and moved to California to become an actor. His athletic abilities landed him occasional jobs performing stunts, but he was primarily a laborer.
  • Moved to New York in the early 1930s and began performing in vaudeville and burlesque theaters.
  • Teamed up formally with Bud Abbott in 1936 after crossing paths several times in burlesque theaters in the early 1930s.
  • Received first national exposure with Abbott on the Kate Smith Hour radio show in 1938.
  • Along with Abbott, signed by Universal Studios in 1940 to his first film contract for One Night in the Tropics. The duo were not the headliner, but they stole the show with an abbreviated version of their classic bit "Who's On First?"
  • Mentioned his hometown of Paterson, NJ in nearly all of the episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show and several of his films. Paterson erected a life-size bronze statue of Costello in 1994.
  • Memorialized with Abbott in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. They are two of a select few non-baseball players or managers honored with the distinction.
  • Was awarded three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio, television and film.