Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Abbott & Costello were one of the greatest comedy teams in the history of show business. They mastered the straightman/clown relationship, creating a magical chemistry that would take them from the burlesque stage to radio, to broadway, to film...and finally, to television.
Born William Alexander Abbott on October 2, 1897 in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Bud became one of the most sought-after and polished straightmen on the burlesque circuit. It was here that he met his future partner, Louis Francis Cristillo, born on March 6, 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey.
Their official teaming was in 1936. Although they soon became a popular booking commodity on the burlesque wheel, it wasn't until they appeared on the KATE SMITH RADIO HOUR - performing what would soon become known as their classic signature skit, "Who's On First" - that Bud Abbott & Lou Costello were hurled to stardom, and to Hollywood.
Signed to Universal in 1939, Abbott & Costello reigned as the new "Kings Of Comedy," producing a solid decade of box office hits including "Buck Privates," "In The Navy," "Hold That Ghost," "Naughty Nineties," "Time Of Their Lives," and their 1948 monster classic "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein." Today, that film remains a favorite among fans, as well as an international cult masterpiece.
Bud and Lou's style and brand of comedy helped lift the morale of the American public during World War II. Eager to lend their time to the war effort, the boys funded (out of pocket) a cross-country tour to help raise much-needed funds on behalf of the War Bond Drive. Everywhere they appeared there were sellout audiences. They were honored on the steps of New York's City Hall by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for raising a record-breaking $89 million in just three days!
As the country eased into the 1950's, Abbott & Costello tackled a new medium: television. Comedy historians have glossed over their contribution, but in fact, Bud and Lou became early television pioneers along with the likes of Phil Silvers, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz. THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW debuted in 1952, running for two seasons on CBS. Today, the show is seeing a revival with the 1993 and 1994 episode video releases from Shanachie Entertainment and in a 1994 Columbia House infomercial.
To further display their burlesque wares on the live stage, which was always home to the boys, NBC welcomed Abbott & Costello to its new hour-long live variety show THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR as guest hosts. Debuting on January 7, 1951, Bud and Lou boosted the show's ratings with their presentations of the Abbott & Costello staple routines, including "Who's On First."
In 1956, one year before the release of their last film together, "Dance With Me Henry," and their official (and amicable) split, Bud and Lou were brought together on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW before a live nationwide viewing audience. The emotion was further heightened when, unbeknownst to both men, Steve Allen announced the induction of Abbott & Costello and their Gold Record of "Who's On First" into the world-famous BASEBALL HALL OF FAME in Cooperstown, New York. (Many are not aware that Abbott & Costello are the first non-baseball-playing celebrities ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame!)
Lou Costello passed away in 1959, and Bud Abbott in 1974 - but today, their comedy continues to generate new legions of fans around the world. Their clean style of comedy, born on the burlesque stage over 50 years ago, continues to find a ready and accepting audience in today's marketplace.
In 1989, Bud and Lou's families released a compilation video of the boys' appearances on the COLGATE COMEDY HOUR shows in THE BEST OF ABBOTT & COSTELLO, LIVE (Warner Home Video). The video was nominated for two prestigious video awards in 1990, and in 1991 The Disney Channel followed through with 6 special airings, creating a wider marketing base for the duo.
Look-alikes doubled as Bud and Lou to help promote "Bran News Cereal" in a nationwide television commercial, Prudential Insurance used actual radio show skits for a year-long nationwide radio commercial, and in 1993 McDonald's, pushing their special combo meals, again employed A&C look-alikes in a nationwide campaign.
In 1991, the United States Postal Service paid homage to the team by enlisting them as part of their "Comedy Legends" commemorative stamp booklet.
By 1993, cable networks had begun airing more and more of the Abbott & Costello films. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld hosted a 10-hour ABBOTT & COSTELLO COMEDY MARATHON on the Comedy Channel Network - a first, for Bud and Lou to be paid such a high tribute by one of today's most sought-after comedians.
With Abbott & Costello being a major influence in Jerry Sienfeld's career, as well as with an obvious sprinkling of the duo in his award winning TV show, THE JERRY SEINFELD SHOW, the families in association with George Paige Productions, approached Mr. Seinfeld in hosting a retrospective on the team.
In view of Abbott & Costello's considerable influence on Jerry Seinfeld's career (including an obvious sprinkling of the duo in his award-winning TV show THE JERRY SEINFELD SHOW), the families - in association with George Paige Productions - approached Mr. Seinfeld about hosting a retrospective on the team. At 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening 1994, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET JERRY SEINFELD aired on NBC, receiving a #2 rating from TV Guide. Abbott & Costello had once again come to life in over 20 million homes.
As Abbott & Costello continue to thrive in their long-overdue resurgence, no one has defined the comedy of Abbott and Costello quite as well as Jerry Seinfeld: "If it weren't for Abbott & Costello, many of the wonderful burlesque routines which are a part of the American fabric would have been lost forever. They were giants of their time, who truly immortalized burlesque forever. Maybe that art form is largely lost, but I try and keep it alive in my own show."