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Paterson, New Jersey
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Paterson, New Jersey

Lou Costello, also known as Louis Francis “Lou” Cristillo, was a well-known American burlesque comic and stage, screen, radio, and television actor. Along with Bud Abbott, he is well known for the comic duo Abbott and Costello. The pair gained notoriety over time, and beginning in 1940, they thrived as the most favored comedy combo for more than 15 years. A high school dropout who hoped to become a famous actor, Costello hitchhiked to Hollywood and began working as a laborer, extra, and stuntman. Then he began to perform in burlesque. Around this time, he met Bud Abbott, who, when Costello’s usual straight man failed to show up, stepped in. Thus, a new journey began as the team progressively established themselves by performing their routines in Hollywood movies, on the radio, and on Broadway. One of the greatest comic routines of all time is their “Who’s on First?” pattern act. They appeared in a number of noteworthy works, including the hit movies Buck Privates, Who Done It?, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but they amicably split up in 1957. Then Costello went back to performing stand-up routines, but he passed away from a heart attack a few years before the release of The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, the only movie in which Abbott did not star.

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Early Childhood & Life

Louis Francis Cristillo was born on March 6, 1906, in Paterson, New Jersey, to an American mother named Helen Rege and an Italian-American father named Sebastiano Cristillo.

He attended School 15 in his hometown to study. Sources claim that Costello, a generally average student, was a gifted athlete who excelled in basketball and once won the state free throw championship of New Jersey. He also briefly competed as a boxer under the alias “Lou King.”

Career of Lou Costello

He was motivated to succeed as an actor by the legendary English comedian Charlie Chaplin. Costello, a high school dropout, hitchhiked to Hollywood in 1927 with such fervor.

Nevertheless, he was unable to land any acting jobs in Hollywood and was forced to work as a laborer and extra for Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Additionally, he performed stunts in the silent drama movie “The Trail of ’98.” (1928).

After his Hollywood plans fizzled, he proceeded to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he briefly performed in burlesque, and later that year, he moved to New York. He began performing in burlesque on the Mutual Burlesque Wheel when the Great Depression was underway. He changed his legal name to “Costello” in honor of renowned stage and screen actress Helene Costello.

He worked with Minsky’s Burlesque after Mutual Burlesque Wheel failed. He first encountered Bud Abbott here when the latter was directing and participating in Minsky’s burlesque performances. When Costello’s normal partner failed to show up for their 1935 performance at the Eltinge Theatre, the two took the stage together.

Abbott and Costello officially teamed up in 1936, starting the career of a new comic pair that appeared in burlesque, theater productions, minstrelsy, and vaudeville.

They made their radio debut as resident comedy on the renowned radio variety show “The Kate Smith Hour” in February 1938 after signing with William Morris talent agency. Through the event, they gained widespread recognition, and they kept on playing until the summer of 1940.

In the meanwhile, the pair performed the comic routine “Who’s on First?” in 1937 while travelling with a vaudeville revue called “Hollywood Bandwagon.” The act was a big success.

The duo originally sang “Who’s on First?” in March 1938 for a large radio audience on “The Kate Smith Hour.” Since he participated in many previous drawings of the team, writer John Grant, who was engaged by them as their writer, may have improved the script before delivery. The sketch eventually evolved into the pair’s stand-out comic routine.

They appeared in the Broadway production of “The Streets of Paris” in 1939.

They created their own comic program, “The Abbott and Costello Show,” in 1940. First shown on NBC from July 3 to September 25 of that year, it was then repeated from October 8, 1942, to June 27, 1947, and finally from October 1, 1947, to June 9, 1949, it was televised on ABC.

They entered into a movie deal with “Universal Studios” in 1940, which enabled them to make their screen debut in the comedic drama “One Night in the Tropics” in November of that year. They had tiny roles, but five of their iconic routines, including a shortened version of “Who’s On First?”, won the crowd over. Through a two-picture pact, their relationship with “Universal Studios” was strengthened by this triumph.
However, the musical military comedy “Buck Privates,” which helped the team become famous, was their genuine breakthrough. The pair starred in the 1941 movie, which was well-received by critics and brought in $4 million at the box office. They quickly rose to become the No. 3 Box Office Stars of that year.
The pair then appeared in several other critically acclaimed and financially successful movies in leading roles. These include the 1948 horror comedy “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” the 1947 picture “Buck Privates Come Home,” the 1942 comedy mystery “Who Done It?,” and the 1942 comedy “Pardon My Sarong.”

While continuing his professional endeavors, Costello had a personal loss on November 4, 1943, when his son Lou Jr. (often known as “Butch”) died tragically. But that evening, he continued his regularly planned radio show, demonstrating his professionalism and upholding the proverb “The show must go on.” He said, “I want him to hear me tonight, wherever he is,” in reference to his son.

In 1943, he was called up for the Second World War, but he successfully petitioned the court for a delay. He continued to pursue his career with Abbott, but their relationship began to deteriorate at this point.
The pair had their own television sitcom, “The Abbott and Costello Show,” which Costello owned and Abbott received pay for. The show’s initial run as a syndicated program lasted for two seasons and 52 episodes from September 1952 to May 1954. Later, the network aired multiple repeats of it.

By the middle of the 1950s, the pair’s career graph began to decline. In 1955, “Universal Studios” terminated their movie contract since their pictures didn’t garner much attention. Additionally, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, a relatively new comedic team, were providing Abbott and Costello, who had become somewhat overexposed, fierce competition.

In 1956, the pair were forced to relinquish their individual residences and their film rights due to problems with the Internal Revenue Service. In 1957, they officially disbanded their collaboration, and Costello then resumed performing stand-up.

After his passing on August 6, 1959, he played the lead part of Artie Pinsetter in the movie “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock.”

Personal Legacy & Life

On January 30, 1934, he wed burlesque performer Anne Battler; they had four kids together: Patricia “Paddy” Costello, Carole, Lou Jr., and Christine.

On March 3, 1959, at Doctors Hospital in Beverly Hills, the hilarious man in baggy clothes who entertained the crowd with his catchphrases “Heeeeeyyy, Abbott!” and “I’m a baaaad lad!” passed away after a heart attack.

The St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks hosted the funeral Mass for this legend, and on March 8, his remains were laid to rest at the Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

Both the Lou Costello Memorial Association and the Lou Costello Memorial Park in Paterson, New Jersey, bear his name. On June 26, 1992, a statue of Costello was built in the first location. In 2005, Lou Costello Place was established in the Paterson neighborhood where Costello was born. In 2009, he was also admitted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

Lou Costello’s Net Worth

At the time of his passing in 1959, Lou Costello, an American actor, and comedian had a net worth of $250,000. That is equivalent to $2.3 million in today’s money after inflation is taken into account. Lou and Bud Abbott, his comedy sidekick, both made hundreds of millions of dollars in their careers. Unfortunately, towards the end of their lives, their net worths had been severely diminished due to wasteful spending, bad tax planning, and financial mismanagement.