Posts Tagged ‘radio’

Lou Costello: Behind the Laughter

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Who’s on First? is a comedy bit that is ageless, knowing no boundaries of laughter.  Little Leaguers, octogenarians, scholars, and every other demographic have an instinctive response to this legendary piece of humor performed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.  It’s a part of American culture, indeed.

Costello, painfully, tries to discern the names of the players on a baseball team while Abbott calmly recites them along with their positions:

  • First Base:  Who
  • Second Base:  What
  • Third Base:  I Don’t Know
  • Left Field:  Why
  • Center Field:  Because
  • Pitcher:  Today
  • Catcher:  Tomorrow
  • Shortstop:  I Don’t Care

The more frustrated Costello gets at not understanding that Abbott is telling the actual names of the players, the funnier it gets.

Abbott and Costello refined the comedy in the piece, its foundation of confusion having appeared in previous sketches of other performers, for example, on involving towns named Ware and Wye.  Although they conquered stage, films, television, and radio, Abbott and Costello spotlighted Who’s on First?, performing it innumerable times throughout their partnership, which began in in the mid-1930s and lasted for 20 years.  National success came when Kate Smith gave them a platform for Who’s on First? and other comedy bits on her radio show, starting in 1938.

Consequently, the team’s fame catapulted into orbit.

But comedy has a dark side, sometimes.  Abbott abused alcohol to escape his suffering caused by epilepsy.  Costello stayed in bed for a year because of rheumatic fever.  And on November 4, 1943, he symbolized the ultimate show business adage—The Show Must Go On—in the face of a tragedy that is every parent’s nightmare.

That night, Costello was scheduled to perform for the first time since being bedridden.  The Abbott & Costello Show was a radio hit, undoubtedly set to draw a huge audience for Costello’s return to performing.  He wanted his infant son—Lou Costello, Jr.—to listen to him and Abbott on the radio.  Tragically, it was not to be.  The baby escaped his playpen, crawled to the swimming pool, and drowned two days shy of his first birthday.  Stories vary concerning when Costello learned about it during the day.

Costello performed that night, hoping that his son, nicknamed Butch, wherever God took him, would recognize his voice.  The studio audience had no idea, not even an inkling, of the tragedy until Abbott explained it after the show.  In his 1977 book Bud & Lou: The Abbott and Costello Story, Bob Thomas recounted the chilling event in Abbott’s words: “Just a short time before our broadcast started, Lou Costello was told that his baby—one year old in two days—had died.  In the face of the greatest tragedy which can come to any man [sic], Lou Costello went on tonight so that you, the radio audience, would not be disappointed.  There is nothing more that I can say except that I know all join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to a great trouper.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 17, 2015.

Disco Demolition Night

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Disco’s transition from musical genre to mainstream phenomenon occurred when John Travolta mesmerized movie audiences in 1977 with his portrayal of fictional Brooklynite Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.  After Travolta’s bravura performance, disco pervaded nightclubs, Top 40 radio, and parties.  Its dominance in popular culture received confirmation by prominence in movies, television shows, and record stores.

On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox attempted to kill disco.  Sort of.

Disco Demolition Night was a promotional stunt that went awry.  Inspired by WLUP anti-disco disc jockey Steve Dahl, White Sox executive Mike Veeck took action.  Veeck learned about baseball promotions from his father, Bill Veeck, who created buzz.  For example, the elder Veeck sent midget Eddie Gaedel to bat for the St. Louis Browns in a 1951 game against the Detroit Tigers.

Mike Veeck’s brainstorm had Dahl emphasizing his dislike for disco by exploding a wooden crate filled with disco records.  It would take place in center field between games of a twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers.

In the 2012 book Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, Paul Dickson wrote, “Dahl’s followers were told they could get into the game for 98 cents if they brought a record to be destroyed.  Mike was in charge of the event and hired security for an expected crowd of 35,000.”  With Bill Veeck in the hospital for tests, Mike oversaw the promotion.  Then, a surprise occurred.  Bill Veeck showed up.”

The man who sent a midget to bat said that the stunt could be “catastrophic.”

Indeed.

Approximately 50,000 fans stormed Comiskey Park, armed with records that they tossed like Frisbees without regard to people’s safety.  Dahl announced the explosion, which left vinyl shrapnel scattered across center field.  Then, Dahl’s followers galloped onto the field with the energy of Secretariat.

They started at least one fire on the field and another one in the stands.

They ran around the bases.

They ripped the field apart.

They slid down a foul pole.

They went into the opposing team’s dugout.

They destroyed the field.

Police dispersed the crowd, but the damage had been done.  Because the field’s conditions were not playable, the White Sox forfeited the second game of the doubleheader.  Dickson explained, “After this announcement, players from both teams had to lock themselves in their clubhouses for hours to protect themselves from rampaging fans.  The action spread to the parking lots, where players’ wives who had come to pick up their husbands were forced to lock themselves in their cars while fans rocked the cars back and forth.  The fans were finally removed by police in full riot gear.  Thirty-seven fans were arrested.”

Disco Demolition Night could easily be renamed Disco Demolition Disaster.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 15, 2013.

Lou’s on First

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

RemingtonA statue of Lou Costello stands in Paterson, New Jersey.  It is a reminder of the comedian’s love for his hometown, often referenced by Costello in his performances with Bud Abbott.  Titled “Lou’s on First,” the statue, which Paterson unveiled in 1992, appeared in two scenes of the landmark television series The Sopranos.

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The Comedy and Tragedy of Bob Crane

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

RemingtonBob Crane became a television icon with his starring role in Hogan’s Heroes, a comedy set in a POW camp in Germany during World War II.

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The Gentleman Giant

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

RemingtonLeader.  Visionary.  Gentleman.

Leonard Goldenson.  The founder of ABC.

In the early years of television, NBC and CBS had dominance, prestige, and history.

ABC had Leonard Goldenson.

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1960s Sitcom Music

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

If music be the food of 1960s television sitcoms, play on.

In the 1960s, the Beatles captained a British invasion across the Atlantic Ocean.  John, Paul, George, and Ringo inspired sitcom versions of themselves after their first American television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 captured America’s attention, not to mention Hollywood’s creative community.

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The Other Lone Ranger

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Clayton Moore is synonymous with the Lone Ranger.  He played the character in The Lone Ranger television series that aired on ABC from 1949 to 1957.  But he wasn’t the only actor to do so.

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The Lone Ranger and American Heritage

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

The Lone Ranger represents the American ideals of justice, strength, and courage.  His ruggedness, a staple of the hero prototype in American westerns, parallels John Wayne’s film characters, James Arness’ Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke, and the Cartwright boys of Bonanza.

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The Key To Good Communication

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Like you, I first read Shakespeare’s works around 8th grade. Like you, Romeo & Juliet topped the list.

When I developed my business and legal writing lecture, Your Writing Is Your Brand, I used one of the play’s famous lines as an example of clear writing and, consequently, as a warning of what would happen if Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet were attorneys.

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