A 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.
Lou Costello passed away in 1959. The Los Angeles Times quoted Red Skelton, a comedy peer: “I feel that I have lost one of my very good friends. He was such a good little man. It seems the world is destined to lose those who make them laugh while people who made them sad live on. The world has lost a wonderful man.”
When the comedy team Abbott & Costello debuted in films in 1940’s One Night in the Tropics, it brought routines honed in burlesque. Success on radio and television complemented box office prosperity. “Who’s on First?,” the team’s signature routine, appeared in the movie The Naughty Nineties. It delighted audiences no matter how many times they heard it on the team’s radio show.
In One Night in the Tropics, the main story was a romance for which Abbott & Costello provided comic relief. Buck Privates elevated the team into superstar territory. It was the first in a trio of comedies debuting at the dawn of America’s involvement in World War II, the other films being In the Navy, and Keep ‘Em Flying.
In The New York Times, noted film critic Bosley Crowther reviewed In the Navy: “Indeed, the disruptive damage which they might innocently do is indicated by the fact that the boys are herein aboard a vehicle almost as ponderous, though not as deadly, as a battleship for their second starring trip upon the screen. Yessir, they are really traveling in an overloaded hulk, weighted down by such non buoyant ballast as the Andrews Sisters, Dick Powell and a bleakly unfunny plot which places a lady-killing crooner in the fleet in order to avoid his female fans. And yet the Messrs. Abbott and Costello, who appear as a pair of seafaring dogs, make it skim and cavort like a surfboard when they are undisputed at the helm.”
Abbott & Costello films brought box office success to Universal Pictures. After the team split in 1956, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello stretched their performing into dramatic territory. Each appeared in separate stories on General Electric Theatre. Costello also guest starred in an episode of Wagon Train.
Tragedy pummeled the Costello family 1943, when one-year-old Lou Costello, Jr. crawled outside into the family swimming pool and drowned. It was the same day Costello returned to radio, after being cooped up in his home with rheumatic fever. In the classic tradition of the mantra “The Show Must Go On,” Costello partnered with Abbott for their radio show, bringing laughter to millions in the face of an unspeakable tragedy.
Costello spearheaded the formation of a youth center named for his son. Los Angeles took over its operation in the 1950s.
In 1974, Bud Abbott passed away. Legend goes that he was watching a performance of “Who’s on First?” when it happened.
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