By Susan Johnson
Lou Costello, whose given name was Louis Francis Cristillo, was born on March 6, 1906 in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. His father came here from Calabria, Italy. When Lou was in high school, he excelled at sports and especially, basketball and boxing.
In 1927, he left the East Coast and travelled to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actor. He couldn’t find any work as an actor but occasionally was hired as a stunt man. He became discouraged and in 1930, he began hitchhiking back home but got stuck in the town of Saint Joseph, Missouri. He got a job as a comic while in Saint Joseph at the local burlesque theater. He used the name Costello as his stage name, which was the name of actress, Helene Costello.
In 1934, Costello married his girlfriend, Anne Battler, who was a burlesque dancer. They had four children, Patricia, Carole, Lou Jr. and Christine. Unfortunately, Lou Costello Junior died two days before his first birthday by drowning in the family swimming pool.
When Lou got back to the East Coast, he started working in vaudeville and burlesque theaters in New York. While there, he met straight man, Bud Abbott. They worked together on occasion and in 1936, Abbott and Costello officially began as a team, going on to become one of the most well-loved comedy teams of all time.
They got their first big break in 1938, when they performed on The Kate Smith Hour. This eventually led to other gigs and in 1940, Universal Studios signed them on. There first role for the studio was only a supporting role in the film, One Night in the Tropics, but ended up stealing the film with their performance of Who’s On First.
They made many films throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. They also had their own radio show, Abbot and Costello, which began on October 8, 1942 on the NBC network. The show moved to ABC from 1947-1949. In 1952, they moved to the small screen and found success with the half-hour weekly situation comedy, which was called, The Abbott and Costello Show. Lou owned the series and Bud worked on it on salary.
Lou struggled with heart problems his whole life due to rheumatic fever that he had when he was a child. In 1954, they had to withdraw from a movie because of Lou’s health problems. The end of the duo finally came in 1957, due to problems with the IRS. Both actors lost the rights to many of their films, as well as, many of their possessions.
On March 3, 1959, Lou Costello had a fatal heart attack. He will forever be remembered as the funny guy in the brilliant comedy team of Abbott and Costello.