Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bud Abbott (1897-1974)

Birth name: William Alexander Abbott
Birthdate: October 2nd, 1897
Location: Reading, Pennsylvania, USA

Died: April 24th, 1974
Location: Woodland Hills, California, USA
Cause of death: Prostate cancer

For Bud Abbott's comedy partner Lou Costello, click here.

Best known for: Comedy actor most famous for playing the "straight man" to Lou Costello in the Abbott and Costello comedy partnership of the 1940s and 50s. He enjoyed joint success with Costello in a string of branded comedies, such as Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955).

Abbott and Costello first worked together in 1935, and formally teamed up the following year to perform in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel and stage shows. By 1938 they were gaining fans across America as part of the Kate Smith Radio Hour, and in 1940 they secured their first Hollywood film roles in One Night in the Tropics - they were actually minor characters but they stole the show with their comedy song and dance routines. After that, they never looked back...

Bud, 48, with Lou Costello in 1945's
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood
Well, they didn't for a few years. The Abbott and Costello films reigned supreme for 15 years between 1940-56, and saw the boys encounter everyone from Frankenstein's monster and the Mummy, to the Keystone Cops, Jekyll and Hyde and even Captain Kidd. They made 36 films together, and also had their own radio show (1940-49) and made 52 episodes of their own TV series (1952-54). You couldn't escape the boys and their winning brand of comedy. So what went wrong, and what became of them?

It essentially came down to money. In their early days the boys split their earnings 60/40 in Bud's favour, as the straight man was deemed the more valuable of the two. This was subsequently changed to 50/50, but after the success of 1941's film Buck Privates, Costello insisted upon a 60/40 split in his favour, which stuck for the rest of their career together. This drove an awkward wedge between them which was never truly resolved, and was made worse when Costello tried to insist that the duo were renamed Costello and Abbott (this never came to pass).

Bud aged 59 in Dance With
Me, Henry
After so long reigning supreme (Bud earned a $393,314 salary in 1942), there had to come a fall in the boys' popularity. After completing Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955, Universal Pictures did not renew their contract, so the duo were hired by producer Bob Goldstein for a film released through United Artists, Dance With Me, Henry. This was to be the last film Bud and Lou would appear in together. It was released to lukewarm reviews in December 1956, and by July 1957 Abbott and Costello brought an end to their partnership after 20 years.

The duo were harassed by tax collectors and were forced to sell most of their assets to settle up with the IRS. In 1959, the IRS demanded Bud pay more than $750,000 in taxes, forcing him to sell his home in Encino, California (at a loss) and his 200-acre ranch. His wife Betty sold her jewellery and furs and he relinquished all future profits from his Universal film contract. Bud was forced to beg for donations from Abbott and Costello fans, to small reward.

Aged 62 in The Joke's
On Me
Less than two years after the partnership was broken up, Lou Costello died, in March 1959, aged 52. So what did Bud do in the post-Lou years?

Well, he didn't waste any time getting back on the horse, and in 1960 formed a new comedy partnership with musician and voice artist Candy Candido (he later went on to give voice to Gentle Ben in the TV series). The partnership was moderately well received while on tour across the US, but Bud was plagued with ill-health, suffering an epileptic seizure on his way to one of their gigs. Bud soon called it quits, claiming "no one could ever live up to Lou".

The following year, on April 16th, 1961, Bud turned his hand to acting in an episode of the General Electric Theater called The Joke's On Me. It starred Lee Marvin as an obnoxious comedian, and Bud played his manager.

Bud, aged 65, interviewed for
Here's Hollywood
Another of Bud's screen appearances was for the series Here's Hollywood, in which celebrities were interviewed about their life and careers, often at their own homes. Bud's interview went out on December 7th, 1962, when he was 65 years old. After that, Bud did make an appearance on the daytime game show It Takes Two in 1969 reminiscing about his career with Costello, but pretty much disappeared after that due to ill-health. He did, however, lend his voice to his animated self in the Hanna-Barbera Abbott and Costello cartoon series in 1967.

Since he was aged 29, Bud had suffered from epilepsy, something he attempted to control by drinking rather too much alcohol at times. In 1964, aged 67, he suffered a series of strokes, and by 1970 was living off a $180-per-month social security benefit. Betty worked part-time and he was supported by his children, Victoria and Bud Jr. Bud suffered more strokes that same year.

Bud with walking stick
in the last days of being
able to walk
In 1972, a 75-year-old Bud fell and broke his hip. His daughter Victoria told the National Enquirer: "The doctors don't hold any hope for him. My father is a very sick man. He has prostate cancer. He is in a lot of pain and hallucinates a great deal. Doctors say he has three to six months to live, but only God can tell. His condition changes from day to day. Sometimes he seems okay and in the next moment he is incoherent and oblivious to those around him."

Following the article, the Abbotts were bombarded with letters and cards from well-wishers - sometimes including money - and in September 1972, Bud's wife Betty reported back: "We couldn't possibly answer all the letters, but I want to thank everybody. Please tell them that Bud is not alone. The doctors never tell me anything except that he's very sick. If he could only live. I say my prayers for my husband every night, but I want to keep him with me for as long as I can."

A bed-ridden Bud at the age of 75,
surrounded by the fan mail he received
following the National Enquirer article
Bud's final years were spent in a hospital bed in what was the Abbott family's former dining room. He was unable to move or talk and was undoubtedly in a lot of pain. On April 24th, 1974, Bud finally died of prostate cancer at the age of 76 at his home in Woodland Hills, California, surrounded by his wife Betty and his two children. His remains were cremated and his ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean. Soon after Bud's death, Groucho Marx heralded him as the "greatest straight man ever".

Trivia: Bud was an avid gun collector and once owned one of Adolf Hitler's shotguns as well as some of TV cowboy Tom Mix's pearl-handled pistols.

A bit of fun: Why not relive Abbott and Costello's classic Who's On First? comedy routine...

1 comment:

  1. I, too, had prostate cancer but had surgery and radiation to cure it. Sad that Bud did not have that option in the '70's...

    ReplyDelete

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