Friday, July 29, 2016

Lou Costello (1906-1959)

Birth name: Louis Francis Cristillo
Birthdate: March 6th, 1906
Location: Paterson, New Jersey, USA

Died: March 3rd, 1959
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of death: Heart attack

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

Best known for: Comedy actor most famous for playing the gag man to Bud Abbott in the Abbott and Costello comedy partnership of the 1940s and 50s. He enjoyed joint success with Abbott 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 Abbott'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, Lou 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 Lou tried to insist that the duo were renamed Costello and Abbott (this never came to pass).

Lou with Lou Jr,
who drowned in
a swimming
pool just before
his first birthday
Just as Abbott's later life was plagued by ill-health (he was epileptic), so too was Lou's. In March 1943, at the age of 37, after completing the film Hit the Ice, he had an attack of rheumatic fever and was unable to work for six months. However, his return to the limelight was overshadowed by tragedy. In November 1943, on his way to the studio to record a new episode of the duo's radio series, Lou was informed that his 12-month-old baby son Lou Jr had drowned in the family swimming pool after getting loose from his pram out of sight of the nanny. Lou Jr was just two days short of his first birthday. Lou went on with the recording of the show and did not mention the incident on air, until Bud Abbott explained what had happened afterwards.

After the death of his son, Lou's friend Maxene Andrews said his character changed: "He didn't seem as fun-loving and as warm. He seemed to anger easily. There was a difference in his attitude."

In 1954 the duo had to pull out of recording the film Fireman Save My Child due to Lou's continuing heart issues due to rheumatic fever. They were replaced in the finished film by lookalikes Hugh O'Brian and Buddy Hackett, although Bud and Lou can be spotted in some long shots.

Lou on The Steve Allen Show
in December, 1957, aged 51
After so long reigning supreme, 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.

Both Lou and Bud were harassed by tax collectors and were forced to sell most of their assets to settle up with the IRS in 1956, including their homes and their rights to the Universal films. Now he was a solo artiste, Lou went back on the road touring the comedy circuit as a one-man show, including stints in Las Vegas. He made several appearances in 1957 and 1958 on the Steve Allen Show, recreating old Abbott and Costello routines with either Louis Nye or Tom Poston as straight man. His final appearance on that show was January 19th, 1959, but he also made an appearance on The Lux Show on May 29th, 1958 with Rosemary Clooney, and The Ed Sullivan Show with the cast of the Suzie Wong Show on November 16th, 1958.

Lou in Blaze of Glory
in 1958, aged 52
Determined to be known as more of an actor than a comedian, Lou secured a role in an edition of the General Electrical Theater anthology series. The episode was called Blaze of Glory and broadcast on September 21st, 1958. Lou plays plumber Neal Andrews who is called out to a late-night emergency which turns out to be a gang of jewel thieves on a job, who need an expert to retrieve a haul of diamonds they've clumsily spilled down the kitchen sink!

The following month, on October 22nd, Lou made a guest appearance in the Western series Wagon Train, in an episode called The Tobias Jones Story. Lou plays alcoholic Tobias who gets himself accused of murder.

Lou's final acting work was recorded between December 3rd-22nd, 1958 for the movie The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock. In it he played inventor Artie Pinsetter, whose fiancee Emmy Lou (played by Dorothy Provine) is exposed to radiation and grows to become 30ft tall. The film's tagline was "Thirty Feet of Smouldering Passion - and She's Mine, All Mine!" Clips of this film can be seen in Neil Finn's parody music video for the song She Will Have Her Way (1998). The film was released on August 5th, 1959, a posthumous last hurrah for Lou's career.

Lou in The 30 Foot Bride of
Candy Rock, aged 52
On February 25th, 1959, while watching television, Lou collapsed from a heart attack in his apartment at 4222 Ethel Avenue, Los Angeles, and was transferred to Beverly Hills Doctors' Hospital. Sadly, he was not to come back out, and on March 3rd - just three days before his 53rd birthday - Lou passed away.

According to a contemporary report in the LA Times, Lou's manager Eddie Sherman said: "He said he wanted to turn over on his side. He said 'I think I'll be more comfortable'. Before I could reach him he slumped back on his pillow and was gone." There are false claims that he died surrounded by family and friends and his last words were actually: "That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted". The truth is that at 3pm Lou sent his wife Anne home to cook tea for their daughter Christine, but just 55 minutes later, Lou died, surrounded by private nurses.

Lou's open casket in March 1959
Sherman added: "We were kidding around all during the morning. Lou had a date to do the Steve Allen TV show on April 12th and was telling me an idea he had thought up for a race track sketch. At about 10.30am he said he felt like eating a strawberry ice cream soda. I got him one and he really enjoyed it. He was a really happy man that morning. He also had another date with Steve for May 24th and then he was planning to do six weeks at Las Vegas Dunes. Lou was always working up new routines."

Lou's body was taken to Steen's mortuary in North Hollywood where rosary was recited on March 6th at 8pm. A requiem mass was held on March 7th at St Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. Just nine months later, on December 5th, 1959, Lou's widow Anne died of a heart attack, aged just 47. Lou and Anne's daughter Carole also sadly died prematurely of a stroke in March 1987, aged 49.

A bit of fun: Before Lou became a comedian, he was a successful amateur boxer going by the name Lou King in the 1920s. He won 32 straight fights before being knocked out, effectively ending his boxing career. Here he can be seen interviewing boxer Max Baer following his win over Tony Galento in July 1940, with muted support from Joe Louis!

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