Lou Costello

Louis Francis Cristillo (March 6, 1906 – March 3, 1959), professionally known as Lou Costello, was an American actor, best known for his film comedy double act with straight man Bud Abbott and their comedy routine "Who's on First?"

Lou Costello
Costello in Africa Screams, 1949.
Louis Francis Cristillo

(1906-03-06)March 6, 1906
DiedMarch 3, 1959(1959-03-03) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeCalvary Cemetery (Los Angeles)
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1926–1959
Anne Battler (m. 1934)
Parent(s)Sebastiano Cristillo and Helen Rege[3]

The comedians, who teamed up in burlesque in 1936, were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. In 1942 they sold $85 million in war bonds in 35 days. By 1955 their popularity waned due to overexposure and their film and television contracts lapsed. The partnership ended soon afterwards.

Early life

Louis Francis Cristillo was born on March 6, 1906, in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Helen Rege and Sebastiano Cristillo.[3] His father was Italian (from Caserta, Italy) and his mother was an American of French, Irish, and Italian ancestry.[4][5] He attended Public School 15[6] in Paterson and was considered a gifted athlete. He excelled in basketball and reportedly was twice Paterson's free throw champion. His basketball prowess can be seen in Here Come the Co-Eds (1945), in which he performs all his own tricky hoop shots without special effects. He also fought as a boxer under the name "Lou King".[7]


On January 30, 1934, Costello married Anne Battler, a burlesque dancer. Their first child, Patricia "Paddy" Costello, was born in 1936,[8][9] followed by Carole on December 23, 1938, and Lou Jr. (nicknamed "Butch") on November 6, 1942.[10][11] On August 15, 1947, their last child, Christine, was born.[12][13]


Costello was a great admirer of silent movie comedian Charlie Chaplin. In 1927, Costello hitchhiked to Hollywood to become an actor, but could only find work as a laborer or extra at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. His athletic skill brought him occasional work as a stunt man, notably in The Trail of '98 (1928). He can also be spotted sitting ringside in the Laurel and Hardy film The Battle of the Century (1927).[14] He took his professional name from actress Helene Costello.[15]

Burlesque and Bud Abbott

In 1928, with the advent of talking pictures, Costello headed back east intending to get the requisite stage experience. Stranded in St. Joseph, Missouri, he convinced a local burlesque producer to hire him as a Dutch comic ("Dutch" was a corruption of "Deutsche", and the comic performed with a German accent). By the end of the year he was back in New York and began working in burlesque on the Mutual Burlesque wheel the following year.[16]

After the Mutual Wheel collapsed during the Great Depression, Costello went to work for the Minskys, where he crossed paths with a talented producer and straight man named Bud Abbott.[16] They first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City after Costello's partner fell ill. They formally teamed up in 1936.[16]

Reportedly their first disagreement was over a booking in a minstrel show at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Costello wanted to take the gig, but Abbott was hesitant. Costello offered to give Abbott a larger split of their salary, and Abbott agreed.

Radio and Hollywood

Abbott and Costello were signed by the William Morris talent agency, which landed them featured roles and national exposure on The Kate Smith Hour, a popular radio variety show, in 1938. The team's signature routine, "Who's on First?", made its radio debut on Smith's show that year. Many of the team's sketches were further polished by John Grant, who was hired soon after the team joined the program. Their success on the Smith show led to their appearance in a Broadway musical in 1939, The Streets of Paris.

The team was hosting a summer radio series in 1940 when they were signed by Universal Pictures. They had supporting roles in their first picture, One Night in the Tropics (1940), but stole the film with their classic routines, including a much-shortened version of "Who's On First?" (a more complete version was performed in The Naughty Nineties, released in 1945). The team's breakthrough picture, however, was Buck Privates, released early in 1941. They immediately became the No. 3 Box Office Stars of 1941.[16]

After working as regulars on the Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy radio program in 1941-42, they launched their own show The Abbott and Costello Show, in October 1942.[16]

Fame and tragedy

The duo made 36 films from 1940 to 1956, and were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. Among their most popular films are Buck Privates, Hold That Ghost, Who Done It?, Pardon My Sarong, The Time of Their Lives, Buck Privates Come Home, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

In the summer of 1942, the team went on a 35-day cross-country tour to promote and sell War Bonds. The Treasury Department credited them with the sale of $85 million in bonds.[16]

In March 1943, after completing a winter tour of army bases, Costello had an attack of rheumatic fever and was unable to work for six months. On November 4 of that year, he returned to the team's popular radio show, but upon arriving at the NBC studio, Costello received word that his infant son, Lou Jr., had accidentally drowned in the family pool.[16] The baby worked loose one of the slats on his crib, climbed out and fell into the pool, unnoticed by the nanny.[17] The baby ('Little Butch') was just two days short of his first birthday. Lou had asked his wife to keep Butch up that night so the boy could hear his father on the radio for the first time. Rather than cancel the broadcast, Lou said, "Wherever he is tonight, I want him to hear me", and went on with the show. No one in the audience knew of the death until after the show, when Bud Abbott explained the events of the day and how the phrase "The show must go on" had been epitomized by Lou that night. Maxene Andrews of The Andrews Sisters, said that his entire demeanor changed after the tragic loss of his son, saying, "He didn't seem as fun-loving and as warm ... He seemed to anger easily ... there was a difference in his attitude."[18]

It was about this time that serious cracks began to appear in the relationship between Abbott and Costello. In 1945, when Costello fired a domestic servant and Abbott hired her, Costello announced that he would no longer work with Abbott.[19] However, they were still under contract to Universal and required to complete two movies in 1946. They did Little Giant and The Time of Their Lives, but barely appeared together in either film and rarely spoke to one another off-camera.[20] Abbott reached out to heal their relationship, suggesting that the foundation he and Costello had founded for rheumatic fever sufferers be named the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation, which touched Costello deeply. The project became a youth foundation. [16]

Their radio program moved to ABC (the former NBC Blue Network) from 1947 to 1949. It was pre-recorded.

In 1951, the duo began to appear on live television, joining the rotating hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour. (Eddie Cantor, Martin and Lewis and Bob Hope were among the others). The following year they began their own filmed situation comedy, The Abbott and Costello Show. Costello owned the half-hour series, with Abbott working on salary. The show, which was loosely adapted from their radio program, ran for two seasons, from 1952 to 1954, but found long life in syndicated reruns.[16]

They were forced to withdraw from Fireman Save My Child in 1954 due to Costello's poor health — he had been plagued by heart problems all his life due to a childhood bout of rheumatic fever — and were replaced by look-alikes Hugh O'Brian and Buddy Hackett. The team could not reach a contract agreement with Universal the following year and left the studio after 15 years.[16]

Costello was surprised and honored by Ralph Edwards on NBC's This Is Your Life in 1956.[21]

Abbott and Costello split

By the mid-1950s, Abbott and Costello films were no longer box-office gold. With concurrent film and television appearances, they suffered from overexposure, and were further eclipsed by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who were the hot entertainment commodity that Abbott and Costello had been a decade earlier. After failing to come to terms with the team, Universal dropped their movie contract in 1955.

In the early 1950s, troubles with the Internal Revenue Service forced both men to sell their large homes and the rights to some of their films. Abbott and Costello made their final film together, Dance with Me, Henry in 1956. The film was a box-office disappointment and received mixed critical reviews.

Abbott and Costello dissolved their partnership in 1957 amicably.[22] Costello went back to his roots of stand-up, including stints in Las Vegas, and sought film projects for himself. He appeared several times on Steve Allen's fledgling The Tonight Show, but most often in variations of his old routines, with Louis Nye or Tom Poston taking on the straight man role. Costello sought to be known as something other than the funny fat man in the baggy clothes, and in 1958, he played a dramatic role on The Tobias Jones Story episode of Wagon Train.[23]


Shortly after completion of The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, his only starring film appearance without Abbott, Costello suffered a heart attack. He died at Doctors Hospital in Beverly Hills on March 3, 1959, three days before his 53rd birthday.[3] Sources conflict on the circumstances of his last day and final words. By some accounts, restated in numerous "quotes" aggregates, he told visitors that the strawberry ice-cream soda he had just finished was "the best I ever tasted", then expired.[24] By other reports, including several contemporaneous obituaries, the ice-cream soda exchange occurred earlier in the day; later, after his wife and friends had left, he asked his private-duty nurse to adjust his position in bed. "I think I'll be more comfortable", he said; but before the nurse could comply, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died.[3][25][26][27]

After a funeral Mass at his parish, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks,[28] Costello was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles, on March 8.[29] His wife Anne died from an apparent heart attack nine months later on December 5, 1959, at age 47.[30][31]

Family legacy in the entertainment industry

Costello's older brother, Pat Costello (Anthony Sebastian Cristillo 1902–1990) was a stuntman and an actor, mostly performing the stunts in Lou's place.

Costello's sister, Marie Katherine Cristillo (1912–1988) was married to actor Joe Kirk (Nat Curcuruto), who portrayed "Mr. Bacciagalupe" on the Abbott and Costello radio and television shows [32] and appeared in supporting roles in several of the team's films.[33]

Lou and Anne's second daughter, Carole, appeared in uncredited baby roles in several Abbott and Costello films. She went on to become a contestant coordinator for the game show Card Sharks as well as a nightclub singer. She died of a stroke on March 29, 1987, at age 48 while married to Craig Martin, eldest son of Dean Martin.[34] Carole's daughter, Marki Costello, is an actress, director and producer in film and television.

Lou and Anne's youngest daughter, Chris, published a biography, Lou's On First, in 1981.[35]


On June 26, 1992, the city of Paterson, New Jersey, in conjunction with the Lou Costello Memorial Association, erected a statue of Costello in the newly named Lou Costello Memorial Park in the city's historic downtown section. It shows Costello holding a baseball bat, a reference to the team's most famous routine, "Who's on First?". The statue has had brief appearances in two episodes of The Sopranos: "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Cold Stones". The statue and the "Who's on First?" routine also featured in the film Paterson (2016). In 2005, Madison Street, in the Sandy Hill section of Paterson, where Costello was born, was renamed Lou Costello Place.

The centennial of Costello's birth was celebrated in Paterson on the first weekend in March 2006. From June 24 to 26, 2006, the Fort Lee Film Commission held a centennial film retrospective at the Fine Arts Theatre in Hollywood. Films screened included the premiere of a digital film made by the teenagers of the present day Lou Costello Jr. Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. Also premiered was a 35 mm restored print of the Lou Costello-produced 1948 short film 10,000 Kids and a Cop, which was shot at the Lou Costello, Jr. Youth Center in East Los Angeles.[11]

In 2009, Costello was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

Abbott and Costello are among the few non-baseball personnel to be memorialized in the Baseball Hall of Fame, although they are not inductees of the Hall. A plaque and a gold record of the Who's on First? sketch have been on permanent display there since 1956, and a video of the routine loops endlessly in the exhibit area.[36]


Year Title Role Notes
1938–1940 The Kate Smith Hour Costello
1940–1949 The Abbott and Costello Show
1947–1949 The Abbott and Costello Children's Show


Year Film Role Notes
1926 Bardelys the Magnificent Extra
1927 The Battle of the Century [14]
The Taxi Dancer Extra
The Fair Co-Ed Extra
1928 Rose-Marie Extra
Circus Rookies Extra
The Cossacks Extra
The Trail of '98 Stunt Double[37]
1940 One Night in the Tropics Costello Film debut of Abbott and Costello
1941 Buck Privates Herbie Brown
In the Navy Pomeroy Watson
Hold That Ghost Ferdinand Jones
Keep 'Em Flying Heathcliffe
1942 Ride 'Em Cowboy Willoughby
Rio Rita Wishy Dunn
Pardon My Sarong Wellington Phlug
Who Done It? Mervyn Milgrim
1943 It Ain't Hay Wilbur Hoolihan
Hit The Ice Tubby McCoy
1944 In Society Albert Mansfield
Lost in a Harem Harvey Garvey
1945 Here Come the Co-Eds Oliver Quackenbush
The Naughty Nineties Sebastian Dinwiddie
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood Abercrombie
1946 Little Giant Benny Miller
The Time of Their Lives Horatio Prim
1947 Buck Privates Come Home Herbie Brown Sequel to Buck Privates
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Chester Wooley
1948 The Noose Hangs High Tommy Hinchcliffe
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Wilbur Gray
Mexican Hayride Joe Bascom/Humphrey Fish
10,000 Kids and a Cop Himself Documentary short
1949 Africa Screams Stanley Livingston
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff Freddie Phillips
1950 Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion Lou Hotchkiss
1951 Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man Lou Francis
Comin' Round the Mountain Wilbert Smith
1952 Jack and the Beanstalk Jack In color
Lost in Alaska George Bell
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd Oliver "Puddin' Head" Johnson In color
1953 Abbott and Costello Go to Mars Orville
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Tubby
1955 Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops Willie Piper
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy Freddie Franklin
1956 Dance with Me, Henry Lou Henry
1959 The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock Artie Pinsetter Only starring film without Abbott
1965 The World of Abbott and Costello Compilation film


Year Title Role Notes
1951–1955 The Colgate Comedy Hour Costello Rotating hosts
1952–1954 The Abbott and Costello Show 52 episodes
1956–1958 The Steve Allen Show Himself 7 episodes
1956 This Is Your Life
1957 I've Got a Secret
1958 General Electric Theater Neal Andrews episode: Blaze of Glory
Wagon Train Tobias Jones episode: The Tobias Jones Story


  1. "Star Dust". The Mirror. 32 (1758). Western Australia. February 5, 1955. p. 13. Retrieved August 12, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  2. "Films: LAST OF THE GREAT COMEDY TEAMS". The World's News (2571). New South Wales, Australia. March 31, 1951. p. 20. Retrieved August 12, 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  3. "Lou Costello, 52, Dies on Coast. Comic Had Teamed With Abbott. 'Little Guy Trying to Be a Big Shot' in Films and on TV-Partners Broke Up in '57". The New York Times. March 4, 1959.
  4. http://www.louandbud.com/Lou.htm, accessed January 30, 2007
  5. Thomas, B. (1977). Bud & Lou: The Abbott & Costello Story. Lippincott. ISBN 9780397011957. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  6. "Public School #15". paterson.k12.nj.us. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  7. C. Costello (1981), p. 7.
  8. "LOU COSTELLO'S DAUGHTER WEDS". The Barrier Miner. LXVI (17, 558). New South Wales, Australia. November 11, 1953. p. 12. Retrieved August 12, 2017 via National Library of Australia., ... Patricia Anne Costello, 17, daughter of Abbott's comedy partner Lou Costello, after her marriage in California last week to James Cardinet ...
  9. "GRANDFATHER". Cootamundra Herald. New South Wales, Australia. June 4, 1954. p. 1. Retrieved August 12, 2017 via National Library of Australia., ... SANTA MONICA, THURSDAY — Film comedian Lou Costello Is now a grandfather with the birth of a boy yesterday to his daughter, Patricia Cardinet ...
  10. "Lou Costello Broadcasts After Son's Death". The Advertiser. LXXXVI (26549). Adelaide. November 6, 1943. p. 5. Retrieved August 12, 2017 via National Library of Australia., ... The one-year-old son of comedian Lou Costello fell into the family swimming pool and was drowned this afternoon ...
  11. "Mrs. Lou Costello Fatally Stricken". Reading Eagle. December 6, 1959. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  12. "Gossip Of Stars". Sunday Times (Perth) (5284). Western Australia. August 31, 1947. p. 12 (SUPPLEMENT TO THE SUNDAY TIMES). Retrieved August 12, 2017 via National Library of Australia., ... Mrs. Lou Costello has just given birth to a baby girl. This is her third daughter. It is to be named Christine, after Lou's father ...
  13. "Daughter to Lou Costellos". The New York Times. August 14, 1947.
  14. "Laurel & Hardy Films | Stills". laurelandhardyfilms.com. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  15. Smith, Jr., EW (2009). Athletes Once: 100 Famous People Who Were Once Notable Athletes. Cortero. ISBN 9781611790689.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  17. Sherman, Eddie (Lou's manager) interviewed on the program This is Your Life, NBC TV, presented by Ralph Edwards, 1956 (16:08), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWpEOXvnOmA, accessed January 20, 2014
  18. Sforza, John: Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story; University Press of Kentucky, 2000; 289 pages.
  19. C. Costello (1961), pp. 119–120.
  20. C. Costello (1961), p. 120.
  21. http://www.encyclopedia.com/.../c8v0xBFJMOI-this-is-your-life-lou.aspx
  22. "Abbott, Costello Split. Comedy Team Breaks Up to Let Abbott Raise Horses". The New York Times. United Press International. July 15, 1957.
  23. Fitzgerald, Mike. "Beverly Washburn Interview". Western Clippings.com. Mike Fitzgerald. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  24. "dying words". corsinet.com. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  25. "Death Takes Lou Costello". The Milwaukee Journal. March 4, 1959. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  26. Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1959.
  27. Los Angeles Evening Mirror News, March 4, 1959.
  28. "Lou Costello". Los Angeles Times.
  29. "Costello Rites Held. Comedian Mourned by 400 at Requiem Mass on Coast". The New York Times. March 7, 1959.
  30. "Lou Costello's Widow Passes". Sunday Herald. December 6, 1959. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  31. "Mrs. Lou Costello, 47. Widow of Movie Comedian is Dead in California". The New York Times. United Press International. December 6, 1959.
  32. Eder, Bruce. "Joe Kirk: Biography". AllMovie. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
  33. Nollen, Scott Allen (2009). "Appendix". Abbott and Costello on the Home Front: A Critical Study of the Wartime Films. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 192–199. ISBN 978-0-7864-3521-0. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
  34. "Carole Costello, 48, Comic's Daughter, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 3, 1987. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  35. Costello, C. Lou's on First: A Biography: The tragic life of Hollywood's greatest clown warmly recounted by his youngest child. St. Martin's Press (1981). ISBN 0312499132
  36. Dunning, J. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford Univ. Press (1998), pp. 2–3. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
  37. Abbott and Costello on the Home Front: A Critical Study of the Wartime Films, By Scott Allen Nollen, Page 8
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