Yesterday, March 6, was the anniversary of the birth of Louis Francis Cristillo. If you don’t know who Mr. Cristillo is you will probably know him by his stage name, Lou Costello.
Lou Costello has always been a favorite actor of mine since I was a small boy. For my entire life, I’ve admired him, been entertained by him and his partner, Bud Abbott, in movies, television shows, and radio dramas. Throughout my childhood, I laughed at his antics, cringed when he seemed to be in danger, and rooted for him to get past his latest challenge. Growing up, I knew nothing about his background other than he was born in Paterson NJ, a town I’ve been to. As an adult, I discovered he was also an Italian American and veteran of vaudeville and burlesque. Who knew?
Realizing that his birthday was yesterday, I looked up his biography.
This is what I found on IMDB.COM.
“Lou Costello was born Louis Francis Cristillo in Paterson, New Jersey, to Helen (Rege) and Sebastiano Cristillo. His father was from Calabria, Italy, and his mother was an American of Italian, French, and Irish ancestry. Raised in Paterson, Costello dropped out of high school and headed west to break into the movies. He got a job as a carpenter at MGM and Warners. He went from there to stuntman and then to vaudeville as a comic. In 1931, while working in Brooklyn, his straight man became ill and the theater cashier, Bud Abbott, filled in for him. The two formed their famous comedy team and, through the 1930s, they worked burlesque, minstrel shows, vaudeville and movie houses. In 1938, they got national exposure through the Kate Smith Hour radio show and signed with Universal Pictures the next year. They debuted in One Night in the Tropics (1940). Their scene-stealing performances in that film landed them their own picture the next year, Buck Privates (1941), with The Andrews Sisters. It was a runaway hit, grossing what was then a company record $10 million on a $180,000 budget. In 1942, they topped a poll of Hollywood stars. They had their own radio show (ABC, 1941-46, NBC, 1946-49) and TV show (The Abbott and Costello Show (1952)). After the war, their movies shifted formula to one in which they met various monsters or found themselves in exotic locations. The team split up in 1957, with both winding up completely out of money after troubles with the Internal Revenue Service. After that Lou appeared in a few television shows and the movie The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959), released a few months after he died.”
My all time favorite movie, across all genres and the decades is one of his, “The Time of Their Lives“. Admittedly, it is not one of the more famous of his movies but to me, it’s priceless. He plays his usual comedic character set during the American Revolution. He played a poor tinker who, along with Melody Allen, was shot, killed, and erroneously branded as traitors. Each of them wakes up as ghosts, eternally bound to the estate they died on. Centuries later, they are freed from their torment and move on to their next lives. In between, though, is a story full of antics, comedic relief, and dual love affairs reunited. I absolutely love this movie and watch it frequently.
Lou Costello introduced me to the likes of the Andrew Sisters and other ‘A’ listers in the music and acting fields. His classic ‘Who’s On First‘ comedy routine he does with Bud Abbott is the absolute best. I have it on my regular playlist in my music player. I smile every time I hear it and if I’m having a bad day, it is my go to audio track to make me feel a better.
My only regret regarding Lou Costello is that he died long before I discovered and recognized his talent. In fact, I was still wearing diapers and my world revolved around my mother and father. My regret is offset by knowing that Lou’s middle name is the same as mine. Hey Mom and Dad, am I named after him?
If you know and appreciate Lou Costello the way I do, then I urge you to remember him with a nod of your head while recalling you favorite memory. If you don’t know who he is, please look him up. Though best known for his antics with his partner, Bud Abbott, he was a versatile actor, comedian, stuntman, athlete, and family man. There is much to this man than I can write here. Please, just take a moment and look him up.