hated this show. Audiences found it screamingly funny, so much so that it became
one of the most successful and most repeated syndicated programs in television
was low-brow slapstick in its purest form, full of terrible
puns, improbable situations, and lots of knockabout, physical comedy. There was
a story line of sorts, which had Bud
(the tall, debonair one) and Lou (the short, silly one) as unemployed
actors sharing an apartment in a rooming house run by Mr. Fields, who was
always hounding them for back rent. Lou's girlfriend, Hillary, lived across
living in the boardinghouse was Stinky, a malevolent brat who'd grab Lou's arm and threaten, "I'll harm you!"
(Though a grown man, Stinky was always dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy
outfit). Other more or less regular characters were Mike the Cop and Mr.
Bacciagalupe, who had different occupations depending on the episode. Appearing
frequently in different roles were Joan Shawlee, Bobby Barber (the short, bald
guy) and Milt Bronson.
program began with a premise, often some scheme of Lou's to make money or avoid
paying bills, but soon disintegrated into a succession of unrelated skits
and gags. Essentially, the series was a showcase for all of the old material Bud
and Lou had been using on stage and in films since the 1930's. They might be at
a charity bazaar (where they could work in the "Lemon Bit"), or
stranded in a haunted house (good excuse for the "Moving Candle"
routine), or in an old folks home full of loonies who were having a baseball
game with an imaginary ball (up popped their classic "Who's on First?"
routine). Some episodes were complete steals from old silent comedies, including a
virtual reenactment of Buster Keaton's 1920 short film, One Week, in which a
jealous suitor sabotages the house Lou has built for his fiancÚ.
Costello was the spark plug of all of this frenzy. He was a natural comic, full
of gags and practical jokes on screen and off. During filming, even
when the action shifted elsewhere, the director kept one camera on Costello so as
not to miss any impromptu bits of business! Lou owned the show, and after the first
half-dozen episodes installed his brother, Pat Costello, as producer.
the first 26 episodes were filmed, changes were made. Brooke, Kirk, Besser and Shawlee
departed (as did the boys' pet, Bingo the Chimp, who had made the mistake of
biting Costello). Director Jean Yarborough tried to get things more organized, with more consistent
story lines and a new gag writer, Clyde Bruckman, for Abbott & Costello were
running out of their old material.
52 total episodes of the program were filmed, but these were highly popular -
critics notwithstanding - and were rerun endlessly over the next decades (starting with six months on CBS's Saturday morning lineup from September 1954
to February 1955). One New York station is said to have aired each one of the 52 episodes more
than 200 times! It was one of the last great successes for the top comedy team
of the 1940's, whose films, radio show, and Colgate
Comedy Hour appearances
pair finally broke up in 1957. Lou Costello, the human dynamo, was
worn out by the time he reached his fifties. He died in 1959, at the age of 52.
Bud Abbott passed away in 1974.
cartoon version of
Abbott & Costello Show
was syndicated in 1966, with Abbott providing his own voice.