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Abbott and Costello exist in the public mind as an almost ‘Siamese twin’ double act.

William Alexander (Bud) Abbott was born in 1895 in New Jersey, into an entertainment family. His father was an advance man for travelling acts and his mother was a bareback horse rider for Ringling Bros circus.

Abbott and Costello meet FrankensteinAdvertising poster for 'Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein'Abbott dropped out of school when 15 and almost immediately signed onto a ship bound for Norway! Eventually he worked his way back to the US and Detroit where he worked in back office roles in burlesque. In 1918 He married Jenny Mae Pratt (stage name Betty Smith) and the marriage lasted for the rest of his life – 55 years. While continuing to work as the treasurer of the National Theatre in Detroit he began to gain experience as a ‘straight man’ and his reputation grew.

In 1931 he moved back to New York and whilst working as a cashier at the Casino Theatre, Lou Costello’s straight man fell ill and Abbott stepped into the gap. Instant success; thunderous applause; and the duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello was born.

Initially they worked the burlesque and vaudeville circuit until 1938 when they got a breakthrough gig on the Kate Smith Hour radio show. At about this time they created their most famous comedy routine, Who’s on First? which turned a simple mix up over a baseball line-up into a side-splitting gag. The routine was eventually memorialised at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. To this date Abbott and Costello remain the only figures in the hall who are from outside the game.

During World War 2 Abbott and Costello made numerous successful films in Hollywood with perhaps the most successful being, Buck Privates which grossed more than $10 million
– a record at the time. After the war their popularity declined as they made increasingly low-budget movies with forgettable names.

The team split up in 1957 and Lou Costello died in 1959.

Both Abbott and Costello had major tax problems with the Internal Revenue Service and wound up virtually broke. Abbott started over with a new partner, Candy Candido, in the 1960s and set off on a national tour, including Las Vegas, but the act failed. In 1966 he voiced his character in a cartoon version of their television show. His health deteriorated badly in the late 1960s, he had always suffered from epilepsy, and he died in 1974.

Bud Abbott was a proud mason and his career epitomised the sharing of happiness.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, September 2019, pages 18 and 19.


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