Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were a pair of burlesque comics who first met on the circuit in 1935. Other performers could not help but notice the chemistry between Abbott’s conniving straight man persona and Costello’s dim-witted, man-child routine, and advised the two to form a team. By the late 1930’s, Abbott and Costello had gained a spot on radio, as part of the “Kate Smith Hour.” In 1940, Universal Pictures produced an ensemble musical comedy called “One Night in the Tropics.” Although given only a supporting role, Abbott and Costello walked away with the picture, largely because of their performance of their signature bit, “Who’s On First.”
Abbott and Costello’s success in “One Night in the Tropics” won them a long term movie contract with Universal, and their first starring vehicle, “Buck Privates” was a box office smash. In 1942, Abbott and Costello were the nation’s number one box office draw, and they remained in the top ten through 1952. In addition to their 36 films, the pair continued to star on radio and in night clubs. Clearly, Abbott and Costello were the number one comedy team in America.
By the 1950’s, as the team began to appear frequently on television, Abbott and Costello’s popularity began to fade. While over exposure contributed to their decline, they were also becoming overshadowed by another, younger comedy team, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Personal differences between Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had also hampered the pair for many years, and the partnership was over by 1956.
Notes: During their stage careers, Abbott and Costello had similar voices, but working in radio made it necessary for Costello to develop his trademark high pitched tone. The team’s most famous bit, “Who’s On First” has roots dating back to late 19th century vaudeville. “The Baker Scene” was a skit which centered around a shop that was located on Watt Street, owned by a man named Who Dyed. Comedian Will Hay performed a sketch in the early 1930’s where a teacher interviewed a student named Howe, who lived in Ware, located in the county of Wye. Abbott and Costello are credited in giving the routine a baseball angle, first including it in their act in 1936, and bringing it to radio in March of 1938. They copyrighted it in 1944.
Trivia: In “Who’s On First,” the right fielder is never mentioned.