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The laughter dies

July 15, 2007 |  1:32 pm



1957_0715_abbott_costello_pix July 15, 1957
Los Angeles

They had been through triumph and tragedy, and spent more time together than many married couples. But it was time for a change. The scripts were lousy and getting worse. One of them wanted to keep working and the other wanted to quit and raise thoroughbreds.

So Bud Abbott and Lou Costello split the act. Abbott, the straight man, was going to retire to his ranch in Ojai. Costello, the pudgy comedian, was going solo--he didn't want to work with anyone else.

Soon it was Abbott vs. Costello in a $222,465 lawsuit over money from a TV contract, although the men apparently remained friends.

And in less than two years, Costello was gone. He was hospitalized after he collapsed in an apartment at 4222 Ethel Ave., where his family was living while a home was being built at 3322 Longridge Terrace, Van Nuys. At the time of his death, Costello had some TV dates on Steve Allen's show and was to appear at the Dunes in Las Vegas.

There are too many stories about Costello to repeat them all, but the tragic death of Lou Costello Jr. shortly before his first birthday is worth exploring.

In 1943, Costello and his family were living at 4124 Longridge Ave., in Sherman Oaks. On the afternoon of Nov. 4, 1943, while Costello was at NBC rehearsing for his first radio show in a year, his wife, Anne, had put their son, Lou "Butch" Costello Jr., in a playpen in the backyard. Anne Costello said she looked out and saw Butch in his playpen about 2:30 p.m. and when she looked out again a few moments later, he was gone.

1957_0715_costello_butch "Racing into the yard, she ran to the swimming pool and found the child floating face-down in water a foot and one-half deep," The Times said.

"She pulled him from the water and screamed for help. Two neighbors, Mrs. Bert Gutterman and Mrs. William Holmes, rushed to her aid and Mrs. Gutterman began giving artificial respiration. Mrs. Holmes called for an inhalator and Firemen Alvin M. Hull and Paul S. Johnson worked over the boy for more than an hour before Dr. Vincent Kovner pronounced him dead." 

Costello rushed home, arriving just as the firefighters were leaving. "Grief-stricken, he wandered to the swimming pool and stood looking at the pale blue waters for an hour until Dr. Kovner persuaded him to enter the home and rest," The Times said.

Although Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney and Red Skelton volunteered to take his place, Costello insisted that the show must go on. He returned to the studio and did the radio show with Abbott and Lana Turner. At the end of the program, Costello rushed from the stage, his face streaked with tears. Then Abbott announced Butch Costello's death.

Abbott received word of Lou Costello's death as he was watching one of their old pictures on TV. They were doing their trademark routine, "Who's on First?"

Costello was entombed in a crypt at Calvary Cemetery near his son. He was 52.

Bud Abbott died in 1974, virtually broke after he sold most of his assets to settle income tax claims by the IRS.


 Abbott and Costello, 1943

Note: Proof that IMDB is not always reliable. It says Costello died in East L.A. He actually died at Doctor's Hospital in Beverly Hills.

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