Remembering the tragedy and the comedy of Lou Costello who died on this day, March 3, 1959
Edited version of L.A. Times article
On the afternoon of Nov. 4, 1943, while Lou 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 of their home.
Anne Costello said she looked out the window about 2:30 p.m. and saw Butch in his playpen, and when she looked out again a few moments later, he was gone.
She rushed out to the swimming pool and found the child floating face-down in about a foot of water. She pulled him from the pool and screamed for help.
Two neighbors ran over and one of them administered artificial respiration while the other called authorities. Two firemen tried to resuscitate the boy for more than an hour before a coroner arrived and pronounced him dead.
Lou Costello was called and rushed home, arriving just as the firefighters were leaving. Grief-stricken, he wandered to the swimming pool and stood there for an hour before the coroner persuaded him to come inside the house.
Fellow comedians Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney and Red Skelton volunteered to take Lou’s place on the radio show, but Costello returned to the studio and did the show with Bud Abbott and Lana Turner. At the end of the program, Costello rushed from the stage, tears streaming down his face.
Lou never got over his son’s death, and blamed his wife for the tragedy. Although they didn’t divorce — they were both Catholics — their marriage was permanently damaged.
BOX OFFICE STARS
Before the death of his son, Lou Costello and his partner Bud Abbott were riding high. They signed with Universal Pictures in 1939, making their debut in One Night in the Tropics. They followed that with Buck Privates, a huge hit which cost $180,000 to make and grossed what was then a company record of $10-million. In 1942 they had their own radio show and 10 years later, their own TV show.
But it wasn’t to last and in 1957 they split up, Lou going solo and Bud retiring. Lou died in 1959 at the age of 52. He was entombed in a crypt at Calvary Cemetery near his son. Bud Abbott died in 1974, aged 78.
Abbot and Costello will be remembered for many things, but one more than any other, their trademark routine, “Who’s on First?”