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From the Archives: Lou Costello, Famed Comedian, Dies at 52

Bud Abbott, left, and Lou Costello.

Bud Abbott, left, and Lou Costello.

(Universal Pictures Co., Inc)

Lou Costello, the roly-poly comic whose heart was as big as his girth, died yesterday afternoon of a heart attack in Doctors Hospital, Beverly Hills, three days before his 53rd birthday.

He had been confined to the hospital since last Wednesday when he collapsed at his apartment, 4222 Ethel Ave., while watching television.

With him at the time of his death was one of three private nurses who maintained a constant watch on the comic.

Slumps Onto Pillow

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“He said he wanted to turn over on his side,” she told Eddie Sherman, Lou’s manager for the last 23 years. “He said ‘I think I’ll be more comfortable.’ Before I could reach him he slumped back on his pillow and was gone.”

His wife of 25 years, Mrs. Anne Costello, and Sherman had spent most of the day with the comic who, with his former partner, Bud Abbott, spent more than a quarter of a century making people laugh all over the world.

“About 3 p.m. Lou suggested to Anne that she had better go on home and prepare dinner for their daughter Christine,” Sherman recounted. “He said he was feeling fine. We both left, promising to return in the evening.”

On Way for Visit

Death, however, came to Lou at 3:55 p.m.

Another daughter, Carole Lou, 20, was en route to the hospital to visit with her father but was intercepted by Drs. Stanley Immerman and Arnold Kadish, Lou’s physicians, who had been summoned by the nurse.

She remained at the hospital and was soon joined by her mother, Christine, 11, and Lou’s other daughter, Patricia, 22.

Informed of the death of his former partner—they split up in 1957—Abbott could only sob, “My heart is broken. I’ve lost the best pal anyone ever had.”

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Sherman said Lou had shown great improvement since the attack last Wednesday.

“We were kidding around all during the morning,” he declared. “Lou had a date to do the Steve Allen TV show April 12 and was telling me an idea he had thought up for a race track sketch.

“About 10:30 he said he felt like eating a strawberry ice cream soda. I got him one and he really enjoyed it. He was a really happy man this morning. He also had another date with Steve for May 24 and then he was planning to do six weeks at Las Vegas Dunes. Lou was always working up new routines.”

Sherman said the comedian and his family had been residing temporarily in the apartment.

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Completed New Home

Lou and Anne had just completed their new home at 3322 Longridge Terrace in North Hollywood and were working on plans for furnishing it,” Sherman declared.

Costello’s body was taken to Steen’s Mortuary, 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, where rosary will be recited Friday at 8 p.m. A Requiem Mass will follow Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 4246 Fulton Ave., Studio City.

Entombment will be in the mausoleum at Calvary Cemetery.

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A native of Paterson, N.J., Mr. Costello was a newsboy, soda fountain clerk, salesman and movie stunt man before becoming a burlesque comedian.

He perfected many of his routines from incidents in his own life. In school his teacher once ordered him to write ‘I’m a bad boy’ 100 times on the blackboard. It became one of his favorite gags.

High School Athlete

In high school the comic was credited with being a crack athlete, starring in basketball, baseball, football and track. Later he tried his hand at boxing, drawing considerable crowds who were amazed at his ability to absorb punishment.

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After graduation he became a hat store clerk, saving enough money to travel to Hollywood. He became a member of a labor gang at the old Warner Bros. Studio and later moved up to stunt man. One job, because he weighed only 125 pounds, was to double for Dolores Del Rio in “Trail of ’98.” He was badly injured taking a fall before the cameras.

He returned to the East and went into burlesque as a single. There he met Abbott, they joined forces and soon became headliners. During the pre-war and World War II years he and Abbott were among the top motion picture box-office drawing cards.

Lou Costello, left, and Bud Abbott performing their baseball sketch "Who's on First?"

Lou Costello, left, and Bud Abbott performing their baseball sketch “Who’s on First?”

(Universal Pictures Co., Inc.)

Favorite Movies

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Their favorite movies parodied life in the armed services and drew howls of appreciation from military audiences. Later they made a series of television shows together, shows that eventually led to Abbott suing Costello for an accounting of the profits last year. Despite their financial differences, the two men remained great friends after they parted company in 1957. A pretrial hearing in the suit was set for today before Superior Judge A. Curtis Smith.

In 1943 tragedy struck the comedian when his infant son, Lou Jr., toddled into the family swimming pool and was drowned. Costello was broken-hearted. At that time Mrs. Costello was suffering from heart disease.

In memory of the child, Lou endowed the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation playground and medical clinic in 1947 at 3121 E. Olympic Blvd. He reportedly spent over $260,000 in its development. It was old back to the city in 1950 by Costello and Abbott for $97,500.

In 1941, motion picture exhibitors voted the Abbott-Costello team the third biggest money-maker in the industry. The next year the pair were in first place. They were in the top 10 in 1941-44 and 1948-51.

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Pictures Listed

Mr. Costello’s pictures included “Buck Privates,” “In the Navy,” “Hold That Ghost,” “Rio Rita,” “Pardon My Sarong,” “Who Done It?” “It Ain’t Hay,” “Hit the Ice,” “Lost in a Harem.” “In Society,” “Here Come the Co-eds,” “The Naughty Nineties,” and “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood.”

Others were “Little Giant, “Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap,” “The Noose Hangs High,” “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” “Mexican Hayride,” “Africa Screams,” “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion,” “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man,” “Comin’ Round the Mountain,” “Lost in Alaska, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops,” “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy,” and “Dance With Me, Henry.”

They reportedly turned out 40 movies which grossed more than $120 million. Their personal earnings from these films have been set a $25 million and the pair, Sherman reported in 1955, had percentage deals, including television rights, on all their pictures.

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Reached at his home, comic Red Skelton was stunned by the news of his fellow comedian’s passing.

“I feel that I have lost one of my very good friends,” Red said. “He was such a good little man. It seems the world is destined to lose those who make them laugh while people who made them sad live on. The world has lost a wonderful man.”

news.obits@latimes.com


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