Actor Bud Abbott

William Alexander “Bud” Abbott (October 2, 1897[a] – April 24, 1974) was an American comedian, actor and straight man half of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello.

Groucho Marx declared Abbott “the greatest straight man ever.”

Early life

Abbott was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey on October 2, 1897, into a show business family. His parents, Rae Fisher and Harry Abbott, had met while working for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. She was a bareback rider and he was a concessionaire and forage agent. Bud was the third of the couple’s four children. When Bud was a toddler the family relocated to Harlem, then to the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, and his father became a longtime advance man for the Columbia Burlesque Wheel. During the summer, when burlesque was on hiatus, his father worked at Dreamland Park in Coney Island. Bud dropped out of grammar school to work at the park. In his teens, Abbott signed on as a cabin boy on a Norwegian steamer but was soon forced to shovel coal. He worked his way back to the United States a year later.

In his late teens Abbott began working in the box office of the Casino Theatre in Brooklyn, a burlesque house on the Columbia wheel. He spent the next few years in burlesque box offices, rising to treasurer. In 1918, while working in Washington, D.C., he met and married Jenny Mae Pratt (1902–1981), a burlesque dancer and comedian who performed as Betty Smith. They remained together until his death 55 years later. Betty performed on the Columbia Wheel while Bud mostly remained behind the scenes. In 1923 he produced a cut-rate vaudeville tab show called Broadway Flashes, which toured on the small-time Gus Sun circuit. Abbott began performing as a straight man in the show when he could no longer afford to pay one. He continued producing and performing in burlesque shows on the Mutual Burlesque wheel, and as his reputation grew, he began working with veteran comedians like Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson. Abbott suffered from epilepsy starting from about 1926.


Lou Costello and Hollywood

Abbott crossed paths with Lou Costello in the early 1930s when Abbott was producing and performing in Minsky’s Burlesque shows in New York and Costello was a rising comic. They worked together for the first time in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street after an illness sidelined Costello’s regular partner. They formally teamed up in 1936, and performed together in burlesque, minstrel shows, what was left of vaudeville, and stage shows.

In 1938, they received national exposure as regulars on the Kate Smith Hour radio show, which led to roles in a Broadway musical, The Streets of Paris in 1939. In 1940, Universal signed the team for their first film, One Night in the Tropics. Despite having minor roles, Abbott and Costello stole the film with several classic routines, including an abbreviated version of “Who’s On First?” Universal signed the team to a two-picture deal, and the first film, Buck Privates (1941), became a major hit and led to a long-term contract with the studio.

Arthur Lubin, who directed the team’s first five starring films, later said: “I don’t think there has ever been a finer straight man in the business than Bud Abbott. Lou would go off the script – because he was that clever with lines – and Bud would bring him right back.”

During World War II, Abbott and Costello were among the most popular and highest-paid stars in the world. Between 1940 and 1956 they made 36 films and earned a percentage of the profits on each. They were among the Top 10 box office stars from 1941 through 1951, and placed No. 1 in 1942. They also had their own radio program (The Abbott and Costello Show) throughout the 1940s, first on NBC from 1942 to 1947, and from 1947 to 1949 on ABC. During a 35-day tour in the summer of 1942, the team sold $85 million worth of War Bonds.

In the 1950s, they introduced their comedy to live television on The Colgate Comedy Hour, and launched their own half-hour filmed series, The Abbott and Costello Show (1952–54).

Strain and split

Relations between Abbott and Costello were strained by egos and salary disputes. In burlesque they split their earnings 60%–40%, favoring Abbott, because the straight man was always viewed as the more valuable member of the team. This was eventually changed to 50%–50%, but after a year in Hollywood, Costello insisted on a 60%–40% split in his favor, and it remained so for the rest of their careers. Costello also demanded that the team be renamed “Costello and Abbott”, but this was rejected by Universal Studios, resulting in a “permanent chill” between the two partners, according to Lou’s daughter Chris Costello in her biography Lou’s on First. Their relationship was further strained by Abbott’s alcohol abuse, a habit motivated by his desire to stave off epileptic seizures.

The team’s popularity waned in the 1950s, and the IRS demanded substantial back taxes, forcing the partners (both of whom had been free spenders and serious gamblers) to sell most of their assets, including the rights to many of their films. When the team’s long-term contract with Universal was up in 1954, they demanded more money than the studio was willing to pay, and they were dropped after 14 years at the studio.

In November 1956, Costello was the subject of the Ralph Edwards-produced TV show This Is Your Life. A month later the team opened in Las Vegas for their last engagement as a team.

Abbott and Costello split in 1957. Costello made solo appearances on several TV shows, including the Steve Allen show, and did one film, The Thirty-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (released posthumously in 1959.) Costello died on March 3, 1959.

Later years

Abbott faced financial difficulties in the late 1950s when the IRS disallowed $500,000 in tax exemptions which forced him to sell his home and come out of semi-retirement.

In 1960, Abbott began performing with a new partner, Candy Candido, to good reviews. But Abbott called it quits, remarking that “No one could ever live up to Lou.” The following year, Abbott played a straight role in a dramatic television episode of General Electric Theater titled “The Joke’s on Me”. In 1964, he suffered the first in a series of strokes and recuperated at the Motion Picture Country Home. The following year, he appeared on the set of the Elvis Presley movie, Frankie and Johnny, with Barbara Stanwyck, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities when Presley donated $50,000 to the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help its $40 million building and endowment drive. In 1966, Abbott provided his own voice for the Hanna-Barbera animated series The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show. Stan Irwin provided the voice of Lou Costello.

Personal life

Bud and Betty Abbott were married for 55 years. The couple adopted two children: Bud Jr. (August 23, 1939 – January 19, 1997) in 1942 and Vickie in 1949.

Norman and Betty Abbott, the children of Bud’s older sister, Olive, started their careers in Hollywood working behind the scenes on the Abbott and Costello films. Betty became Blake Edwards’ longtime script supervisor, and Norman directed episodes of many television series, including Leave It to Beaver, The Jack Benny Program, Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter.

Bud has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: the radio star is located at 6333 Hollywood Boulevard, the motion pictures star is located at 1611 Vine Street, and the television star is located at 6740 Hollywood Boulevard.


Abbott died of cancer at age 76 on April 24, 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. He was cremated at Grandview Crematory in Glendale, California and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean three miles out from Santa Monica.

His widow, Betty, died on September 12, 1981.

When Groucho Marx was asked about Abbott shortly after his death, his response was that Abbott was “the greatest straight man ever.”

Honors and awards

Abbott and Costello are among the few non-baseball personnel to be memorialized in the Baseball Hall of Fame, although they are not inductees of the Hall itself. A plaque and a gold record of the “Who’s On First?” sketch have been on permanent display there since 1956, and the routine runs on an endless video loop in the exhibit area.

Abbott and Costello each have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their work in radio, television and motion pictures.

In 1942, they were voted the country’s No. 1 Box Office Stars by exhibitors. They ranked among the Top Ten in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951.

Abbott received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Acting (posthumously) from the Garden State Film Festival in 2006; it was accepted on his behalf by his daughter Vickie Abbott Wheeler.

Abbott is a 2009 inductee of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.


Year Film Role Notes
1940 One Night in the Tropics Abbott Film Debut
1941 Buck Privates Slicker Smith First Comedy
In the Navy Smoky Adams
Hold That Ghost Chuck Murray
Keep ‘Em Flying Blackie Benson
1942 Ride ‘Em Cowboy Duke
Rio Rita Doc
Pardon My Sarong Algy Shaw
Who Done It? Chick Larkin
1943 It Ain’t Hay Grover Mickridge
Hit the Ice Flash Fulton
1944 In Society Eddie Harrington
Lost in a Harem Peter Johnson
1945 Here Come the Co-Eds Slats McCarthy
The Naughty Nineties Dexter Broadhurst
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood Buzz Kurtis
1946 Little Giant John Morrison / Tom Chandler
The Time of Their Lives Cuthbert / Dr. Greenway
1947 Buck Privates Come Home Slicker Smith Sequel to Buck Privates
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Duke Egan
1948 The Noose Hangs High Ted Higgins (Also Producer, uncredited)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Chick Young
Mexican Hayride Harry Lambert
10,000 Kids and a Cop Himself Documentary short
1949 Africa Screams Buzz Johnson
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff Casey Edwards
1950 Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion Bud Jones
1951 Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man Bud Alexander
Comin’ Round the Mountain Al Stewart
1952 Jack and the Beanstalk Mr. Dinklepuss Also Producer
Lost in Alaska Tom Watson
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd Rocky Stonebridge Also Executive Producer
1953 Abbott and Costello Go to Mars Lester
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Slim
1955 Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops Harry Pierce
Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy Peter Patterson
1956 Dance with Me, Henry Bud Flick
1965 The World of Abbott and Costello Compilation Film
Year Title Role Notes
1951–1954 The Colgate Comedy Hour Host Multiple episodes
1952–1954 The Abbott and Costello Show Bud Abbott 52 Episodes
1961 General Electric Theater Ernie Kauffman Episode: “The Joke’s On Me” (04/16/61)
1967–1968 The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show Abbott Voice, 39 Episodes, 156 segments
Other works
Year Title Role
1941 Meet the People Himself
1942 Picture People No. 10: Hollywood at Home Himself
1949 Screen Snapshots: Motion Picture Mothers, Inc. Himself
1952 News of the Day Himself
1954 Screen Snapshots Series 33, No. 10: Hollywood Grows Up Himself
1955 Toast of the Town Himself
1956 This Is Your Life Himself; Episode Lou Costello
1999 The Century: America’s Time Archival footage
1999 ABC 2000: The Millennium Voice, Archival footage


  • ^ The year of birth has been reported as 1895, 1896, 1897, and 1898 in different sources. The 1895 date was perpetuated by sources copying from an earlier incorrect sources. His birth certificate and World War I draft card both use “October 2, 1897”.
  • External Links

    Actor Bud Abbott – Wikipedia

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