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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Anne Martin

Beyond the Screen (BTS): Abbott & Costello

Hello and welcome to my Beyond the Screen series. To start off, I chose to focus on my first favorite movie stars: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

I was introduced to the comedy pair when I was about 5 or 6 when my mom would take me to our local video store, Movies To Go. This was such a treat! We would get free popcorn and I only wanted to rent Abbott & Costello movies. My absolute favorite was The Time of Their Lives.

The comedy duo started off as solo acts in the burlesque shows of the 1920s, performing between dance girl acts, but then joined forces in the 30s. They performed at various theaters on the East coast, finding fame with their legendary “Who’s on First?” routine. Their popularity soon garnered them a turn on a famous radio program, The Kate Smith Hour, in 1938, and it was there that the famed routine put "The Boys" on the map. They went on to have their own radio shows, and star in dozens of movies in the 40s and 50s. At the height of their careers, they made two movies per year, performed on the radio, and developed their own TV series. Unfortunately, their over exposure ultimately led to the end of their popularity and the eventual dissolution of the comedy pair.

While their on-camera personas were electric and complementary, it wasn’t always happy behind the scenes. There were disputes over money and Costello wanted to stretch his skills outside of being a duo. After successfully achieving separate roles in Little Giant, they did it again with The Time of Their Lives, where the two were pitted against each other.

In The Time of Their Lives, Horatio Prim (Costello) is a tinker during the Revolutionary War who is mistaken as a traitor while fleeing a fire at the real traitor's mansion. He and a young woman (Marjorie Reynolds) are killed, cursed to roam the property until doom cracks or until someone proves their innocence. For centuries the two remain on the property and when the mansion is rebuilt, they conspire to haunt the new tenants, including Dr. Greenway (Abbott), a psychiatrist who happens to look exactly like an old nemesis of Prim's. Hilarity ensues, and when the ghosts discover some of the original artifacts in the mansion, they realize their victims may be the ones to help them finally prove their innocence.

It’s a fun story where the animosity between Costello and Abbott makes for even more comedic moments. The film debuted strong and was one of their most expensive pursuits due to its special effects. Another favorite, and bonafide hit, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, also had loads of effects and a massive budget, for the time, of $800,000.

If you haven’t checked out their films, or heard their famous “Who’s On First?” routine, I hope you to seek them out. In addition to the films I’ve mentioned, other favorites include Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff and Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. (Even at a young age, I was a sucker for mystery and the supernatural.)

Let me know what you think!

Director Charles Barton, Marjorie Reynolds, & Lou Costello

The Time of Their Lives


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