By 1940, Laurel and Hardy had been eclipsed at the Box Office by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who brought their vaudeville routines to contemporary comedies. When the public started to tire of them, they reached even bigger audiences by switching to a series of comedy horror/thriller films, pairing them with Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and others, as well as sending them to Mars.
Bud Abbott (the tall thin straight man) and Lou Costello (the short fat comic) teamed up in vaudeville in 1936, and after achieving success with their burlesque sketches on radio, they graduated to films in 1940 when they were signed by Universal Studios, and appeared as comedy support in “A Night in the Tropics”.
Early the next year they were starring in their own breakthrough vehicle, the massively successful “Buck Privates”. America had a new favourite comedy team, and by the end of 1945 they had starred in 15 movies, and were the biggest Box Office draw of the first half of the decade. The films followed a simple formula – insert Bud and Lou into a respectable setting, have them cause chaos, and be sure to make room for a few of their tried and tested routines. Their best known, “Who’s on First?” appeared in its entirety in 1945’s “The Naughty Nineties”.
By then, their popularity was slipping, not helped by repeated rumours of an acrimonious off screen relationship, fuelled by the fact that in neither of their two 1946 movies did they appear together as friends or a team. The slide was temporarily halted by returning to their original inspiration in 1947 in “Buck Privates Come Home”. After that it looked like being downhill for them, until Universal had the inspired idea of teaming them with its other great asset, the film rights to many literary monsters, thereby creating a new genre: the horror comedy. It started with “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”, in which they met not only Frankenstein’s Monster, but also Bela Lugosi reprising his Dracula role, and Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolfman.
For the next seven years, their movies alternated between regular outings and adventures in which they met more horror foils, culminating with the Mummy 1955. They also found time to meet Boris Karloff , Captain Kidd, and the original Keystone Kops, and also to Go To Mars (although they actually went to New Orleans and Venus). As well as producing two films a year, they were also conquering the new medium of television, and continuing to star on radio.
Their last film together was 1956’s “Dance With Me, Henry”, after which they split, to allow the older Abbott to retire. Costello made one film on his own, 1959’s “Thirty Foot Bride of Candy Rock”, but died before it was released. Abbott outlived his partner by more than 15 years, during which he made only very rare appearances, the most poignant – but also the most remunerative – being his voicing his cartoon self in the popular Hanna-Barbera Abbott and Costello series in the mid 1960s.
A cult with a following in the US, original posters for their most popular films are very collectable. Frankenstein (poster artist, Bob Tollen) is undoubtedly at the top of the pile, but several others from their series of Meetings (with highly evocative artwork by Tollen) are also highly sought after – especially “The Killer, Boris Karloff”, “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” and “the Invisible Man” – as is the Al Hirschfeld drawn “In Hollywood”.