What was Lou Costello’s net worth, salary and career earnings?
Lou Costello was an American actor and comedian who had a net worth of $250,000 at the time of his death in 1959. That’s the same as $2.3 million in today’s dollars after adjusting for inflation. Both Lou and his comedy partner Bud Abbott earned the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars during their careers. Unfortunately, profligate spending, poor tax planning and financial mismanagement reduced their net worths significantly by the end of their lives.
Lou Costello was best known for being one half of the comedy doubt act of “Abbott and Costello,” along with Bud Abbott. He was the bumbling character while Abbott played the straight man. Costello acted for radio, television, film, and theater. Abbott and Costello were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers during World War II. Lou Costello passed away on March 3, 1959 at 52 years old from a heart attack.
Lou Costello was born on March 6, 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey and was given the name Louis Francis Cristillo by his parents Helen Rege and Sebastiano Cristillo. His father worked as a silk weaver and insurance sales agent and was originally from Caserta in Campania, Italy. His mother was American of Italian, French, and Irish ancestry.
Costello attended Public School 15 and was considered a gifted athlete while in school. He excelled in basketball. In fact, his skills in basketball could later be seen in “Here Come the Co-Eds” in 1945, in which he performed his own trick basketball shots. Growing up, Costello greatly admired the silent-film comedian Charlie Chaplin and it was Chaplin that inspired Costello to pursue a career in entertainment himself.
Between 1940 and 1956 the duo made 36 movies together. For much of that period their films were box office gold earning more than $120 million at the box office. That’s the same as around $1.8 billion in today’s dollars. In the early part of their career, they split earnings 60-40 in favor of Abbott. They dabbled with a 50-50 split but ended up with a 60-40 split in favor of Costello for much of their time in Hollywood. From their films alone, the duo reportedly earned around $25 million. That’s $360 million in today’s dollars, $180 million a piece.
Unfortunately, as their careers waned in the 1950s, the IRS came calling. The IRS reversed $500,000 in tax exemptions that had been credited to Abbott, forcing him to sell his house and end an early retirement. A similar situation befell Costello. They both found themselves being forced to sell their mansions and the rights to many of their most popular films to cover their respective debts.
In 1927, at the age of 19, Costello hitchhiked to Hollywood to become an actor. However, he could only find work as a laborer or extra at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Hal Roach Studios. Because he was athletic, he also occasionally landed work as a stuntman, notably in “The Trail of ’98” in 1928. He also had a small role in the Laurel and Hardy film, “The Battle of the Century.” Around this time, he adopted the professional name of Lou Costello, inspired by actress Helene Costello.
In 1928, Costello moved back east in order to gain some experience in theater, given the advent of talking films. While on his way through the country, he became stranded in St. Joseph, Missouri and persuaded a local burlesque producer to hire him as a comic. By the end of the year, he was back in New Jersey. The following year, he began working in burlesque on the Mutual Burlesque wheel. However, during the Great Depression, the Mutual Wheel collapsed and Costello began working for several stock burlesque impresarios, including the Minskys, an American burlesque brand operated by the four Minsky brothers. There, he met the talented producer and performer, Bud Abbott.
Abbott and Costello
Costello and Abbott first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City after Costello’s original partner became ill. They then formally formed a team in 1936, with Abbott playing the straight man to Costello’s comedy. The duo were signed by the William Morris talent agency, which landed them featured roles and national exposure on “The Kate Smith Hour,” a popular radio variety show, in 1938. Their signature routine, “Who’s On First?” made its radio debut on Smith’s show. It has since became very popular and is performed by comedians still today. Many of Abbott and Costello’s sketches were further polished by John Grant, a comedy writer, after the duo joined Smith’s show. Their success on “The Kate Smith Hour” led to their appearance in the Broadway musical “The Streets of Paris” in 1939.
In 1940, Abbott and Costello were signed by Universal Pictures for supporting roles in “One Night in the Tropics.” The team’s breakthrough picture was “Buck Privates” in 1941. They appeared in three more films that year and were voted the number three box-office stars of 1941. They also became regulars on Edgar Bergen’s “The Chase and Sanborn Program.” In October 1942, they launched their own series, “The Abbott and Costello Show,” on NBC. The show ran on NBC through the spring of 1947 and then on ABC through the spring of 1949.
Abbott and Costello’s film career continued to take-off throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s. Between 1940 and 1956, Abbott and Costello appeared in 36 films. They were among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. Among their most popular films are “Hold That Ghost,” “Who Done It?” “Pardon My Sarong,” “The Time of Their Lives,” “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” and “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.” In the summer of 1942, the duo embarked on a 35-day cross-country tour to promote and sell war bonds. The Treasury Department credited them with the sale of $85 million in bonds.
However, as their fame grew, cracks began to appear in Abbott and Costello’s relationship. They sometimes had disagreements over what shows to book and over the years, grew increasingly frosty with one another. Costello also suffered some personal tragedies during this time, as he had an attack of rheumatic fever in 1943 and was unable to work for six months. The same year, his infant son also died by accidental drowning. By 1946, the two were rarely speaking to each other off camera. However, Abbott attempted to heal their relationship by suggesting that the foundation they were founding together for rheumatic fever sufferers be named the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation, an act that touched Costello deeply.
By the mid-1950s, Abbott and Costello were no longer ranked among the top box office stars. In particular, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had become very popular. They performed in their final film together, “Dance with Me, Henry,” in 1956. They dissolved their partnership in 1957. Costello went on to work with several other comedians and appeared on “The Tonight Show” a few times. He also had a role in “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock,” the only film he appeared in after his partnership with Abbott ended, and before suffering from a heart attack.
Personal Life and Death
On January 30, 1934, Costello married Anne Battler, a burlesque chorus dancer. Thy had their first daughter together, Patricia, in 1936. In 1938, they welcomed a second daughter named Carole. They had a son together in 1942 who passed away by accidental drowning before reaching his first birthday. In 1947, they had their final child, a daughter named Christine.
Three days before his 53rd birthday, Costello died at Doctors Hospital in Beverly Hills on March 3, 1959 after suffering a heart attack. He was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles on March 8. His wife, Anne, died from a heart attack nine months later in December 1959.