As a boy, I learned to love Abbott and
endless local showings of their movies on television and equally
endless repeats of their two-season television show.
wasn't until much later that I learned how good Bud and Lou really were
when I finally saw some of their appearances on the Colgate Comedy
Hour. I now believe that these appearances, preserved on
kinescope at the time and available on video and DVD, represent the
true "Best of Abbott and Costello". The Boys were in their
element in front of a live audience, with Lou Costello able to play to
the crowd and ad-lib at will and Bud Abbott coming off warmer and more
human that his one-dimensional straightman role usually seen in the
movies. They appeared on the show at a time when their movie
career was grinding to an end, so it was something of a
rebirth for the team, a chance for them to get back to their
burlesque hall roots. Of course, they still did all their old
routines like "Who's on First?", "The Army Drill" and "Mudder Fodder",
but with a new level of enthusiasm thanks to an appreciative audience
eager to watch them go through their paces. Sid Fields, who
to Bud and Lou what Jimmy Finlayson was to Laurel and Hardy, also
contributed to many memorable revivals of sketches.
With live television back then, things inevitably would go wrong now and again, leading to the best moments. In one such moment, Lou accidentally breaks a vase that was to be used in a sketch's final gag, and, after a minute or so, Bud simply walks through a door, says "Pardon me, folks" and plants a new vase on the table. One of the best such moments occurs in a sketch in which Abbott, eager to get rid of a cursed amulet, places it in Lou's hamburger. As Lou eats the burger, the offstage sound effects man creates such an over-the-top crunching noise that Lou cracks up helplessly with every bite.
Check out this list of stars who clowned around with Abbott and Costello on the Colgate Comedy Hour: George Raft, Louie Armstrong, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Hoagy Carmichael, Lon Chaney, Peggy Lee and Charles Laughton. Is there anybody around today that can match that talent? The Colgate Comedy Hour, which featured different hosts each week, represents a time when stars walked the earth and "celebrities" didn't even exist. We're lucky to have so many of these shows preserved for posterity, so we can look back and remember when the Entertainment Industry was simply called "show biz". - JB