It gets so boring at home. After all, how many reruns of Abbott and Costello movies can a guy watch on television?
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. When Abbott 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, a burlesque dancer and comedienne 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 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, 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.
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. It remained 60/40 for the rest of their careers. Costello also demanded that the team be renamed "Costello and Abbott," but this was rejected by Universal because the studio had been promoting "Abbott and Costello" for years. Abbott's top billing resulted in a "permanent chill" between the two partners, according to Lou's daughter Chris Costello in her biography Lou's on First.
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 1962, he was interviewed by NBC's Jack Lescoulie, in a nostalgic segment. In 1964, he suffered the first in a series of strokes and recuperated at the Motion Picture Country Home. The following year, he was filmed 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 1967, 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.
Abbott died of prostate cancer at age 76 on April 24, 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. When asked about Abbott shortly after his death, Groucho Marx replied that Abbott was "the greatest straight man ever."[
Bro. Abbott was raised in Daylight Lodge No. 525 under the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.