Born: March 6, 1906
Died: March 3, 1959
Louis Francis Cristillo was born March 6, 1906 in Paterson. Powerfully built and perfectly coordinated, he was a standout athlete at PS 15 despite being just a few inches above five feet tall. Lou was a basketball and boxing fan and used to get in free by ofeering to carry the bags of the athletes into the old Paterson Armory.
During the 1920s, free throws were a major part of basketball and Lou was money from the line for the Armory 5. He won at least one statewide foul-shooting competition as a teenager and, according to his daughter, possibly two or three. He was also a formidable boxer, going 11–1 as an amateur before his father found out and ended is pugilistic ambitions.
Lou was a movie buff and was intrigued by Charlie Chaplin’s athleticism. He began to see the possibilities in a comedy career and first took the stage as a Vaudeville performer at Paterson’s Orpheum Theater. In his early 20s he moved to Hollywood and found work in movie studios as a stuntman and carpenter. He worked professionally under his old boxing name. In 1930, Lou gave up on the movies and planned to return to New Jersey. He was stranded penniless in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he found employment as a clean-working warm-up comic in burlesque. By this time his brother Pat had adopted the name Costello, so Lou picked that name, too.
Lou met Bud Abbott in 1935 while playing a theater in Brooklyn. Lou needed a fill-in for his straight man and Abbott agreed. The following year they became Abbott & Costello. By 1938, they were radio stars and in 1940 they appeared in their first film. In 1941, the team starred in Buck Privates and began a 15-year run of comedy pictures that generated millions.
Lou’s physical talents were on display in several films, but no more so than in Here Come the Co-Eds in 1945. Lou subs in as a member of an all-girls basketball team and hits a long-range set shot and bounces a ball on the court that swishes through the net. He was clearly overweight at this point and was already dealing with the heart issues that would kill him in 1959. But he moved well and did not use a stuntman as he ran up and down the court. Lou also wrestled Lon Chaney Jr. in the picture. In the 1950s, Ralph Edwards ambushed Lou on a This Is Your Life Episode and brought back four Armory 5 teammates. He handed the aging comedian a basketball and he nailed a free throw on his first try.