ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN:
The greatest horror comedy ever made? Damn straight. Abbott and Costello: one of the greatest comedy duos in the history of film? Damn straight again. Both favorites of mine? Damn straight numero tres. One can imagine then how excited I was when I got the chance to chat with the charming Chris Costello, the youngest daughter of Lou Costello himself, and pick her brain a little about her famous father and a cult classic. I was also excited to ask about her involvement in a grindhouse flick called ZEBRA FORCE. I mean come on, this is The Daily Grindhouse.
Daily Grindhouse: Hello Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I’m a huge fan of your father’s work.
Chris Costello: Thank you.
DG: So let’s cut to the chase. We are really excited to hear about your work on ZEBRA FORCE.
DG: (Laughs) Kidding, but we would like to hear about your involvement in that film sometime during our conversation.
CC: Well…(laughs), that’s funny. That goes back so many years ago. You do pull things out of a hat, don’t you?
DG: Well first off, can you share with us what you’re up to now days as you help to keep your father’s legacy alive through your work on the Abbott and Costello websites. Are you still attending many film conventions?
CC: Well no, not a lot of film conventions. I’m managing one of the Abbott and Costello collectible sites and I’m a travel agent and so we have our second Abbott and Costello cruise going out in October. The first was a huge success and we think this will be just as big hopefully.
DG: I hope to attend one of those someday, sounds really fun.
CC: It is fun. It’s not really a film convention, it’s really laid back as we show a couple of screenings, then the Abbott and Costello families step in and do a Q&A, have a private cocktail party. And you get to go to fun places.
DG: So your father’s legacy has inspired people like John Landis, Quentin Tarantino, Jerry Seinfeld, even Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, I saw something where he shared how he fell in love with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein at an early age. How do you think your father would have responded to how he has influenced so many different types of artists?
CC: Well first of all, remember I was only eleven when my father passed away and I never had an adult relationship with him, but I think that he would be overjoyed. He would be absolutely amazed that a younger generation, especially a body of his peers, would recognize or be influenced in some way by his work. I know both he and Bud would be absolutely ecstatic and honored. There is a lot going on with Abbott and Costello, a bunch of new fans, a new generation coming in and I think it’s great to see them getting behind the films. Like ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, a classic cult, the one film my dad hated.
DG: Why do you think that is? Is it because of its lack of the classic burlesque routines?
CC: I think he thought Universal had lost faith in Abbott and Costello and surrounded them with all of the Universal monsters and I think dad had a big issue with that. I’m not sure about Bud. I know that when the script was written, my dad, this came from Charlie Barton who directed them, walked up to the office of one of the Universal big wigs, slammed the script down on the desk and said “my three year old daughter could write a better script than this!” At the premier my grandmother walked up to the producer and told him that this was the best Abbott and Costello film she had ever seen. My dad got so pissed off that he wouldn’t talk to her for a week (laughs). If he could just come back for a minute to see how this film has become the all-time classic cult Abbott and Costello film!
DG: Why do you think he agreed to continue making other monster comedies after disliking MEET FRANKENSTEIN so much?
CC: The first one had all of these different Universal Monsters in it and of course set it up for MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN at the end after Frankenstein walked through the fire into the water, but it’s hard to say. I think with MEET THE MUMMY they were still on their own as an Abbott and Costello vehicle. They had the Mummy but that was the only character they had to deal with as far as a Universal Monster. And remember too that Dracula, The Wolf Man, they had big followings of their own. I think Bela Lugosi had a problem with dad because on Abbott and Costello sets there were always pranks going on. I can see in the outtakes where dad is walking up the staircase with a cape over his nose and whips it off and says something funny and Bela Lugosi, this method actor, is like “oh please!” My sister remembers going on the set and finding it weird to see all of the monsters sitting in their respected director chairs, with their legs crossed, reading the newspaper, smoking a cigarette, but they’re in character. That was something she remembered very well.
DG: I remember the first time my dad sat me down to watch ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN when I was only four years old. I only made it five minutes into the show as The Wolf Man sent me screaming to my bedroom. I understand you had a similar experience on the actual set of the film with Frankenstein himself.
CC: I don’t recall it but according to my sister Paddy, my mom brought me onto the set when I was a year old and Glenn Strange who played Frankenstein, an amazing human being who loved children, was still in his makeup and the platform shoes and came up to me and put his arms up and said “Come to Uncle Glenn” and Paddy said I just turned white and let out this blood curdling scream. My dad was saying “Get her out of here! Get her out of here! Get her off the set!” I imagine that would be terrifying for anybody!
DG: Any other memories you can share with us about your visits to the sets of your dad’s films when you were a little older?
CC: Oh boy, I remember vaguely ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY, but again, back then you don’t have that appreciate that you would have as an adult. We didn’t go onto the set going “Oh my God, this is Abbott and Costello, this is going to be a classic.” For us it was just something fun to do as we weren’t in school. I can’t explain it. I’ve had people ask me for instance if my dad ever talked to me about his burlesque years and I start to laugh and say “Yes, at six years old he’s driving me to school and he starts talking to me about his burlesque years! (laughing) I mean at that age would I have cared? You don’t gain this appreciation until you’re older. I remember Bud Abbott Jr. saying that he can remember being on the sets and that they were all very happy. It was a very happy, happy set.
Abbott and Costello broke the mold as far as the treatment of crew. They were the ones that initiated the wrap party for the crew, thanking them with wrap gifts. They considered them as family and they fought for the under dogs on all of their films. The Andrew Sisters were a great example with BUCK PRIVATES. They were filming on the Universal backlot in a hundred degree heat and Universal had put the Andrew Sisters in an old canvas army tent as their wardrobe trailer. My father stopped production and told them to bring in something descent for them or we’re not working and Universal brought in the proper mobile wardrobe trailer for them. So they were very much for the crew. My father loved tackling the big guys, but he would get what he wanted.
Looking back, one of the reasons I wrote my book Lou’s On First was to combat a lot of the inacuricies of the book Bud and Lou. When Bob Thomas wrote about Eddie Sherman, who was the ex-manager for Bud and Lou, and how he had mentioned dad’s spoiled antics, I thought spoiled? No. When he went up to the Universal people it wasn’t for himself or for a pay raise, it was basically to get what he felt the crew deserved. It was comradery. But that was his Jersey roots.
DG: Lou’s On First, such a wonderful book. Was that a labor of love for you? Did your sisters get involved in helping you write it?
CC: I was close to my dad. I came along four years after the baby drowned, my brother, and I think there was a little more of an over protectiveness but the memories are very fresh like it was yesterday and when the book Bud and Lou came out it outraged the entire family and everybody threatened to sue. When they did the movie of the week, BUD AND LOU with Harvey Korman and Buddy Hacket (a made for television movie based on the Bob Thomas book), nobody that was alive was ever portrayed in the film because they were scared that they were going to get sued. When I did the book it was after I had some communication with Bob Thomas. I told him you’ve painted my father as this villain. I said you never even interviewed anybody in the family. How do you do a book on accuracy? This book is pure sensationalism as far as I’m concerned and it’s about how do you sell more copies etc. He came back with a comment to me about how he can’t help it if Lou Costello’s daughter thinks of him as a saint.
And I said that’s it. So I decided that you can write a book by being fair. I decided I was going to interview everyone I could get my hands on. Everybody I interviewed from Joe Besser who played Stinky on the Abbott and Costello Show to Joseph Cotton, George Raft, they all asked me before they even had me turn on my little tape recorder if this was another Bud and Lou book, because if so they wanted no part of it. My family, yes, they did contribute a tremendous amount because remember I’m just eleven when he passes away so of course my memories are cut short. I needed everybody else’s memories to bring that book through. It was a good testimony to my dad, it was something I had to do for him because he gave so much to the world and so much to his industry and I will be you know what if I’m going to allow anyone to take him down like this because he doesn’t have his voice, but I can be his voice here.
DG: Your dad was a stuntman before making it big as a comedian. I’ve always been amazed at some of the painful looking pratfalls he’d take in his films. Do you ever remember him coming home sore after a rough day on the set?
CC: No, he was very athletic, very agile on his feet. He knew how to fall. I think where it was difficult for him was in the later part of his life when he kept having the rheumatic fever flair up where the heart expands and the fluid builds up. He was told not to do the pratfalls. Sometimes his brother Pat filled in for him as he was the same size and shape as dad, but I know dad never wanted to let his audience down and he continued to do the pratfalls. I think it did take a toll on him.
DG: Your dad had the greatest scare take, it was really second to none. Did he ever practice his takes on you kids at home or practice new routines on you?
CC: Not new routines, but Paddy remembered when she and Carole were sick and dad coming into their bedroom after work and walking towards them and he would do a pratfall to get them laughing. But at home he was not the comic, my mom was funnier than he was at home. He was very quiet, but a lot of comics are. I think people sometime get the misconception that the Lou Costello on the screen was the same Lou Costello at home. My sister said he loved to watch B westerns. But he could turn it on instantly, all you had to do is put a kid in front of him and magic came out.
DG: Bud Abbott, the greatest straight man to ever work in the business. What are your memories like of Bud?
CC: Again, I was very, very young. My one memory of Bud was when I was sixteen after my parents passed away and I had gotten my learner’s permit and wanted to drive everywhere. I remember calling Bud and Betty (Bud’s wife) and asked if I could drive out there and they said yes and I spent one of the most enjoyable afternoons with them. He was such a gentle, gentle soul. When I was sitting and talking to him, the television was on and one of the old Abbott and Costello shows came on. He leaned forward while sitting on the couch with two hands on his cane and you could just see the pain register in his eyes. It was really heart wrenching. I remember that, it stayed with me. Just the sweetest man, not the character on screen, absolutely not.
DG: Yes, I’ve read that about him. I also read that he got beat up a lot by kids who were mad at him for picking on your dad in the movies.
CC: Well, he truly will go down in history as one of the greatest straight men of all time. You would have to be a great straight man to work with my dad. He would just throw in these lines, like into Who’s on First, just a complete departure from the routine and Bud could just bring him right back in to that point of departure. I think Bud Abbott was truly a master of his craft.
DG: Well Chris, I’ve got to ask you about ZEBRA FORCE.
CC: Oh Jesus (laughs).
DG: You know our website is called Daily Grindhouse. We cover a lot of B movies and cult films.
CC: Oh honey, that one is a D, doesn’t even make the B category. It’s awful!
DG: Our readers will want to check it out then.
CC: My friend Dino Paoli, he was a producer on the Glen Ford film SANTEE, he did this film. I remember hoping that I ended up on the cutting room floor, seriously. You go out, you’re supposed to have hair and make-up. Their budget was so low they couldn’t do hair and make-up! I said I wish someone would have told me this before I left. I’m really going to look like the grieving widow now! It is out there right? It really exists?
DG: Yes, I ordered it from Netflix but when I got the disk it was snapped in half so I haven’t seen it.
CC: Oh my God, that’s even worse! It’s on Netflix!
DG: It is, they changed the name to CODE NAME: ZEBRA. But it’s out there.
CC: Oh my God, how awful! I’m embarrassed, let’s go back to Abbott and Costello real quick (laughing).
DG: Chris, thanks so much for your time today.
Abbott and Costello fans should make sure to check out the Abbott and Costello Collectibles web site at:
If there are questions for Chris, she can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to sign up for the free Abbott and Costello newsletter when you visit the site.
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