Lou Costello did not think twice about leaving his door wide open for servicemen.
“My mother would sometimes walk out to the den area, look out and there’d be people around the pool,” the late comic’s daughter, Chris Costello, told Fox News Digital.
“She didn’t even know who they were,” Chris chuckled. “But they’d say, ‘Lou told us to come over and use the pool.’ He was very good to them. He would have pool parties for them and barbecues. And all these troops who were training to go overseas would stop by.”
The star, one-half of the ‘40s and ‘50s comedy duo Abbott and Costello, passed away in 1959 just three days before his 53rd birthday. The pair, who spent more than a quarter of a century making people laugh across the country, is now being celebrated with a new exhibition at The Hollywood Museum.
Jerry Seinfeld, a known fan, took inspiration from the duo for his ‘90s sitcom “Seinfeld.” The middle name of the show’s character George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, is Louis “for Costello,” Seinfeld told The New York Times in 1994.
Over the years, Chris received numerous letters from other admirers – specifically veterans and loved ones of servicemen and women who met and befriended her father over the years.
“It started as letters and gradually into emails from people who either had a relative that served and met my dad, or a serviceman who recalled running into him,” she explained. “There was a story of a serviceman who was in Hollywood with his buddies. They were so excited to visit. So, they treated themselves to a nice dinner at the Brown Derby.”
“Well, my dad happened to be there that night,” she said. “When he noticed them in uniform, he immediately went up to their table, pulled up a chair, sat down and just started talking to them. He was very interested in learning about where they came from, their families. He wound up paying for their meal. But that wasn’t unusual. He and Bud [Abbott] would do that. If a serviceman was in uniform, no questions asked, ‘The meal’s on us.’”
During World War II, Abbott and Costello were among the top-earning box office stars. They famously parodied life in the armed services, delivering laughs with their slapstick comedy and boosting morale.
At the peak of their popularity, Hollywood’s “good humor boys” made two nationwide tours selling war bonds, History Nebraska reported. According to the outlet, they raised an estimated $85 million for the U.S. government. According to reports, their war bond drive in 1942 included stops in 80 cities throughout 22 states.
“My father was very, very patriotic,” Chris explained. “He was a proud patriot. Both my father and Bud loved this country. They wanted to help Uncle Sam and give back. He would do anything for this country.”
“I continue to hear from servicemen,” she shared. “They’ll send pictures of themselves with my dad… Abbott and Costello wanted to honor the men and women who were putting their lives on the line to give us freedom. And they were willing to do anything. They helped with the Red Cross. They would visit hospitals around the country during the war bond years. They would sit down with these servicemen, hear their stories, joke with them.”
Chris said there was one particular visit Costello made that stayed with her over the years.
“They visited a hospital in San Francisco,” she explained. “It was a whole ward filled with soldiers who had just come back from the war wounded. There was one gentleman who was in a hospital bed. He had his head turned in the other direction, not facing Abbott and Costello. Somebody had mentioned to them that he was very depressed and wouldn’t talk to anybody. So, dad and Bud approached this young man, who was maybe in his mid to late 20s. They started talking to him. They asked him, ‘Can we send anything to your parents? Do you want us to call them and share any messages for you?’”
The young man was unfazed. Abbott and Costello then proceeded to play out their comedy act for him. Abbott took a stethoscope and listened to the wound soldier’s leg, which was in a cast.
“This guy all of a sudden turned to face them,” said Chris. “He had tears in his eyes. He then started laughing uncontrollably. He couldn’t stop laughing. And the more he laughed, the more they really got into their antics. Then the whole ward started watching and erupted into laughter.”
“Comedy was just one way for them to give back,” she shared. “They realized they were making a lot of money in those days. They thought, ‘Why not give it back to the people who need it?’ They funded a good portion of their tour out of pocket, so they could make themselves available and help.”
However, life was not always filled with laughter. In 1943, Costello’s son Lou Jr. drowned in the family swimming pool a few days before his first birthday. In honor of his child, Costello helped launch the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation playground and medical clinic. The center opened its doors three months before Chris was born.
“It was a horrendous loss,” Chris reflected. “But for him to maneuver through this grief, he decided to build a youth center for underprivileged kids in east LA. He told everybody, ‘I’m looking for an area in the poorest section of town. I don’t want an affluent section. I want a section for kids who have never been in a movie theater and don’t have proper medical care.'”
The foundation is still in operation today, and a portrait of Lou Jr. still hangs in full view, Chris said.
“[My father] gave them everything, from medical care to lunches, free swimming lessons,” she said. “He had an Olympic-sized pool built for them. Also, basketball courts – he loved basketball. He was a little guy, but boy could he play. He wanted a child daycare center, a wood shop – all the things that would give these kids an opportunity… Meeting some of those kids today just brings tears to my eyes. One kid said, ‘I would’ve been in a gang had it not been for this youth center.’ Another said, ‘I gained confidence in myself, and I was accepted into a trade school.’ My dad would have been over the moon with happiness.”
Chris said she only had her father for 11 years, but in their brief time together, she had a joyful childhood filled with lasting memories.
Abbott and Costello parted ways in 1957 but remained great friends. Abbott died in 1974 at age 76.
“I remembered I spent one afternoon with Bud and his wife – I was 16,” Chris recalled. “He was on the couch and leaning on his cane. He had a gold cigarette holder with a cigarette. The TV was on. And all of a sudden, we heard the theme song to ‘The Abbott and Costello Show.’ I looked at him and he just learned in closer. He took the cigarette out of his mouth. And he said, ‘I miss my pal.’”