While Lou Costello is best known for his radio, movie, and television work with Bud Abbott, his career both predated and extended beyond the partnership. Costello was born Louis Francis Cristillo on March 6, 1906, in Patterson, NJ. His family was Catholic, and he excelled in school as an athlete, taking part in basketball, track (the foul shot), and boxing. Costello embarked on his acting career in 1927, but could only find work as a laborer and extra in Hollywood. He appeared in an early Laurel & Hardy short, Battle of the Century, and worked as stuntman in The Trail of '98 (1927).
Discouraged by his prospects, Costello left Hollywood in 1930. Although he planned to return home, he ran out of money, which left him stranded in Saint Joseph, MO. There, he found work at a burlesque theater as a Dutch-accented comic. After changing his name to Costello, he left for New York City, where he continued to work in burlesque and vaudeville. Unlike many comics on the vaudeville circuit, his act was free of "off-color" material, a trademark he would maintain throughout his career. During the 1930s Costello met Bud Abbott, and after working together occasionally, the two formed a team in 1936 and eventually signed with the William Morris Agency. Over the next four years, the comic duo worked in vaudeville, minstrel shows, and movie houses. Beginning in 1938, Abbott & Costello made radio appearances on The Kate Smith Hour, and by 1940 were cast in supporting roles in One Night in the Tropics.
In 1942, just as Abbott & Costello had earned their first success, Costello suffered from rheumatic fever, rendering the comic unable to work for a year. When he returned to the duo's radio program on November 4, 1943, tragedy struck. Costello's son, Lou, Jr., who was almost one year old, accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool. Instead of interrupting the performance, however, Costello told those around him, "Wherever he is tonight, I want him to hear me." Between 1940 and 1956, the comic duo appeared in 36 films, including Buck Privates and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The team also hosted their own radio program on NBC and later ABC during the 1940s.
After years of working together, Abbott & Costello's working relationship became strained, and the two parted company in July of 1957. The same year, Costello experienced financial difficulties due to tax problems, eventually leaving him bankrupt. Costello worked as a standup comic in Las Vegas, and returned to films in 1959, appearing in The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock. Before the film was released, however, he died of a heart attack on March 3, 1959. His last words, "That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted," seemed a fitting epitaph for a comic remembered for his verbal dexterity. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. A statue was dedicated in Costello's honor in his hometown of Patterson, NJ, on June 26, 1992.