William Alexander (Bud) Abbott, was born October 2, 1895, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, to Harry Abbott and wife, Rae Fisher. Both parents worked in the circus. His mother was a bareback rider and his father an advance man for the Ringling Brothers Circus. It was only natural that Bud Abbott would develop an interest in performing at an early age.
At the age of fourteen, Abbott dropped out of school and began performing in carnivals at Coney Island. At the age of sixteen his father, who was by then working for the Columbia Burlesque Wheel, installed him in the box office of the Casino Theater in Brooklyn. Abbott eventually began putting together touring burlesque shows.
In 1918, Abbott married Betty Smith, a burlesque dancer and comedian. Shortly after their marriage the couple began producing a tab show called Broadway Flashes, which toured the Gus Sun Vaudeville Circuit. It was about 1924 when Bud Abbott began performing as a straight man in an act with Betty. He rapidly became one of the most sought after and polished straightmen in comedy. Bud and Betty Abbott adopted two children: Bud Abbott, Jr., in 1942, and Vickie Abbott, in 1949. The couple was married 55 years.
It was in the early 1930’s that Bud Abbott met Lou Costello when Abbott was asked to fill in for Costello’s straightman, who was sick. At the time, Abbott was producing and performing in Minsky’s Burlesque shows. Abbott and Costello appeared together on a sporadic basis for awhile before officially becoming a team in 1936. They became a popular booking on the burlesque circuit.
In 1938 the duo of Abbott and Costello appeared on the Kate Smith Radio Hour and performed what would become their signature act of Who’s on First. That was when the comedy team of Abbott and Costello was catapulted to stardom and Hollywood.
In 1939, Abbott and Costello were signed to a contract with Universal Studios. Their first film was “One Night in the Tropics” in 1940. Their big break came in 1941 with the making of the film Buck Privates, in which Abbott played the role of Slicker Smith. Buck Privates was a major hit and grossed over $10 million! Between 1940-1956 Abbott and Costello made 36 films. They were among the highest paid, most popular entertainers during World War II.
Abbott and Costello did much to lift the morale of the American public during World War II. They also funded, out of their own pockets, a cross-country tour to raise funds for the War Bond Drive. Their appearances were sellouts everywhere they went. Mayor Fiorello Laguardia honored the pair on the steps of New York City’s Town Hall for raising a record breaking $89 million in just three days.
January 7, 1951, The Colgate Comedy Hour debuted with Abbott and Costello as guest hosts. The Abbott and Costello Show debuted in 1952 on CBS and ran for two seasons. In 1957 they made their last film, “Dance with me Henry”, in which Abbott played the role of Bud Flick.
Abbott and Costello’s relationship had been strained for years over the order in which their names were billed and the 60/40 salary percentage. They split in July, 1957, after trouble with the Internal Revenue Service that caused them to have to sell their large houses and the rights to some of their films. Costello died on March 3, 1959, just before his 53rd birthday.
Abbott tried performing again in 1960 with a new partner, Candy Candido, but retired from acting saying, “No one could ever live up to Lou”.
Bud Abbott suffered from epilepsy and had two strokes before he died of cancer on April 24, 1974, at the age of 78, in Woodland Hills, California. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
Bud Abbot has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The radio star is located at 6333 Hollywood Blvd, the motion pictures star at 1611 Vine Street, and the TV star is located at 6740 Hollywood Blvd.