I MET ABBOTT AND COSTELLO WHEN THEY MET FRANKENSTEIN
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite films the way I’ve never seen it before. “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” screened at the Aero Theater in Glendale, CA. Special guests at the screening were Lou Costello’s daughters Paddy and Chris. Before the screening they greeted fans entering and then told some stories on stage before the film began. I have been a devoted fan of A&C since I was about 7 years old, so I had heard many of the stories before, except for the time Lou Costello got so mad at Errol Flynn that he punched him in the face! What a gem that one was! And, for the record, Flynn had it coming.
What was so special about this screening was the fact that I had never before seen this movie on the big screen with an audience. It was great to laugh out loud with a crowd who, like me, knew when the laughs were coming and still reacted naturally. My favorite line in the movie got the biggest laugh! Lon (The Wolfman) Chaney to Lou Costello: “Soon the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.” Lou: “You and twenty million other guys.”
Growing up in Metuchen, NJ, just outside of New York City, my Mom and I would sit and watch the old classic monster movies playing on television every Saturday afternoon. So I loved Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, and King Kong. Well, one afternoon I thought I was watching another Frankenstein movie when suddenly Bela Lugosi appeared as Dracula! Lon Chaney was Lawrence Talbot, the man once bitten by a werewolf and now cursed. Glenn Strange was the Frankenstein Monster just like in “House of Frankenstein” and “House of Dracula.” This was truly another classic Universal horror film… but then again… the heroes of this epic were clearly in way over their head! It was the first time I saw Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in a movie. I fell in love with chubby Lou right away. Who wouldn’t? His performance was masterful, hitting all the right notes, and made me laugh out loud! I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Bud Abbott, his doubting pal, also charmed me. He tried to be the voice of reason, but eventually the truth about Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman proved Lou was right all along. Even the tag line ending the movie was perfect, with Vincent Price voicing the Invisible Man.
It turned out that WPIX Channel 11 in New York ran most of the A&C films each and every Sunday morning at 11:30am. They did this for years in the late 1960s and on into the 1970s. So that’s where you could always find me. I rarely missed a Sunday well into my teens, long after I had seen every one of the Universal comedies that they played. I thoroughly loved their verbal patter, physical comedy, and special bond they clearly had with each other.
While in the US Army my friend Phil and I learned their classic routine “Who’s on First?” We won second prize in a talent show at Fort Ord back in 1984, losing out to break-dancers. Phil was Bud and I was Lou. Later, we served together in Okinawa and added more A&C routines to our repertoire, playing the roles again at the local community theater.
Years later I met a lively woman while standing in a long line at LAX one morning. We started chatting. My wife and I were were going to the Friends of Old-Time Radio convention in Newark, NJ. I love old radio shows, I told the red-haired woman, and naturally mentioned that Abbott and Costello were among my very favorite performers. She burst into a smile. “Lou Costello is my father.” Instantly I recognized her as Chris Costello! I had purchased her biography of her dad, “Lou’s on First,” way back in 1981!
Over the ensuing years we have become great friends. Chris and her sister Paddy are such wonderful and funny people to spend time with! My wife and I adore them! Naturally, I sometimes have a hard time believing that they are among my personal friends. It seems so unreal.
All of this leads me back to the Aero Theater and watching Bud and Lou, flickering larger than life, playing out one of their best comedies for an appreciative crowd of movie-goers in 2014. In the darkness of the old movie theater it could have been 1948, the year of the movie’s release. It was still a great classic Universal monster movie and Bud and Lou were still making me laugh out loud. I kept thinking about first watching this same movie on a tiny black and white TV in a Metuchen. Sitting here in a classic movie palace in 2014, for a moment, I am 7 years old again and meeting Bud Abbott and Lou Costello for the very first time. The magic is just as pure.
I’m just saying…