Poster: Mr. Television
(see this users gallery)
Memories Linger Of a 'Baaad Boy' From Paterson
By MARGO NASH MARCH 24, 2002 (NYT)
ON April 5, 1952, Abbott and Costello came to Paterson for the premiere of their film ''Jack and the Beanstalk.'' Klieg lights pierced the sky around the Fabian Theater on Church Street, and fans turned out to see Lou Costello, the star from Paterson who never forgot where he came from.
''It was incredible,'' recalled Larry Harrington, a Clifton resident who grew up in Paterson and went to the premiere when he was 9. ''I thought my heart would almost break from sheer happiness. I remember seeing him come onstage to introduce the movie. For a 9-year-old, that was really a magical moment, at a time when Bud and Lou were the biggest stars in Hollywood.''
Costello teamed up with Abbott, who was from Asbury Park, in 1936. The two went on to make 36 movies, and have their own radio and television shows. They are recognized in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for their ''Who's on First'' routine.
Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in their work. But nowhere is Costello, who died at 52 and would have celebrated his 96th birthday this month, more beloved than here, his hometown. There is a Lou Costello Municipal Pool, on Grand Street; a boxing club, the Lou Costello Sportsman's Club, on 20th Avenue; and a Victorian playhouse at the Paterson Museum built by Costello's father, Sebastian Cristillo, for Costello's daughter when the comedian lived at 106 East 33nd Street, before he moved to Hollywood in 1939.
Costello's main monument is the Lou Costello Memorial Park in Paterson's Italian neighborhood. In the center of the park is a statue of the comedian wearing a bowler hat, carrying a baseball bat and smiling in the direction of the social clubs, coffeehouses and shops across the way.
In 1998, Mr. Harrington, a freelance video producer, made ''Memories of Bud and Lou,'' a video about the comedy team. He is just one of many former and present Paterson residents who have fond memories of Costello and how, throughout his life, he remained attached to people here.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Paterson premiere of ''Jack and the Beanstalk,'' Mr. Harrington is helping arrange a showing of the film at the newly restored Loews Jersey, a 1929 movie palace in Jersey City. The screening is to take place on April 7 at 2 p.m. Abbott and Costello mementos will be on display in the theater's lobby, along with information from the Paterson Museum about the city in the 1940's and 1950's, the years of Abbott and Costello's greatest stardom.
On display in the museum are radio scripts from the ''Abbott and Costello Program for Camel Cigarettes,'' which was broadcast from 1942 to 1949. The Paterson Museum acquired the scripts two years ago from a local collector in exchange for recording equipment designed by Thomas Edison.
The pairing of the scrappy Costello and the sardonic Abbott kept old burlesque routines alive. Long after their most famous days, their antics thrilled generations of children who saw their films on television.
''Costello was one of the greatest clowns that ever lived,'' said Joe Franklin, radio host of Joe Franklin's Memory Lane on WOR-AM and the Joe Franklin Report on WBBR-AM, Bloomberg Radio. ''I'm getting more and more requests for Abbott and Costello routines.''
Lou Duva, a Paterson native and boxing trainer and promoter who has worked with Evander Holyfield and other boxing champions, knew Costello when the comedian was an amateur welterweight. Mr. Duva, 80, led the effort to erect the Costello statue in 1992, and he and his friends continue to look after it. Recently, they had the stairs in the park near the statue fixed, but they continue to worry about pigeon droppings. Mr. Duva also supports the Lou Costello Sportsman's Club, where a banner with a picture of the comedian hangs over the ring.
''I tell you, he loved this town,'' said Mr. Duva, who now lives in Totowa. ''He loved his people, and he loved good people.''
'' 'I'm a b-a-a-a-d boy?' '' Mr. Duva continued, referring to one of Costello's classic lines. ''He was never a bad boy. He was a good boy.''
Louis Francis Cristillo was born in Paterson on March 6, 1906, went to School No. 15, which was on Market and Summer Streets, and is now School No. 11, and to Central High School, which was on Hamilton Street. He played on Garret Mountain, swam in the basin of the Great Falls, boxed at Mike Connolly's gym, which was on Main Street, and won a contest imitating Charlie Chaplin at the Paterson Armory. He broke into vaudeville between acts at Paterson's Orpheum Theater.
Paterson natives who remember him, like Mr. Duva and 82-year-old Lou Cuccinello, who now lives in North Haledon, tell stories of his loyalty to the town. After he left Paterson for Hollywood, he returned many times, they said, to visit children in local hospitals and to raise money for the new St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church on Beech Street, where there is still a plaque dedicated to him. He performed at local benefits for children's athletic clubs, gave out turkeys at Thanksgiving and holiday baskets at Christmas, and brought trade unionists from the Wright Aeronautics Corporation in Paterson out for a visit to Hollywood. During World War II, Costello let it be known that his door in Los Angeles was always open to soldiers and sailors from Paterson, and that dinner and a $20 bill would be waiting.
He loved to mention Paterson in his movies and television programs.
''We would sit in the theater waiting for that one moment, and we all started yelling and screaming in the old Rivoli Theater,'' said Joseph Rigolio, a 67-year-old lawyer from North Haledon who grew up in Paterson.
Lou Rege, 91, who lives in Hawthorne, is Costello's first cousin. He recalled that the comedian tried out the ''Who's on First'' routine on him, asking him for his opinion.
''It sounded like nonsense,'' Mr. Rege said. ''O.K., I kept my mouth closed. I said, 'It'll get by.' I was way off the mark.''
Costello loved coming back to Paterson for birch beer and White Castle hamburgers, said his friend, Thomas Lazzio, 90, a former State Assemblyman who still lives in Paterson. He recalled how the comedian got a kick out of sending his limousine over to the town dump to pick up a friend who worked there.
Alice Higgins of Paterson still has a photograph Costello autographed in 1946 for her 17-year-old sister, Anna, who was in St. Joseph's Hospital with rheumatic fever. The comedian, who visited her sister there, wrote, ''To Anna, With every wish for a speedy recovery.''
Costello died of a heart attack in 1959.
''I feel sorry for people in Paterson who never knew him or heard about him,'' Mr. Duva said. He was our hero.''
Who's On . . . ?
Lou Costello often mentioned Paterson in his movies and radio and television programs. For example, on the Abbott and Costello radio program broadcast on Jan. 18, 1945, Abbott said: ''You dummy, I'm not going to waste any more time discussing hunting with you. I don't believe you ever hunted in your life.'' Costello replied: ''Is that so? Back in Paterson, New Jersey, I'm known as double-barreled Louie. We've got a forest back there where the trees grow so thick you can hardly put your hands between them.''
In the film ''Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff'' (1949), corpses keep turning up. Costello's reaction: ''I should have stayed in Paterson.''
In the 1945 movie ''Naughty Nineties,'' Abbott and Costello performed the ''Who's on First'' routine in front of a banner that says, ''Paterson Silk Sox,'' a team organized by a local silk factory.
Abbott and Costello starred in several Colgate Comedy Hour television shows, broadcast on NBC-TV from 1950 through 1955. At the close of almost every show, Costello said, ''Good night to my friends in Paterson.'' Margo Nash