Originally published in “Twenty Complete Stories – New Players and Old Hollywood”
The Care and Feeding of Abbott & Costello
Life is smooth for Abbott and Costello. Professionally they’re sitting on top of the world and domestically they’re in the hands of two super-efficient housewives - Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Lou Costello.
It’s no slander against Betty Abbott and Ann Costello to classify them as the second-best managers in their respective households; merely an acknowledgment of the superior skill of their mates. They don’t have to try.
Costello, the small soprano apple dumpling of the comedy team, the guy who can’t get anything right on the screen of over the microphone, is a managerial genius in private life.
The proof of this lies in the fact that the trig and modish young Mrs. Costello entrusts the buying of all her clothes to him. When Lou returns from a business trip to New York or Chicago his arrival is heralded by a safari of deliverymen bearing frocks, gowns, slacks, shoes, stockings and lingerie, all in the right size, all in the correct mode, and all harmonizing with his wife’s vivid coloring and warm personality.
“The money I save in alterations,” Mrs. Costello confesses, “stretches my budget about 25 per cent.”
The Costello country estate in the San Fernando Valley just over the Hollywood hills, is a reflection of Costellos taste, with only minor modifications suggested by its mistress. Every stick of furniture, every drape, every shrub, was personally selected by the boss, even down to the last details of the living quarters of the small Costelloettes, Carole Lou, three, and Patricia, five.
The landlord personally performed the masonry work on the flagstone walks that connect the main house with the playhouse. Over some complaints by the stoneworkers’ union he made considerable improvements on the well the graces the west flank of the grounds.
No detail was too trivial for Lou’s attention. The playhouse, itself as large as most Hollywood dwellings, is equipped with a theater-size projection room where Lou officiates as operator on movie night.
The whole estate is fitted with a two-way loudspeaker system designed by Costello which permits instant communication with all points. The original purpose of this installation was to warn the parents if the children became restless at night. It also serves as a challenging apparatus at the main entrance. Messenger boys have been known to get the heebie-jeebies when accosted by a disembodied voice asking their business.
Around the kitchen Lou has as much authority as in the rest of the house, with one important exception that will be noted later. Famous for his prowess with knife and fork, the roly-poly comic has a built-in fondness for steaks and chops, ham and eggs, spaghetti and meat balls and chopped chicken livers, when prepared under his supervision.
When in the East he sustains himself almost entirely on nickel hamburgers sold by the White Tower chain of restaurants. He customarily east ten of these at a sitting. Except for dished that he can choose and oversee himself, he will have nothing else. Pausing overnight at Buffalo recently, he was seized with pangs of hunger during the night. He reached for a telephone and told the bell captain: “Go out and get me ten White Tower hamburgers.”
The hotel functionary was flabbergasted. “But, sir” he objected. “Room service can supply a truly superior hamburger, made of premium beef.”
“Nuts,” Costello remarked I want ten White Towers right away. Get ’em up here.”
An assistant manager and eventually the manager got on the wire, lauding the quality of the house hamburgers. Finally, Costello got up, wrapped an overcoat around his pajamas, went down to the street door and sent a taxi driver out to get ten White Tower hamburgers.
Joe DiMaggio, another fellow who knows what he wants to eat, was staying with his bride at the Costello’s last season when a physician’s check-up revealed the Mrs. DiMaggio, the former Dorothy Arnold, was to become a mother. Leaving their wives at home, Joe and Lou set out for a celebration dinner in Hollywood.
At Earl Carroll’s they went out to the kitchen and made a great ceremony of selecting the biggest and best steaks in the house and ordering two apiece, which they ate with all the trimmings.
Arriving back at Costello’s house at midnight, they both felt a bit hungry, not ravenous but in the mood for a snack. Lou suggested a poached egg.
“Never tasted one,” confessed DiMaggio, who owns one of the best-known restaurants in San Francisco. “Are they any good?”
“Very tasty,” Lou said. “Very light; just a tidbit, really.” He put on his poaching apron and whipped up a sample. Joe liked it all right but mentioned that it was a bit on the unsubstantial side. So they each had another. By the time they got through snacking they has eaten fourteen poached eggs apiece, with accompanying toast and coffee in suitable doses.
The part of the commissary department that Mrs. Costello reserves for herself is concerned with Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast. Her home town of Pawtucket, R.I., where she went to school under the misleading name of Ann Battler (she never lifted a finger at Lou in anger) is in the Boston brown bread belt.
Accordingly Saturday dinner is invariably baked beans and brown bread and Sunday breakfast as a rule consists of codfish cakes and leftover beans. This hearty fare is not supplied to the Mlles. Costello, who rebel at any food except fruit grown on the home rancho.
The Abbott household is geared to a different system. Bud, probably Hollywood’s heartiest host, confines himself to making the guests comfortable. His only culinary gift is an ability to mix a heady sauce which he concocts whenever a posse of old friends get together for a spaghetti dinner at his house. He himself can’t stand the stuff.
Strictly a home boy, Bud manages to get to bed early every night. By that time he has used up his day’s supply of the energy that he dispenses so freely during daylight hours.
In his twenty-four years of married life he hasn’t found any place he likes better than home. His wife, known as Betty although her baptism name is Jennie May Pratt, was a dancing soubrette in a “tab” show when they were married.
Now that they are in a position to maintain a manor in fashionable Encino, Bud and Betty let the professional decorators take over. These experts did a noteworthy job on the three buildings spaced comfortably over two acres, but once they has finished the Abbotts pushed things around until they looked comfortable.
It’s a dull day when there isn’t a procession of friends, old and new, trooping through the glittering new Abbott estancia. Dogs of all sizes (one a gift from Jack Dempsey, one a monster commandeered by Bud in a bar from a man who mistreating it) roam about as id they owned the joint. Anecdotes, laughter and the barking of dogs set the tempo for an Abbott “at home” party.
Loyalty to old friends is one of the homely virtues of both Abbott and Costello. Each has a brother as part of his permanent staff and an old crony of their named Frank Penny, who has had a part in each of their pictures, is in daily touch with both. Childless, Abbott announced a few weeks ago that he had adopted Penny, who is older than he is, and has built him a house on the Abbott grounds.
Late Spring will find both Abbott and Costello absent from their elaborate new homes and back on the grinding personal appearance routine. They have vowed to contribute $350,000. for a bomber as a freewill gift to the government, with no strings attached, and will stay on the five-a-day route, eating hamburgers, until every nickel of it is safely stowed away in the national till.
The Abbotts hired a professional decorator for their new home, then Betty had Bud shove things around to suit themselves. The comedians are in Metro’s Rio Rita.
Betty and Bud eat one meal each day which consists solely of fruit. Bud can whip up a tasty spaghetti sauce
Lou Costello gives a preview for his favorite fans - his pretty wife and their two daughters, Patricia and Carole Lou
Lou not only buys his wife’s clothes, but personally supervised and selected all the furnishings for his new hilltop home