Happy Birthday, New Jersey Natives Lou Costello and Shaquille O’Neal!

by Alice Magdziak • March 6, 2012 • HolidayComments (0)1054

Lou Costello was born Louis Francis Cristillo in Paterson to Italian father Sebastiano Cristillo from Caserta, Italy and mother Helen Rege of French and Irish ancestry. He attended School 15 in Paterson, NJ and was considered a gifted athlete. He excelled in basketball and reportedly was once the New Jersey state foul shot champion. (His singular basketball prowess can be seen on film, in Here Come The Co-Eds (1945), in which Lou performs all his own tricky hoop shots without special effects). He also fought as a boxer under the name “Lou King.” He took his professional name from actress Helene Costello.

In 1927, Costello went to Hollywood to become an actor – but could only find work as a laborer or extra at MGM and Warner Brothers. His athletic skill brought him occasional work as a stunt man, notably in The Trail of ’98. He can also be spotted sitting ringside in the Laurel and Hardy film The Battle of the Century.

In 1930, discouraged by his lack of success, he hitchhiked back home but ran out of money in Saint Joseph, Missouri during the Great Depression. He took a job as a Dutch-accented comic at a local burlesque theater. Changing his name to “Costello,” he went back to New York and began working in vaudeville and burlesque theaters there.

Unlike many burlesque comics of the era, Costello did not use “off-color” material – an approach that continued for the rest of his career.

While working in vaudeville in the 1930s, Costello became acquainted with a talented straight man named Bud Abbott. After working together sporadically, Abbott and Costello formally teamed up in 1936. They performed together in burlesque shows, minstrel shows, vaudeville and movie houses.

Abbott and Costello signed up with the William Morris Agency, which sought to enlarge the duo’s stature by putting them on the radio.

In 1938 they received national exposure for the first time by becoming featured performers on The Kate Smith Hour, a popular variety show. They were hugely successful, which ultimately led to their appearance in a Broadway play and signing with Universal Studios in 1940.

They filled supporting roles in their first film, One Night in the Tropics (1940), but stole the film with their classic routines, including a much-shortened version of “Who’s On First?” (A more complete version was given in The Naughty Nineties, released in 1945.) The duo became famous for that routine, in which Abbott enumerated the names of a mythical baseball team, whose members have nicknames of “Who” who plays first base, “What” on second base and “I don’t know” on third etc. This confounds Costello when they are addressed simply as “Who,” “What” and “I don’t know.” This sketch made Abbott and Costello, among other things, to be recognized by (but not made members of) the Baseball Hall of Fame with a plaque, gold record and transcript of this famous sketch included in the museum collection, over their less well-known and more sadistic “Ninth Inning Steal” routine in which Bud and Lou rob an unsuspecting person by distracting him with a sensational baseball game recounting, unaware that someone else has already robbed the intended target using the same distraction. A modified version of the “Ninth Inning Steal” is shown in the movie Pardon My Sarong when bus drivers Bud and Lou try to steal gas from a gas station attendant.

The team’s breakout picture, however, was Buck Privates, which was released early in 1941. They immediately became the top-ranking comedy stars in Hollywood and fans looked forward to each of their pictures as a major event. Costello’s child-like demeanor was strictly acting, and he aggressively battled with the more easy-going Abbott as well as the studio. Universal upped the duo’s salary, but refused Costello’s demand to reverse the billing, stating that it had hired Abbott and Costello, not Costello and Abbott. Most moviegoers had never seen the duo’s burlesque routines, and so their dated but hilarious material seemed fresh. Many of their films cast them as bumbling servicemen such as In The Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying. (Amusingly enough, the Japanese military showed these films to their soldiers to display the ineptitude of American soldiers).

[via Wikipedia]

Shaquille O’Neal was born in Newark in 1972. He remains estranged from his biological father, Joseph Toney of Newark. Toney, who was once an All-State guard in high school who was offered a basketball scholarship to play at Seton Hall, struggled with drug addiction and was, by 1973, imprisoned for drug possession when O’Neal was an infant. Upon his release, Toney did not resume a place in O’Neal’s life and instead, agreed to relinquish his parental visitation rights to O’Neal’s stepfather, Phillip A. Harrison, a career Army Reserve sergeant, and his mother, Lucille (O’Neal).

O’Neal credits the Boys and Girls Club of America with giving him a safe place to play and keeping him off the streets. The family moved several times due to Harrison’s military career and after moving to Texas, O’Neal first gained national attention as a star at Linton Middle School. He led his Robert G. Cole High School team, from San Antonio, Texas, to a 68–1 record during his two years there and helped the team win the state championship during his senior year. His 791 rebounds during the 1989 season remains a state record for a player in any classification. On January 31st, 2012, O’Neal was honored as one of the 35 Greatest McDonald’s All-Americans.

After graduating from high school, O’Neal studied business at Louisiana State University. He had first met Dale Brown, LSU’s men’s basketball coach, years earlier in Europe. O’Neal’s stepfather was stationed on a U.S. Army base at Wildflecken, West Germany. While playing for Brown at LSU, O’Neal was a two-time All-American, two-time SEC player of the year, and received the Adolph Rupp Trophy as NCAA men’s basketball player of the year in 1991. O’Neal left LSU early to pursue his NBA career, but continued his education even after becoming a professional player. He was later inducted into the LSU Hall of Fame.

[via Wikipedia]


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