Abbott was born in Asbury Park into a show business family. His parents worked for the Barnum and Bailey Circus: his mother, Rae, was a bareback rider and his father, Harry, was an advance man. Abbott dropped out of school as a child and began working at Coney Island. When Abbott was 16, his father, now an employee of the Columbia Burlesque Wheel, installed him in the box office of the Casino Theater in Brooklyn. Eventually, Abbott began putting together touring burlesque shows. In 1918, he married Betty Smith, a burlesque dancer and comedienne. Shortly after his marriage, Abbott and his new wife began producing a vaudeville “tab show” called Broadway Flashes. This show toured on the Gus Sun Vaudeville Circuit.
Around 1924, Abbott started performing as a straight man in an act with Betty. As his stature grew, Abbott began working with veteran comedians like Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson.
Abbott crossed paths with Lou Costello in burlesque in the early 1930s. Abbott was producing and performing in Minsky’s Burlesque shows, while Costello was a rising comic. They formally teamed up in 1936 and performed together in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and cinemas.
In 1938, they received national exposure for the first time by performing on the Kate Smith Hour radio show, which led to the duo appearing in a Broadway musical, The Streets of Paris. In 1940, Universal signed Abbott and Costello for their first film, One Night in the Tropics. Although Abbott and Costello were only filling supporting roles, they stole the film with their classic routines, including an abbreviated version of “Who’s On First?”
The rest is Hollywood history.
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