One of Hollywood's most popular comedy teams had deep roots in the Garden State.
Not only were Bud Abbott and Lou Costello both born here, but their wise-cracking humor was full of New Jersey attitude.
The skinny half of the team, William Alexander "Bud" Abbott, was born in Asbury Park, Monmouth County, in 1897. His parents both worked for the circus and he took to show business early, working the concessions at Coney Island. Later he took a job in a burlesque theater, eventually becoming a straight man - the part of a comedy team that sets up the jokes but usually doesn't deliver the punch line.
Burlesque houses featured entertainers who performed provocative dances, but they also had comedians, who did over-the-top comedy routines.
Baby-faced Louis Francis Cristillo, who later changed his name to Costello, was born in 1906 in Paterson, the Passaic County town he managed to mention in many of his performances. As an athletic young man he was an amateur boxer and reportedly once held the title of New Jersey State Foul Shot champion. He went to Hollywood to try acting, but had little initial success, although he did appear in a 1927 film that starred another famous comedy duo - Laurel and Hardy. He eventually became a burlesque comedian.
Abbott and Costello first worked together in 1935 when, as legend has it, Bud was pulled in as an emergency replacement after Lou's regular straight man failed to show. The characters they created - the sharp-talking Abbott and dim-witted Costello - had an instant chemistry, and they officially became a team the following year.
For the rest of their partnership, they stuck close to those characters. In their films, they usually portray friends, but Costello often drives Abbott crazy with his naive misunderstandings and Abbott isn't above cheating Costello out of his money or getting him to take the fall when they land in a jam.
Atlantic City played an important part in launching Abbott and Costello's career, according to local newspaper accounts from the 1940s.
A year after their teaming, Abbott and Costello were spotted in their burlesque act - for which they reportedly were paid $35 per week - by Eddie Sherman, who needed a comedy team for a Broadway show. The show didn't come together that year, but Sherman became their manager, offering them $100 per week and booking them into Atlantic City's famous Steel Pier, where they appeared for several summer seasons.
The comedians returned to Atlantic City in 1941, making a personal appearance in connection with the world premiere of their movie "Hold That Ghost."
The team's success in burlesque led to a radio performance in 1938 that would bring them national fame and immortalize the "Who's on First" skit. Soon they moved to the Broadway stage and then to Hollywood, where they made 36 films together from 1940 to 1956. During that time they also starred on their own radio show, where their New Jersey accents made it hard for some listeners to tell them apart. In the 1950s, their television show ran for two seasons on CBS.
They ended their 21-year partnership in 1957. Costello died two years later, and Abbott died in 1974.
Dan Simkins, Website administrator for abbottandcostello.net, likes to compare Abbott and Costello's comedy style to a figure-skating couple, flowing gracefully from one turn to the next.
"With Costello, it was his reaction to life in general and circumstances - fear, love, aggravation. He took the extreme reaction to everything. It took someone like Abbott to set up the routine, the punchline, and rein him in."
The team also combined strong verbal humor and physical comedy. "To have one character that can deliver lines and another that can do slapstick, that crosses generations," Simkins said.
E-mail Devin McLaughlin: