Friday, January 9, 2009

The Colgate Comedy Hour With Abbott & Costello





During the 1940's there was probably no more successful comedy team than Abbott & Costello.  


They burst on the scene in in 1940 playing supporting roles in the Universal picture, One Night In The Tropics, literally stealing the movie from the leads Allan Jones, Robert Cummings, and Nancy Kelly.






Of course, both Abbott and Costello had been working for years in show business before finding success.  They both worked in Burlesque, and were paired in 1935, at the urging of friends, and began working the Burlesque circuit honing a number of classic routines.


Before their movie debut, they had worked in radio, on the Kate Smith Hour, but their similar sounding voices made it difficult for the audience to tell who was saying what.   Costello solved that problem by affecting a childish high-pitched voice, which enabled them to stay on the radio for two years.


After the success of One Night In The Tropics, Universal signed the team to a long term contract, and they quickly put out a series of very successful comedies, starting with Buck Privates (1941).


Over the next dozen years A&C would have one of the most popular radio shows of the 1940's, appear in three dozen  movies, and move into television as well.


In 1951 Abbott and Costello became one of the rotating hosts for the Colgate Comedy Hour, which ran from 1950 to 1955.    Other hosts included Eddie Cantor and  Martin & Lewis.

These were live shows, captured via Kinescope, nearly 60 years ago.  While sometimes the sketches ran a little long, and some of the routines were pretty familiar, even then - these remain classic examples of early television comedy.


Today we've got two episodes of the Colgate Comedy Hour, both hosted by A&C, for your viewing pleasure.


This first episode, with a Latin-American theme, has a riotous magic routine by A&C, an entertaining musical interlude with Connie  Haines, Beryl Davis, Rhonda Fleming, and Jane Russell singing old-time hymns, and a 6 year old playing the Poet & Peasant Overture on the xylophone!





This first video runs the full hour, and includes the original commercials.   The quality is actually pretty good.




This next one runs only 41 minutes, and so isn't the complete show. Additionally, this kinescope from January of 1951 isn't quite as good of quality.   This is the first hosting of the show by A&C.


Guest stars include singer Evelyn Knight.  A pity the entire show isn't available.






A&C were reportedly terrified to try new material, and basically built their career on variations of tried and true burlesque routines.   It was this reluctance that probably led to their decline in popularity.


By the early 1950's, with the Abbott & Costello show on TV, the Colgate Comedy appearances, and two new movies each year - they were running out of material.  Whereas a comedy team could work for years in Burlesque with one or two bits, television appearances `burned' material at an astonishing rate.


And besides, there was a new hot comedy team - Martin & Lewis - that had captured America's attention.


In 1956, the IRS went after the team for back taxes, forcing them to sell their homes, their assets, and even the rights to their films.


In 1957, 22 years after first working together in Burlesque, they dissolved their partnership. 


An era had ended.

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