Chris Costello, the youngest child of the immortal and beloved comedian Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello fame, recently released the audio version of her wildly successful 1981 book Lou’s On First. Her father, a Paterson, New Jersey native, was one of the biggest and most successful movie stars to appear on the silver screen during the 1940s and 1950s.
Using the voice Lou helped create, Chris narrates the audiobook and lovingly recounts her dad’s amazing yet, at times, sorrowful life story.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chris and chat about Lou’s On First’s re-release. Our discussion touches on her journey of nearly four decades, a labor of love dedicated to communicating the true and accurate story of her father’s experiences personally and professionally.
Here’s what she had to say.
Solimando: Releasing the audiobook Lou’s On First is a milestone on a literary pilgrimage that began for you forty-two years ago. Can you provide us with a bit of background on the book and what inspired you to undertake the original project?
Costello: The 1977 book Bud and Lou, written by Bob Thomas, and the subsequent 1978 made-for-television movie Bud and Lou, starring Harvey Korman and Buddy Hackett, were inspiration enough. The book and movie are both extremely inaccurate accounts of my father’s life, full of conjecture, aspersions, and information that’s seriously flawed. The two projects had a devastating effect on both the Abbott and Costello families and desecrated the memories of my Dad and Uncle Bud.
I was present when my late sister Carole confronted Bob Thomas via telephone, asking him how he could have written such blatant lies. Thomas’s response was, “You don’t sell a book by being nice.” Something inside me clicked at that exact moment. I remember thinking to myself, “But I bet you can sell a book by being fair.” It was then I decided to set the record on my father’s life straight.
Solimando: Lou’s On First was well-received upon its original release in 1981 and is still in print today. What brought about your decision to create the audiobook, and did today’s technology provide you any new, creative options to help voice your dad’s story?
Costello: Yes, and yes! The first month after its release, Lou’s On First went into a second printing and then into the trade paperback. The book just took off. I was working in public relations at the time, and this allowed me to extend the book’s promotion long after the standard six weeks of PR the publishing houses give you.
I promoted Lou’s On First on radio and television talk shows, and its success just kept snowballing over the decades. There wasn’t one negative review, thank God. Ironically, if I started the book ten years later, I’d have lost more than half of the people I interviewed, and to me, they were the ones who wrote the book, the people who knew our families. I credit the book’s fantastic success to them, these beautiful people, and their invaluable contributions.
The quarantine of 2020 and its role in restructuring our professional and private lives influenced my decision to move forward with the audiobook. I wanted to find a way to keep occupied and fill the bit of extra time I had on my hands. So, I emptied a hallway closet, christened it “Studio C,” and was on my way!
Regarding technology, Pam Wise, my producer, and June Miller of JMC Sound & Production in Corte Madera, California, were invaluable in providing a creative auditory perspective. Unlike pen to paper, we could now incorporate sound bites and sound effects into my father’s life story. That was truly exciting and invigorating!
Solimando: There are tens of thousands of Abbott and Costello fans worldwide in 2020. The membership count of online social media platforms such as the Abbott and Costello Facebook pages, fan groups, clubs, and event patronage is through the roof years after your father left us. Did these statistics provide an avenue for you to target a market need for the audiobook?
Costello: Absolutely! Facebook alone is a fantastic research tool. I received numerous requests on Facebook to put Lou’s On First into audio format, as well as inquiries as to what happened to me after my parents passed so suddenly. There were other things to contemplate, as well. I needed to find a studio, think about narration, calculate the overhead costs, create timelines, and establish a budget.
Solimando: In your audio version of Lou’s On First, you added an extraordinary chapter that’s not part of the original book. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Costello: I’m not going to reveal much, but the chapter talks about what happened to us after my parents passed away. My father died suddenly in March of 1959, and I lost my mother unexpectedly as well, just nine months later. I was only twelve when she passed, and my two older sisters Paddy and Carole, were out of the house, living lives of their own. The chapter covers events that occurred during that timeframe and afterward. There are a few additional surprises as well!
Solimando: The original research and writing of Lou’s On First must have been an emotional journey for you, and transforming your book into an audio format must feel like you’re reliving the process. How different is today’s journey at your current station in life compared to where you were when you originally wrote Lou’s On First?
Costello: When I started on my journey writing Lou’s on First, I became obsessed with interviewing. I reached out to producers, directors, writers, movie stars, co-stars, family, friends, even the Universal construction crew; because these were the people who could breathe life back into my father’s aura and help resurrect him for me. I also got to know my parents on an adult level while writing the book, which I consider to be one of life’s most precious gifts.
Today, I’d say the audiobook’s most significant challenge is reliving my infant brother’s accidental drowning through articulating his death. Though I wasn’t born yet, Lou Jr.’s passing was catastrophic, and my parent’s suffering was, and is to this day, indescribable.
I had to trick my brain into getting through reading the words aloud because otherwise, I’d fall apart. I also had to stop envisioning my mother and father’s emotional devastation and picture them not as my parents but as other people. My goal was to work through the “I can’t do this; it’s too emotional” mindset.
I had to picture my father on-set and in costume to bring myself around, or I wouldn’t be able to go through with it.
Solimando: Did you find the process to be somewhat therapeutic?
Solimando: Chris, this is a two-part question. First, will there ever be a legitimate movie made about your father’s incredible life, and second, where can we pick up your audiobook Lou’s On First?
Costello: Writers frequently submit proposals to both families and offer endless opportunities to “make a movie” about the lives of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Unfortunately, their objectives bear little resemblance to the reality of how both men lived.
The writer’s endgame eventually tallies up to a list of creative liberties taken, manufactured content infused, and aggressive attempts at changing history.
It took me four years to write Lou’s On First. I would be horrified to discover I lived those years in vain because I provided someone the opportunity to discredit my establishing and communicating the truth about my father. I also wouldn’t trust Hollywood taking my product and then turning it into another Bud and Lou.
Ultimately, it boils down to a matter of trust in giving anyone control of my work, and I don’t have much faith in doing that at this point.
As for purchasing the audiobook, here’s a list of various sites it’s available on Amazon/Audible, Apple Music, Barnes &Noble, Google Play, Napster, Audiobooks Now, Spotify, YouScribe, Kobo, Hoopla, Nook, Blinkist, Bookbeat, Chirp, and Downpour.
For a complete list, please visit the Abbott and Costello Always and Forever page on Facebook.