PATERSON, NJ - Proving he can still draw a crowd more than 60 years after his death, family, friends, and fans of beloved comedian Lou Costello gathered to commemorate the 113th birthday of the Paterson native and Hollywood film and television icon on March 2 at the Paterson Museum.
Costello, who was half of the world-renowned comedy team Abbott and Costello, played the “bumbling” partner to Bud Abbott’s “straight man,” making the duo the most popular comics of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First” is to this day one of the best-known comedy routines of all time.
The birthday event, held annually at the Paterson Museum, is hosted by “Lou’s Angel’s,” a volunteer group of “do-gooders,” who have successfully put together 3-4 events a year in Paterson for the past four years, including the duo’s birthdays and community clean-ups. “Lou’s Angel’s,” made up mostly of local artists, actors, and members of Lou Costello Boxing Club, was founded by Italian mob comedy filmmaker, actor, and author Sal Rinella from Corona, Queens, who grew up loving the Abbott and Costello show and who also emcees the events.
The free event featuring a special Abbott and Costello video presentation that brought forth roars of laughter from the crowd also included celebrity impersonators Lou Sciara and Michael T. Wright who entertained the crowd with a stellar performance of Abbott and Costello’s Niagara Falls sketch. Louis Cristillo, grandson of Lou Costello, along with his wife Aicha and daughter Maryam Cristillo, were on hand and shared their thoughts about their grandfather and great-grandfather respectively. Louis spoke of the seriousness of the homeless situation in the world and how, his grandfather, being the huge humanitarian that he was, would be out in the streets helping and contributing his efforts to bring an end to the crisis. Lou Costello’s youngest daughter Chris, who came up with the name for “Lou’s Angels” group, telephoned in from California expressing her gratitude for all.
Among the dignitaries on hand was Mayor Andre Sayegh who, specifically referencing the major motion picture “Paterson” that features the main character driving a NJ Transit bus everyday past the Lou Costello Park, shared his hope that the city he presides over will continue to be a choice destination for filmmakers.
Former Paterson Councilman and retired boxing referee Ed Cotton won the crowd over by showing up dressed in a Superman costume before speaking on a more serious note of his admiration for the comedian, as well as for the boxing club that bears the late celebrity’s name. Speaking of the efforts of the Lou Costello Boxing Gym to keep inner city kids off the streets, Cotton also invoked board president Pierre Benoist, unable to attend because of inclement weather, and pledged their shared support for the children and the gym’s continued efforts to find a new location in Paterson.
Former three-time, Two Division World Champion Boxer and famed Showtime boxing analyst Bobby Czyz also joined the crowd, declaring from that audience that, “Lou Costello Boxing Gym is where it all started for me, right here in Paterson!”
A highlight of the event came when Giacomo DeStefano, the director of the Paterson Museum, presented a trophy recently found in Florida, that was awarded to Lou Costello at Eastside High School Stadium on August 24, 1942 for his support of the World War II, War Bond Drive.
The duo, according to Jeff Salimondo, writer for the “Abbott and Costello” newsletter, had worked with then U.S. Undersecretary of War, Robert Patterson, to support the Army Emergency Relief Fund and helped sponsor the effort that raised funds for the overseas conflict. In the 35 day-long drive, Salimondo continued, the pair traveled to 80 cities, raising an astounding 85 million dollars.
“I truly believe in some strange way, the spirit of Lou Costello has brought us all together as humanitarians and artists, and that putting on these events somehow helps to heal the inner child in us all,” Michelle Vargas, the only Paterson resident to serve on the Lou’s Angels Committee told TAPinto Paterson. Also a Board Member for Lou Costello Boxing Club, Vargas, who was raised in Paterson, has a long history of supporting arts initiative in Paterson including as a volunteer for the Art Factory, a member of the Paterson Arts Council, and on Sayegh’s “Halls to the Falls” Committee. Believing the legacy of Lou Costello is another component of Paterson’s history to be celebrated by future generations of tourists, Vargas said she is looking forward to continuing to support the arts in her hometown and that she is “grateful to the Mayor who has always been supportive of our project ideas, and who embraces the Lou Costello legacy.”
“He (Costello) mentioned the city of Paterson in almost every TV episode,” Sayegh said before sharing his intention to proclaim a “Lou Costello Day” in Paterson.