April 10, 2000
By Janon Fisher
Bud Abbott, right, and Lou Costello do their famous "Who's on First?" baseball sketch.
NEW YORK (APBnews.com) -- Perhaps no comedy duo was more popular, beloved or influential than Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. But the FBI saw the act as
a threat and investigated them for hoarding pornography and befriending mobsters.
The pair was never charged with a crime, but the FBI maintained files on the two, just in case. Although the two files are small -- just 14 pages
between them -- they are packed with scandalous, and dubious, allegations. The documents may say more about the various obsessions and paranoia of the
FBI in the 1940s than they do about Abbott and Costello
In October 1944, in the days before every neighborhood had a video rental store with an adult section in the back room, the bureau investigated a
"purported ring of obscene motion picture operators in Hollywood." In the course of this investigation they discovered that Costello and actors Red
Skelton and George Raft were among the ring's regular customers. According to the file, "The informant remarked that Costello 'had it running out
of his ears.'"
"'Large library of obscene films' -- now this one got me laughing," said Chris Costello, the comedian's youngest daughter. "We had one of the
largest film collections known within the entertainment community."
But instead of pornography, she said, the library consisted of Abbott and Costello's Hollywood studio films and one of the largest collections of B
movie westerns -- a passion of her father's.
"First of all, an Italian-Catholic -- hello? With family? Uh-uh," she said. "I would know if he was planting obscene films in [his library]. There
is no way he would be allowing his children in there to rummage through, to select film, or this and that."
"I can tell you right now, when everything was removed from that house, there were no obscene films. I don't know where they got that, but that is
bunk, bunk, bunk," she said.
No crime, but feds still suspicious
The FBI was reluctant to let go of the suspicion that at least one of the comedians was stockpiling stag films. In 1958, a Los Angeles Police
Department (LAPD) informant passed on information that Abbott had been squirreling away skin flicks, 1,500 to be precise.
The bureau opened a new file under the suspicion that Abbott was involved in interstate transportation of obscene matter. They concluded that the
alleged film collection was for private use but decided to keep the information around, anyway.
"Although ABBOTT is an alleged collector and there is not an allegation of interstate transportation of this matter, a case is being opened in this
office as a control file to follow and report to the Bureau information coming to the attention of this office through police liaison with Ad Vice,
LAPD," the report states.
Nothing in the report indicates that the porn case developed any further.
A 1958 memo also mentions that Abbot was suspected of similar lewdness, but there is never any confirmation in the file that it took place.
A jealous man with mob ties?
In another section of the file, the bureau portrays Costello as a comedian given to jealous rage who was not above using his mob ties to exact revenge
on those who crossed him.
"On October 22, 1946, the Los Angeles Office advised that Lou Costello had requested assistance from one [redacted] of New Jersey to 'take care of'
one [redacted] who was making a play for Mrs. Costello," the memo states.
According to the bureau, the accused offender "wasn't touched," but the alleged mobster said that he would still "hurt him" if Costello had any
"This thing about someone making a play for Mrs. Costello -- I'm laughing at this one," his daughter said.
"As far as all these ties to the underworld, I don't think that his ties were in any way with favors being owed. I think he was just friends,"
Chris Costello said.
She said her father grew up in Paterson, N.J., with mobster Frank Costello.
"They were very good friends," she said. "I know my sister used to tell stories of Frank Costello coming over and sitting and having lunch or
dinner with the family because they knew each other from New Jersey from their boyhood days."
In fact, one of the comedian's best friends, she said, was Joe Bozzo, head of the New Jersey mob. "Joe Bozzo was my godfather," she said.
The full story, including FBI documents here.
[Edited on 24-10-2002 by quaneeri]