For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
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While the comedic pairing of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello is best known for its radio editions of the hit patter-comedy routine, “Who’s on First,” the duo also had a string of successful hits on the big screen.
Arguably, the pair’s biggest movie success came in the 1949 comedy Africa Screams.
Abbott and Costello had already been a success on stage since 1935 and spent the next several years adding appearances on popular radio shows as guest stars. In 1941 after getting rave reviews as Fred Allen’s “summer replacement,” they earned their own radio series.
Their success on radio paved the way for a series of money-making motion pictures throughout the next two decades. The pair made an incredible 24 movies between 1941 and 1948 before embarking on “Africa.” Among the best received films during this time period includes Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, One Night In The Tropics, Buck Privates, Buck Privates Come Home and The Naughty Nineties, in which the team duo stole the spotlight when the film featured a retooling of their “Who’s On First” routine.
As the decade was coming to a close, the pair wanted to embark in new territory and incorporate some other popular names of the era, as well as include new settings to their popular comedic formula.
Famed animal trainer and circus mogul Clyde Beatty, along with his famous performing animals, was brought into the mix. Also added to the cast was popular boxer Max Baer (as “Grappler” McCoy) and Shemp Howard, who was looking to branch out from his “Three Stooges” success and enhance his star power as a solo performer.
The film also marked the first time that Abbott and Costello worked with Hillary Brooke and Joe Besser — both actors would later become part of the ensemble cast for the duo’s television series. Besser and Howard would also share time working as part of the “Stooges” franchise over the next few years.
The picture itself was not without issues.
According to the book, “Abbott and Costello in Hollywood” by Bob Furmanek, the movie’s subplot regarding the affectionate gorilla was originally presented as a female simian pursuing Costello. However, the Breen Office censors that enforced the Production Code in Hollywood at that time demanded that the gorilla’s gender be changed because they felt a female gorilla’s pursuit of a man would be on par with bestiality.
Years later, the original nitrate stock negative of the film had decomposed, but the nitrate fine grain was still serviceable. Furmanek, an author and historian, had obtained the rights to the original print in the 1980s and had it transferred to 35mm for preservation purposes.
This film was also unique in that Abbott and Costello had gone out on their own to independently finance their film for the first time while relying on the “United Artist” umbrella created by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin to help with the distribution of the movie.
Africa Screams turned out to be a huge success, grossing over $1.5 million in its release (while working with a budget just under $500,000) and paved the way for other successful releases over the next two years, including Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff, Abbott and Costello In The Foreign Legion and Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man.
The success of “Africa” also spawned the creation of the popular “Abbott and Costello” television show, which boasted solid ratings for four years before a reoccurring rift would once again develop between the pair–ultimately separating them for good.
We’ll have more on the sometimes strained relationship and little known facts about the legendary pairing of Abbott and Costello in an upcoming blog entry here at “The Showcase.” Meanwhile, you can watch Africa Screams by tuning in or setting your DVRs to ATVN this Tuesday at 9:00 am.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on the Astound TV Network, check out the weekly listings here.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ATVN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.