Irish, Italian, even Spanish laying claim to Costello

July 25, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

ASK AND ye shall receive.

Some 113 callers responded to Wednesday's column with the questions about the name Costello and comedian Lou Costello. To refresh memories, I will go through the questions one by one.

Is the name Costello Irish or Italian?

Readers were divided on this one.

"My good friend Bernie Costello is 100 percent Irish," said Pat Murphy. Mary Ellen Johnson called in her opinion that the Costello name is Irish.

"[Rock singer] Elvis Costello is Irish," she said. "I think." Ed Stetka said his wife is Irish, and her branch of the family is %J named Costello. Michael Daugherty and Susan Costello also said the Susan Costello also said the name was Irish, with Costello adding that the name was prominent in Ireland's County Mayo.

Even a member of the judiciary got in on the debate. Circuit Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman said Costello is an Irish name.

"I've got tons of 'em," she said in reference to her family members who are named Costello. "And I've just come from Ireland, where the name was everywhere."

But others said they know American Costellos with both Irish and Italian ancestry.

"Yes and yes," said Alan Walden of WBAL. "Costello is both Irish and Italian. The Irish pronounce it CAH-stel-oh, with the accent on the first syllable. The Italians pronounce it cah-STEL-oh, with the accent on the second syllable."

Eleven callers claimed the name Costello is neither Irish nor Italian, but Spanish. Sailors in the Spanish Armada who survived when the fleet was destroyed in a storm off the Irish coast intermarried with native Irish women and left Spanish surnames.

But Lorenzo Gaztannga left the intriguing message that Spanish Costellos may have been descendants of Italian immigrants to Spain.

"Immigration started long before America," Gaztannga said. "The Costello name immigrated to Spain and Ireland in the early days of European immigration."

Were Lou Costello's ancestors Irish or Italian?

Most callers left messages that Costello was not the comedian's real last name. He adopted that name out of admiration for Delores Costello, an actress of the 1930s who helped him with his career. Costello was born Louis Francis Cristillo in March pTC 1906, most callers said. But there is some dispute on the spelling of the last name.

Al DiCenso recalled:

"My grandparents came from Italy to Paterson, N.J., where Lou ** was born. My father and his brothers were born there, as was I. I'm told by my father that Lou was a contemporary of his, that they went to the same high school but were not classmates. Lou's mother and my grandmother were friends, and the family's name at that time was Cristelli."

Other callers said Lou Costello was both Italian and Irish. Sources as varied as almanacs, encyclopedias and the Internet were cited, but all agreed that Lou's father was an Italian named Sebastian and his mother an Irish woman named Helen.

Preston Pardue said Costello was his second cousin. His grandmother, Eva Zissimos, and Costello's mom were sisters. Costello would often visit his Aunt Eva, who lived on 36th Street in Hampden.

Pardue said he was 7 weeks old when his cousin Lou Costello held him at his christening, following a tradition that said if you hold a male child at his christening, you would have a boy of your own.

"Six months later, he did have a son," Pardue remembered, "but he died tragically in a pool accident. Lou actually went on stage and performed for an hour knowing his son had just died."

Lou Costello: half-Irish, half-Italian and an all-American original. This discussion leaves you pining away for him and his partner, Bud Abbott, doesn't it? I loved Abbott and Costello when I was a boy. Especially Costello. He provided continuous joy in a world ,, that was sometimes joyless and sometimes not very child-friendly. When in March 1959 other kids in the neighborhood told me Costello was dead, my tortured 7-year-old self immediately concluded I would see no more of his movies.

That misconception was soon cleared up. The comedy of Bud and Lou lives on through the magic of celluloid. Most of us know their "Who's on first?" routine by heart. Isn't it still funnier than what passes for comedy today, when comedians think humor is defined by the number of four-letter words used in a routine?

My thanks to all the folks who called in. You've confirmed my belief that if you want to know anything, just consult Sun readers.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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