Lou Costello was in his den, smoking a cigar and reading the newspaper when his daughter Chris arrived home with a school friend. “She saw him and got a little nervous,” Chris tells Closer. “He put his cigar in the ashtray, folded his newspaper and started coming toward her. She kept backing up. All of a sudden, he did the trip. Boom — into the wall! She erupted into laughter. That was my dad.”

The duo of pratfalling Lou and straight man Bud Abbott began on the vaudeville circuit, became stars on radio and moved into television and a series of popular films through the 1940s and 1950s. But to Chris, who joined older sisters Patricia, aka Paddy, and Carole in 1947, Lou was simply, Dad. “He wasn’t the character. He left him at the studio after a busy day,” says Chris.

At home, Lou didn’t always need to be the center of attention. “You can’t be on 24/7. He was actually very quiet,” says Chris, who recalls that her father loved watching westerns, sports and prizefights on TV. A passionate racing fan, he often attended the races and raised horses at his ranch in Canoga Park, California. “One of our racehorses actually chased him into the family pool once,” Chris recalls.

The Costello children grew up with many advantages, but Lou and his wife, Anne, were strict about good manners, showing respect and taking school seriously. “My father could be very giving, but one time my sister ditched school, so he sent back a car he was going to give her for graduation,” says Chris.

Family meant everything to Lou. He even moved his mother west to a house in Sherman Oaks, just minutes away. “My dad was your typical Italian Catholic. He was especially doting toward his mother,” says Chris, who recalls toting jelly doughnuts to her grandmother’s home for a visit. “I’d drive with him the couple of blocks,” she says. “He would sit me up in his lap, where I could clutch the steering wheel and pretend I was driving.”

Lou had a special fondness for kids — and not just his own. In 1947, he opened a recreation center to serve underprivileged youth in memory of the infant son he’d lost in a drowning accident four years earlier. The facility still exists today. Chris also recalls the time Lou overheard a little girl begging her mother for an expensive doll in a toy store at Christmas time. Lou quietly went to the cashier and purchased the doll. “He said, ‘Wrap that up for that little girl and tell her it’s from Santa Claus,’” Chris remembers.

Lou Costello smiles while wearing a top hat
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1959, Lou suffered a heart attack and died three days before his 53rd birthday. “Of course, I love him to be remembered as a great comedian,” says Chris. “But I also want him to be remembered as a great humanitarian. He believed that money was there to help others.”

“Abbott & Costello: Who’s on First?,” an exhibit of memorabilia, including costumes and props from the famed comedy duo, is open now at the Hollywood Museum. Visit thehollywoodmuseum.com for tickets and info.