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Abbott, Bud (02 October 1895–24 April 1974), and Lou Costello (06 March 1906–03 March 1959), a team of comedians on stage, radio, film, and television, were born, respectively, in Asbury Park and Paterson, New Jersey. Abbott (born William Alexander Abbott) was the son of Harry Abbott, a circus advance agent, and Rae Fisher, a circus bareback rider. Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo) was the son of Sebastian Cristillo, an Italian-born silk weaver and insurance sales agent, and Helen Rege....

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Adams, Don (13 April 1923–25 September 2005), comedian and actor, was born Donald James Yarmy in New York City, the second of the three children of William Yarmy, a restaurant manager, and Consuelo Morgan. Adams, who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, liked to read and draw but had an aversion to New York public schools. Much of his youth was spent frequenting the movie theaters on 42nd Street, where he believed he received a better education. At parties he and his neighborhood friends, a number of whom also forged careers in show business, tried to top each other performing comic bits. Adams's forte became impersonations of the Hollywood stars of the day....

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Don Adams. With Barbara Feldon, on the set of the spoof spy showGet Smart, 10 September 1965. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Adams, Joey (06 January 1911–02 December 1999), comedian, writer, and actor, was born Joseph Abramowitz in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Nathan Abramowitz, a tailor, and Ida Chonin. Growing up in Brownsville, a predominantly Jewish section of Brooklyn, Joey attended local public schools P.S. 171, Patrick Henry Junior High School, and DeWitt Clinton High School. He studied at City College of New York until his senior year but, already active in vaudeville, he dropped out shortly before graduating, in 1931, to pursue his ambitions as an entertainer. As a young child he met ...

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Akeman, Stringbean (17 June 1914–10 November 1973), banjo player and comedian, was born David Akeman in Annville, Kentucky, the son of James Akeman and Alice (maiden name unknown). Situated halfway between Corbin and Richmond, Annville was part of a region that produced several other notable banjoists, such as ...

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Fred Allen. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105144).

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Allen, Fred (31 May 1894–17 March 1956), humorist, was born John Florence Sullivan in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of James Henry Sullivan, a bookbinder, and Cecilia Herlihy. Allen and his younger brother were raised by their aunt Elizabeth Herlihy Lovely, following the death of their mother in 1897. The boys remained a part of their aunt’s extended, working-class, Irish-American family when their brooding, alcoholic father remarried in 1909, residing in Allston and later the Dorchester section of Boston. Allen graduated from Boston’s High School of Commerce in 1911 but did not seek a business career. Among James’s few contributions to his son’s life in comedy was the job of bookrunner that Allen filled, beginning at age fourteen, in the Boston Public Library, his father’s employer. While awaiting call slips in the stacks, Allen read about comedy and practiced juggling. Fascinated with vaudeville, America’s most popular live amusement in 1910, and a hanger-on in Boston’s theatrical district, he appeared as a comic juggler in the library’s employee talent show in the summer of 1911. Soon he was a frequent contestant in amateur vaudeville shows in the Boston area, earning sufficient prize money to encourage him to declare professional status in 1912. Although one-night stands took Allen’s act as far afield as Maine and Connecticut, in September 1914 the young actor moved to New York....

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Allen, Gracie (26 July 1895–27 August 1964), actress and comedienne, was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen in San Francisco, California, the daughter of George Allen, an Irish clog and minstrel dancer, and Margaret Darragh. The year of her birth has been cited as late as 1906, but the 1900 U.S. Census confirms the 1895 date. Gracie was the family’s fifth child and fourth daughter. Sometime after 1900 Allen’s father deserted the family, and her mother married Edward Pidgeon, a San Francisco police captain....

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Allen, Steve (26 December 1921–30 October 2000), comedian, author, songwriter, was born Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York City, the son of vaudeville comedians Carroll William Allen and Isabelle Donohue, who performed under the stage names Billy Allen and Belle Montrose. Literally born into show business, Allen toured the vaudeville circuit with his parents from infancy until his father died suddenly when Allen was only eighteen months old. Because his mother chose to continue her career, she left her young son in the care of her eccentric family in Chicago. In his first autobiography, ...

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Steve Allen Used with the permission of Bill Allen, Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc.

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Arbuckle, Roscoe “Fatty” (24 March 1887–29 June 1933), actor, was born Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle in Smith Center, Kansas, the son of William Arbuckle, a wheat farmer. His mother's name and occupation are unknown. At birth, he weighed approximately fourteen pounds; his mother almost died during the delivery, and her health remained tenuous throughout his childhood. His father, an alcoholic, blamed him for her condition and routinely beat him and berated him about his weight. Around 1889 his family moved to Santa Ana, California. Shortly thereafter his father moved alone to northern California, where he worked as a crop picker and eventually purchased a small hotel in San Jose....

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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. [left to right] Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Mabel Normand, c. 1915, in one of their Keystone films. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10081).

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Backus, Jim (25 February 1913–03 July 1989), actor, comedian, and author, was born James Gilmore Backus in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Russell Gould Backus, a mechanical engineer and president of a local heavy-machinery company, and Daisy Gilmore-Taylor. They lived in Bratenahl, an upper-class borough of Cleveland. Jim attended the Bratenahl School, then as a teenager went to Kentucky Military Institute, but when he tried to enlist, the army rejected him, telling him that he had a vertical stomach and would have to eat six times a day to stay nourished. However, at school he began a lifelong friendship with fellow cadet and future movie actor ...

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Nora Bayes With her children aboard the S.S. Leviathan, 1924. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111460 ).

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Bayes, Nora (29 November 1880–19 March 1928), singer and comedienne, was born Theodora Goldberg in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Elias Goldberg, a merchant, and Rachel Miller. The product of local public schools, which she left to enter vaudeville, the young Dora Goldberg was largely self-taught musically. She had already made her debut at the Hopkins Theatre in Chicago and had become “Nora Bayes” when, at eighteen, she received her first acclaim at the Hyde and Behman vaudeville theater in Chicago, singing comic songs in dialect while impersonating Yiddish and Irish stereotypical characters then fashionable in vaudeville....

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Melissa Vickery-Bareford

Belushi, John (24 January 1949–05 May 1982), actor-comedian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Adam Belushi, the owner of a local restaurant, and Agnes (maiden name unknown). John was the eldest of three sons. His younger brother Jim also became an actor. An aggressive and difficult child, Belushi often got into trouble as a youngster. At Central High School in Wheaton, Illinois, however, he satisfied an intense need for attention by participating in such extracurricular activities as football, wrestling, choir, forensics, and the drama club and by playing drums in a rock ’n’ roll band. In his senior year he was captain of the football team as well as homecoming king....

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Benny, Jack (14 February 1894–26 December 1974), comedian on radio, in films, and on television, was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Waukegan, Illinois. His father, Meyer Kubelsky, only recently had come to the United States from Russia. His mother was Emma Sachs, the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants; she met her husband in Chicago through a matchmaker. Meyer Kubelsky began selling household goods from a horse and wagon traveling along the shores of Lake Michigan; he then became a saloon-keeper and eventually purchased a haberdashery shop....

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Berle, Milton (12 July 1908–27 March 2002), comic performer in vaudeville, nightclubs, film, radio, and television, was born Mendel Berlinger in the area of upper Manhattan then known as Jewish Harlem, the son of Moses Berlinger, a paint and housewares salesman, and Sarah "Sadie" Glantz Berlinger, a department store detective. Fourth of the family's five children, Berle was, by all accounts, a precocious child with an obsessive urge to entertain the people around him, often by mimicking them or by imitating celebrities. Sadie Berlinger recognized his verbal talents when he was barely past infancy and determined to manage him to a career as a performer. The boy made his first public appearance at age five, winning a ...

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Bolger, Ray (10 January 1904–15 January 1987), comedy-actor and dancer, was born Raymond Wallace Bolger in Dorchester, near Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James Edward Bolger, a painter, and Anne Wallace. After he graduated from Dorchester High School in 1920, Bolger initially was employed in office work, including positions with First National Bank of Boston, New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Kelly Peanut Company. His involvement with performing had been at the amateur level, and he found his way into a ballet school run by Senia Rusakoff (Roussakoff) because the institution required someone with bookkeeping knowledge and offered him free dancing lessons in return. Training in ballet and tap led to Bolger’s first stage appearance in 1922 as a soloist in Rusakoff’s dance recital, followed by a couple of years touring with the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertoire Company. This experience enabled Bolger to develop his craft in various musicals. He acquired skills in comedy and acting while continuing to broaden his range of dancing....

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Victor Borge. Charcoal, conte... on paper, c.1954-1959, by René Robert Bouché. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.