November 19 this year, the same day of the week that Lincoln originally gave the speech, marked the 152nd anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. On April 6, 1952, comedy titans Abbott and Costello were hosting the Colgate Comedy Hour. They had as their guest star Charles Laughton, one of the greatest English actors of the first half of the last century. Amazingly enough the comedy duo and Laughton were co-starring at the time in the forgettable Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.
This was back in the days of live television, and the sheer spontaneity made this brief period of television magic. As was the case when Laughton, who had given a stunning rendition of the Gettysburg Address in the movie Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), recites the Address before a visibly moved Abbott and Costello. Both Abbott and Costello were patriots. Too old, Abbott was 44 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and sick, heart problems and epilepsy afflicted Costello, for military service in World War II, they threw themselves into war bond drives and sold more bonds than any other entertainers. In one heartbreaking incident they performed at a bond drive immediately after the death of Costello’s infant son, the shattered Costello giving the huge audience no hint of the tragedy that had just befallen him and his wife. They had done their bit to ensure “that government of the people, by the people and for the people would not perish from the Earth” and for them the Address was no mere artifact from long ago but a magnificent expression of what this country means.