Three Comedians and a Top Hat

by Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 1997.015.01

Fred L. Kramer, president of First Federal Savings & Loan in La Crosse, evidently knew how to have a good time, judging from his top hat. A few weeks ago, we showed you this Depression-era silk top hat in profile. But pop it over and what a surprise! Big-time comedians Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and Eddie Cantor have all signed the lining.

In the 1930s, Abbott, Costello, and Cantor were among the biggest names in comedy, and comedy was the biggest thing in entertainment, thanks to radio. Prime-time comedy radio shows, such as The Chase & Sanborn Hour, which featured Cantor, were the most prominent and highly-rated shows of the era, according to radio historian Michele Hilmes. Vaudeville performers Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had listeners in stitches with their “Who’s on First?” routine, first broadcast in March 1938 on The Kate Smith Hour.  Americans sorely needed a laugh, and the radio comedians did not disappoint.

La Crosse residents of the 1930s would have been well familiar with all three comedians, thanks to the growing affordability of radio sets like this one – a Crosley Super 8 – and increasingly reliable signal strength from radio towers near and far.

Now how did all three comedians come to sign Fred Kramer’s top hat? Did he acquire the autographs over time, or did Kramer have an epic night out on the town? The Historical Society asks anyone with information about this mystery to contact us immediately.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 26, 2015.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.