Slowly I Turn

Posted by Henry on January 29, 2004

In Reply to: Slowly I Turn posted by R. Berg on January 29, 2004

: : can anyone e-mail me the words to the act that was on I love lucy...ricky hires an actor and lucy dosen't know that the guy is just an actor and he starts to say this.... slowly I turned...inch by inch ...step by step...
: : or something like that I would greatly appriate it if someone can e-mail them to me.thankyou.

: That script was based on an old standard act in vaudeville comedy, "Slowly I Turn." There were variations. In that one, the word that drove the man mad was "Martha." Sometimes "Niagara" was used. I don't have the exact version used in the Lucy episode. You can probably find out more by putting "slowly I turn" into Google (www.

You can find it on The Best of I Love Lucy Collection, Release date: 02 October, 2001. I don't know where you'll find a script, but this act was discussed on this site in 2000 - you'll find it if you search the archive. slowly.html

Tell a non-resident you're from Niagara Falls and the likely response will be, "Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned ... step by step ... inch by
inch ..." Where'd that come from? Some remember it as an old Abbott and Costello or Three Stooges routine. Others may recall it from an episode of I Love Lucy. They're all right.

The skit, which was well known on the vaudeville circuit, goes something like this: A bedraggled man buttonholes a stranger and tells him a tale of betrayal and vengeance. A rogue seduced his sweetheart. He trailed the miscreant from town to town, finally catching up with him in Niagara Falls, where he pummeled him mercilessly. The hearer of the story haplessly says the magic words, "Niagara Falls," causing the man to turn on him and mete out the same punishment.

Sometimes a different town was the red-flag word. Abbot and Costello performed he "Pokomoko" version in their 1944 film, Lost in a Harem.
The improbable storyline revolves around the pair traveling to Arabia to recover the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, which has been hypnotized into
playing only for the villain. Okay. They pose as Hollywood talent scouts. At one point, they end up locked in a jail cell with a lunatic, who does the "Slowly I Turned" routine.

That same year, the Three Stooges incorporated it into their short feature, Gents Without Cents. In this episode, the Stooges are
out-of-work actors who meet three dancing girls in similar circumstances. They all get a job in a show, where they perform the routine. The Stooges marry the ladies and honeymoon in (where else?) Niagara Falls. This time, Curly is the Stooge who exclaims "Niagara Falls!" making himself the target of Moe and Larry's wrath.

The venerable routine reappeared in an episode of I Love Lucy aired in 1952. Ricky needs both a ballerina and a comic to be in his floorshow
at the Tropicana. Lucy, as usual, is clamoring to participate. He sends her to a ballet teacher. She klutzes it up, hurts her leg and
hires someone to teach her a vaudeville routine instead. In a typical misunderstanding, Ethel tells Lucy that the show needs an emergency
substitute performer. Lucy goes and performs a vaudeville routine in the ballet, walloping the dancers and causing general lunacy and mayhem.

This little skit, and its centerpiece phrase, have become so well known that its authorship would seem to be lost in the mists of time,
like an old folk ballad. Extensive research (i.e., Web-surfing) has revealed that comic Joey
Faye claimed authorship of "Slowly I Turned" in its many formats. Born Joseph Palladino in 1909 on Manhattan's Lower East Side, he appeared
in burlesque and vaudeville shows, usually as a sidekick to the star, often Phil Silvers. He was in 36 Broadway shows, including Man of La
Mancha as Sancho Panza, and dozens of movies. He had his own series, The Joey Faye Frolics, in 1950, and appeared as well in other television shows, such as The Real McCoys, Perry Mason and Maude. His most recent claim to fame was as the green grape in the Fruit of the Loom underwear commercials. He continued to work until well into his 80s and died in 1997.
Finally, the mystery has been solved. But people will continue to use the phrase at appropriate moments and enjoy its several film performances without knowing or caring about its source. It has become an acknowledged part of American popular culture, and that is a greater accomplishment than having your name appended to a bit of comic business.