Monday, March 23, 2009

Google It I Did

My friend Lou over at LouCeeL posted a blog title Slowly I Turned, Step by Step. I mentioned to him in the comment that I had heard that experession before, but couldn't put my finger on why and that I should Google it. Well Google it I did and the following is what I found.

"Slowly I Turned" is the most common name associated with a popular vaudeville sketch that has also been performed in cinema and on television. Comedians Harry Steppe, Joey Faye (1909-1997), and Samuel Goldman each laid claim to this timeless classic of show business, also commonly referred to as, variously, "The Stranger with a Kind Face" (by clowns and clowning aficionados), "Niagara Falls" (by fans of The Three Stooges), "Pokomoko" or "Bagel Street" (by Abbott and Costello lovers), and "Martha" (by fans of I Love Lucy).

The routine has two performers pretending to meet for the first time, with one of them becoming highly agitated over the utterance of particular words. Names and cities (such as Niagara Falls) have been used as the trigger, which then send the unbalanced person into a state of mania; the implication is that the words have an unpleasant association in the character's past. While the other performer merely acts bewildered, the crazed actor relives the incident, uttering the words, "Slowly I turned...step by step...inch by inch...," as he approaches the stunned onlooker. Reacting as if this stranger is the object of his rage, the angry actor begins hitting or strangling him, until the screams of the victim shake him out of his delusion. The actor then apologizes, admitting his irrational reaction to the mention of those certain words. This follows with the victim innocently repeating the words, sparking the insane reaction all over again. This pattern is repeated in various forms, sometimes with the entrance of a third actor, uninformed as to the situation. This third person predictably ends up mentioning the words and setting off the manic performer, but with the twist that the second actor, not this new third person, is still the recipient of the violence. (However, in some variations - as in the Three Stooges short Gents Without Cents - the newcomer may be the attacked party.)

Abbott and Costello did a version for their television show which ended with Costello’s troublesome lawyer entering the scene. Costello asks for the lawyer to take the case of the storytelling stranger, and the lawyer says, "Help him out? I don’t know anything about him! What’s his name? Where is he from?" Costello whispers in the lawyer’s ear, to which the lawyer says aloud, "Niagara Falls?" Then he, of course, is immediately attacked.

And then I watched this YouTube clip.


Ladykli said...

Isn't google amazing? I found this very interesting. The phrase sounding familiar to me when I started reading your post. When I read farther I started thinking h-m-m-m-m, I wonder if Abbott and Castello ever did this. Sure enough they had. It's like Who's On First? But that's for another day!
I'll have to come back later to watch the video when the girls are more awake!

In my own words said...

The man who penned this timeless chestnut of the Vaudeville stage was none other than Joey Faye. He performed it with various partners for a number of years in both Burlesque and Vaudeville.
He finally got to perform it with another great from Burlesque, Danny Thomas. This was seen only once on "The Make Room For Daddy" comedy show of the early 60s. The third banana in the sketch was regular Sid Melton. If they ever release it, you will see how it is suppose to be done. It is a true classic.