Did the classic bit "Niagara Falls/Slowly I Turn" originate with Bud and Lou? I said it did. but a couple of friends said they had seen the Three Stooges perform the same routine in one of their shorts.
So a bit of googling (googleing?) later here is what I found:
No, Bud and Lou didn't originate the "Niagara Falls" (a.k.a. "Slooowly I Turned") routine; it is an old burlesque bit. As A&C screenwriter Harry Crane explained in the book, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, "That [routine] is a burlesque classic; all the comics knew it, and there were even several different versions of it." That's why the Stooges were able to do the "Niagara Falls" version of the routine in their short, "Gents Without Cents," while Bud and Lou did the "Pokomoko" version in their film, "Lost in a Harem." Both films were playing in movie theaters late in 1944! Years later, Bud and Lou did the "Niagara Falls" version with Sid Fields in the "Jail" episode of the team's TV series. That's on Vol. 7 of of "The Abbott and Costello Show" released by Shanachie Home Entertainment and available from Abbott and Costello Collectibles.
Abbot & Costello (with a psychopathic jail mate, Sidney "Sid" Fields) - Niagara Falls Video from YouTube
Transcription of Slowly I Turned A classic vaudeville routine as performed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (also known as "Poko Moko" and "Niagara Falls")
Bud, Lou and derelict in cell:
Derelict: I haven't always been a derelect ... (looks at Lou) ... like you.
Lou: Don't call me those kind of bad names!
Derelict: Would you like to hear my story?
Derelict: Very well, then I'll tell it to you
Bud: Go ahead
Derelict: (to Bud) Thank you ... many years ago my father gave me the benefit of a very good education (sad music playing) ... then .. I met her. She was beautiful ... glorious. We were married. two years later - a baby boy. I haven't seen that boy till this very day.
Lou: Did you say a little baby boy?
Lou: Did he have brown eyes?
Derelict: Yes he did!
Lou: And two little teeth in the front?
Derelict: (Excitedly) Yes, yes!
Lou: And black hair?
(derelict pushes Lou away)
Bud: Oh what's the matter with you? Sit still! Keep quiet. Stop interupting the man!
Lou: Well, I thought I found my father!
Bud: Quiet! (turns to derelict) - go ahead.
Derelict: Thank you. We were very happy, my little family. One morning we were seated around the breakfast table and a knock came at the door. There stood a man. He was broken in health and spirit. I bade him enter, I welcomed him into my home. I said 'make my home your home'...and he did! One day I returned from work to find that home was no longer a home. My wife ... the baby... and the stranger had fled. Then one day ... at the banks of the Poko Moko I found them. Suddenly my brain snapped. All the years of pent up emotion of years suffering welled up within me. I knew I would never be satisfied until I had my bony fingers wrapped around his throat. So with murder in my heart ... slooooooowly I turned (acting this out as he speaks, focusing on Lou), step by step, step by step I crept upon him (creeping towards Lou) and when I saw the stare in his face ... I struck and I grabbed him (Grabs Lou and starts pushing him against the wall and shouting at him)
Bud: What's the matter? Why are you interupting the man for?
Derelict: My poor friend, I'm sorry. But everytime I hear the word Poko Moko, I just want to kill!
Lou: Take it easy pal, take it easy!
Bud: See, everytime he hears that word: 'Poko Moko'
Derelict: Poko Moko!!!! OOhh, I knew I'd never be satisfied until I had his blood running between my fingers...so slowly I turned (does action) step by step, step by step I crept upon him - and when I saw the streak on his countenance I grabbed him and I couldn't help myself (throws Lou against the wall and begins beating him up) and I was going out my mind (calms down, breathless)
Lou: (takes an exaggerated boxing stance)
Bud: Stand still! What's the matter with you? The man's telling you his life's history. It's interesting.
Derelict: My poor friend! I did it again didn't I?
Bud: It's alright, it's alright
Derelict: What's happening to me?
Lou: It's not happening to you brother, it's all happening over here!
Bud: Just ... don't use that word ....
Lou: Don't ... don't ... don't ... don't. He means "Pocahontas!"
Derelict: (reacts for a second)
Lou: (stopping him) Pocahontas!!
Bud: Yes, it's alright
Lou: Sounds like Coko Moko or something
Derelict: Poko Moko! BBBRRRRRR...So slowly I turned! Step by step, step by step (Lou calls out for Bud in a quiet voice) ... and when I crept upon him ... I grabbed him and (again beats Lou and repeatedly slams him into the wall, then throws him across the cell to the other wall knocking his hat off)
Bud: (angrily to derelect) Just a minute ... just a minute! Now you've been getting away with murder. Enough is enough. You understand that? I've stood by and watched all this! And I've let you get away with it ... but no more! (bends down and picks up Lou's hat) - These things cost money. Be careful how you handle them!
I too was wondering the origin of the "Niagra Falls" routine. Your article was helpful. :D
I loved that routine. I remember the beginning as "slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch". But I sometimes have trouble remembering what happened last week, let alone last century.
Nice. I've only seen Dick Van Dyke do the sketch...good to know the origin.
8/14/2007 you're the best!! i've been trying to find out which dvd to buy to get the routine for myself. YOU NAILED IT!! thx Mike V
11/27/2007 It is really sad that the only real recording of this sketch was done by the Stooges and Bud & Lou. This sketch has probably been performed by every comic in burlesk (and I think every comic in burlesk took credit for writing it). I am a student and fan of burlesk.
When you shift through all the stories, I think it was Joey Faye who really originated the sketch. He was a lesser known stars than the stooges or A&C. Had a very good run as a character actor after burlesk began it's trip to obscurity. Also he was in the "Mack & Meyer" for hire shorts.
Joe DiRita who was with the stooges performed this bit to perfection when he worked Vegas with the Minsky company. Also, Sidney Fields another veteran of burlesk was also the best comic who performed this skit. Sid worked for A&C (he played the derelict in "poko moko" with Bud & Lou). Sid also worked with Steve Allen and Jackie Gleason, a great writer in addition to his comedy work. Died just a few years back; a real top bannana!! Sid also played the role of Mr. Fields the landlord of A&C in their television series, he wrote most of it. Probably the most under rated figure in comedy.
10/23/2008 A version of Niagara Falls was done on the I Love Lucy show, and A&C also did it in one of their movies as "Susquehanna Hat Company".
--Brian from Shawnee
11/16/2008 I have always liked Lou & Bud better than the 3 Stooges, with this skit being the exception. The Niagara falls skit is written better and in my opinion more memorable due to the verbiage in the story not merely to the performance.