Joe Smith (born Joseph Seltzer on February 16, 1884 - February 22, 1981) and Charlie Dale (born Charles Marks on September 6, 1885 - November 16, 1971) grew up in the Jewish ghettos of New York City. Many of the famous comic performers of vaudeville, radio and movies came from the same place and the same era, including Gallagher and Shean, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel and the Marx Brothers. Seltzer and Marks met as teenagers in 1898 and formed a partnership. They named their act "Smith and Dale" because a local printer gave them a good deal on business cards reading "Smith and Dale" (intended for a vaudeville team that had dissolved). Joe Seltzer became Joe Smith, and Charlie Marks became Charlie Dale.
By 1902 they joined two singing comedians, Irving Kaufman (later a popular singer) and Harry Godwin in a team known as The Avon Comedy Four. The act became one of the most successful comedy turns in vaudeville. For over 15 years they were top-of-the-bill performers on Broadway and appeared in a 1916 show, Why Worry? The foursome made commercial recordings replicating their stage act, as in a 1917 restaurant sketch:
SMITH: One cheese sandwich! The cheese should be neutral.
DALE: One sandwich, with American cheese.
SMITH: Where's the manager?
DALE: He's not here, he went across the street to a good restaurant.
By 1919, the act had run its course, and the Avon Comedy Four broke up. Smith and Dale took up where the foursome left off, playing Broadway and vaudeville (including the Palace Theatre, considered the pinnacle of stage venues). Both used a heavy Jewish dialect, with Smith speaking in a deep, pessimistic voice and Dale in a high, wheedling tenor.
During the 1920s, they became famous for their signature sketch "Doctor Kronkheit and His Only Living Patient," which like "Who's on First?" for Abbott and Costello, became one of the famous comedy sketches of the 20th century. The name of the doctor is an inside joke: Smith and Dale, both being Jewish, named the physician Kronkheit, which is Yiddish and German for "sickness". Thus we have a doctor named "Dr. Sickness". Indeed a hospital in German is called a Krankenhaus, or literally "sick house".
Dr. Kronkheit (played by Dale, not Smith as is sometimes reported) is greeted by skeptical patient Smith:
SMITH: Are you a doctor?
DALE: I'm a doctor.
SMITH: I'm dubious.
DALE: I'm glad to know you, Mr. Dubious.
Most of the sketch has Dr. Kronkheit trying to determine the patient's problem:
SMITH: Look at this, doctor.
DALE: Look at --- oh, that there? Did you ever have that before?
SMITH: Yes, I did.
DALE: Well, you got it again!
SMITH: I can't sleep at night. I walk around all night.
DALE: Ah! You're a somnambulist!
SMITH: No, I'm a night watchman.
SMITH: I got rheumatism on the back of my neck. It's a bad place to have rheumatism, on the back of my neck.
DALE: No, no, where would you want a better place than on the back of your neck?
SMITH: On the back of your neck.
SMITH: Doctor, it hurts when I do this.
DALE: Don't do that.
SMITH: My neck hurts me, doctor; it's terrible.
DALE: Oh, well, sit down and open your neck. (Smith tries to object) Mister, please, I got no patience!
SMITH: I shouldn't have been here either!
The patient explains that he has already seen a doctor:
SMITH: He told me I had snew in my blood.
DALE: What did he told you?
SMITH: He told me I had snew in my blood.
DALE: Snew? What's snew?
SMITH: Nothing. What's new with you?
SMITH (reacting to Dale spitting on his stethoscope:) Doctor, what is that you're doing?
DALE: Now inhale, please.
DALE: Inhale! I would like to see you.
SMITH: (Inhale) In Hell I would like to see you!
DALE: The whole trouble with you is, you need eyeglasses.
SMITH: Eyeglasses?! I suppose if I had a headache, I'd need an umbrella.
Dr. Kronkheit's fee is ten dollars:
SMITH: For what?!?
DALE: For my advice.
SMITH: Ten dollars for your advice?
DALE: That's right.
SMITH: Well, Doctor, here is two dollars; take it. That's my advice!
Smith and Dale made several short comedy films in the late 1920s during the talkie boom. Their comedy relied on verbal interplay and timing, however and they typically made changes to their act slowly. As a consequence, their material was quickly exhausted by the medium of the short film, and they never became big film stars.
Their act can be seen (to excellent advantage) in the feature film The Heart of New York (1932). Based on David Freedman's stage success "Mendel, Inc.," they play a pair of professional matchmakers, constantly bickering back and forth, They also ran through some of their sketches in Paramount Pictures and Vitaphone short subjects. Their "firemen" sketch, in which Joe and Charlie are lazy firemen who hardly pay attention when someone reports a fire, was filmed as The False Alarm Fire Company.
In 1938 Smith and Dale starred in a pair of two-reel comedies for Columbia Pictures, both produced and directed by comedian Charley Chase. Smith and Dale adapted surprisingly well to Columbia's fast-paced format, but they made no further films for the studio; executive producer Jules White didn't care for their dialect shtick and didn't renew their contract.
Smith and Dale also made three Soundies in 1941. In a rare exception to Soundies' all-musical policy, Smith and Dale did spoken-comedy routines.
The two can also be seen a scene near the start of Two Tickets to Broadway (1951) where they play Leo and Harry the proprietors of the Palace Deli. The two men rib each other continuously as they serve their patrons: the dialog is so out of character with the script - and so long in comparison to other exchanges in the film - that there can be no doubt that the men were allowed to insert their own material into the script.
Smith and Dale continued working as a team in stage, radio, nightclub, film, and television productions. They were frequent guests on New York-based variety shows like Cavalcade of Stars (doing the "firemen" sketch on live television, with Art Carney as the frantic fire victim) and The Ed Sullivan Show. They were still performing in the 1960s, including an appearance at New York's Donnell Library Center.
The partnership, known among entertainers as the longest in show-business history, endured until Charlie Marks's death at age 89, on November 16, 1971. Sultzer continued to perform, mainly in guest appearances on television sitcoms, until his death on February 22, 1981, at the age of 97.
Late in their lives both men wound up in the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, an assisted living and nursing care facility available to those who have dedicated the major portion of their professional lives to the theatrical industry.
Smith and Dale are buried in the same cemetery plot, with a common headstone. The gravestone notes the name of the three people buried there, Dale and his wife Mollie and the widowed Smith. Smith is identified only by his show business name of Joe Smith, while his partner is listed as Charles Dale Marks and Dale's wife is listed as Mollie Dale Marks. The larger printing higher on the stone says SMITH & DALE, to which Smith added the words BOOKED SOLID.
The longevity of the comedy team in Neil Simon's play and film The Sunshine Boys is said to be inspired by Smith and Dale. The bickering nature of the team was said to be inspired by the vaudeville comics Gallagher and Shean.
Gordon Lish's Extravaganza: A Joke Book (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1989) is an avant-garde novel inspired by Smith and Dale's act.