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Encyclopedia > Smith and Dale

Smith & Dale was a famous U.S. vaudeville comedy act that consisted of the duo of Charles Marks and Joseph Sultzer. The two performed together for 70 years. The comedy team in Neil Simon's play and film "The Sunshine Boys" is loosely based, although Smith & Dale never broke up, as did the duo in Simon's play.


Charles Marks (born September 6, 1882) and Joseph Sultzer (born February 16, 1884) 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 in the same era, including Gallagher & Shean, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel and The Marx Brothers. The two met as boys in 1898 and formed a partnership. The chose the name "Smith & Dale" after a defunct comedy-dance team of the same name, because a local printer was selling business cards with that name at a discount. Joe Sultzer became Joe Smith, and Charlie Marks became Charlie Dale.

By 1902, they joined two singing comedians (Irving Kaufman-later a successful crooner-and Harry Godwin) and called their act the Avon Comedy Four. It became one of the most successful comedy turns in Vaudeville. For over 15 years they were top of the bill performers on Broadway. They appeared in 1916 in a show called "Why Worry?". By 1919, the act had run its course, and the four broke up. Smith & Dale took up where the Avon Comedy Four left off, playing Broadway, vaudeville (including the Palace Theatre, considered the pinnacle of stage venues).

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 bits of the 20th century. The sketch, involving a nurse ("I'm his nurse." "What! The doctor sick too?"), a doctor ("Are you the doctor?" "I'm the doctor." "I'm dubious." "Hello, Mr. Dubious."), and a patient ("It's terrible. I walk around all night." "Ah! You're a somnambulist!" "No, I'm a night watchman."). The patient has a sore neck ("Well, Mister, sit down and open your neck.") ("You should go to Mt. Clements for rheumatism." "Is that a good place?" "That's where I got mine. You see..."). There is an examination ([the doctor spits] "What are you doing?" "I'm sterilizing the instruments.") ("Be careful with yourself there, doctor..."). Finally, the diagnosis ("My opinion is you need eyeglasses."), which is not accepted by the patient ("You owe me $10." "$10!! For what?!?" "For my advice!" "Doctor, here's $2, take it: That's MY advice!").

They made several short comedy films in the late 1920s during the talkie boom. Their comedy relied on verbal interplay and timing, however and they typical 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.

They continued working as a team on Broadway and Off-Broadway, on radio, night clubs, and television variety shows until Charlie Charles Marks' death on November 16, 1971. After Marks' death, Sultzer continued to perform, mainly in guest appearances on television sitcoms, until his death on February 22, 1981, at the age of 97.

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