Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Good of the Act

“Progress” was society’s watchword for the longest time and once something new was embraced, the old was discarded quickly. In 1955, everyone looked ahead to flying cars and kitchens that made instant food. They didn’t look back. Modern home entertainment meant television. Radio was a thing of the past, even though the networks were still broadcasting. Silent films were positively ancient, a product of those Stone Age days way, way back—a whopping 30 years earlier. How attitudes change. Today, the past is the present. You can turn on one of those obsolete radios and hear music from not just 30 but 40 years ago. In 1955, no one was listening to singing stars of 40 years before like Alma Gluck and John McCormack.

So it was in the mid ‘50s that vaudeville was considered a dusty memory. A pleasant one, though. Grumpy Fred Allen left the impression in his book Much Ado About Me that the tedious grind of touring small towns for next-to-no pay was the best time he had in show business. George Burns looked back on his vaudeville years with bemusement. They were among a comparatively select few who made it to the top.

So were the team of Smith and Dale. Remarkably, they were still performing long after vaudeville was dead. The Associated Press caught up with them in 1955.

Comedy Team For 57 Years
Famous Members Of Avon Four

HOLLYWOOD, May 25 (AP) — The battling comedy teams of today can take a lesson from Smith and Dale, who have been creating laughs together for 57 years.
Comedians like Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis have suffered splits and dissensions which have placed strains on their careers. Smith and Dale can show them how two men can live and work together in a highly competitive business and still get along.
No vaudeville fan needs to be told who Smith and Dale are. But to the younger generation, it can be explained that they were the more famous members of the Avon Comedy Four.
Some years ago, Variety polled veteran stars on which were the best acts of the vaude era. The majority placed the Avon Comedy Four at the top of their lists. Their most famous routine is the zany Dr. Kronkite sketch.
Smith and Dale are getting belly laughs with Dr. Kronkite nightly at a night club called the Bandbox. Their audiences have included such fans as Jack Benny, Dan Dailey, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, George Burns and George Stevens.
The veteran pair was relaxing in the sun at their Hollywood hotel and reminiscing about their career.
"I'll tell you why we've never split up," said Joe Smith, who is 71, powerfully built, and hawknosed with a dapper mustache. "We've had our fights in the dressing room and listeners say 'Oh-oh, this is the end of the team.'
"But we never carry our disagreements out of theater. Whenever we argue, it's for the good of the act. There's no jealousy over who gets laughs."
"That's right," added Charley Dale, almost 74, a wry-looking fellow with heavy-lidded eyes and a fighter's nose. "That's what breaks most teams up. One of them wants to be an individualist. You can't think about laughs for yourself alone. You've got to think about the good of the act."
Some teams, for instance Olson and Johnson, figure they will get along better by remaining apart offstage. But Smith and Dale don't hold to this.
"When we're traveling, we always stay at the same hotel." said Smith. In New York, we usually see each other every day. If we don't, we're talking on the telephone. We're both Masons and members of the Lambs Club."
"He's stuck with me," laughed Dale," and I couldn't get along without him."
This has been going on since 1898, when they met and combined forces in show business. Their long pairing is a record in anybody's book. They've been doing "Dr. Kronkite" since 1906. As Smith says, "If the number of times we have one it were laid end to end, it would be endless." They've peformed it in every medium from vaude to video.
How do they retain their zest for the sketch?
"We never do the same routine twice," explained Smith. "The other night I threw in a line about Medic.' Got a big laugh."
"The sketch is wonderful," said Dale. "Some of the lines are still so funny to me that I can hardly keep a straight face."
It's apparent that Dr. Kronkite must have rejuvenating powers, Because both Smith and Dale look 20 years younger than they are. Their hair is scarcely gray, and they have the enthusiasm of show biz newcomers. While here, they're discussing plans to film their life stories.

The most interesting part of the story is the attitude that Smith and Dale had toward their audience. They were entertainers so the audience came first. They set aside their personal feelings because the show must go on. Considering the self-indulgent, self-important nature of stars today, perhaps they should look back at the attitudes of the past.

1 comment:

  1. I think working in front of a live audience exclusively, whether it was theater or vaudeville, back in the days when Smith and Dale and the other acts started made them pay attention more to the audience. The more advanced technology has gotten, the further away performers have distanced themselves from their audiences, to the point they can act self-important, because the rarely have to deal with their fan base in a non-controlled environment (though to be fair, even back in the 20s Al Jolson apparently was a heck of a diva, even as radio and talking pictures were just being born).