The Avon Comedy Four was the musical quartet that enveloped the popular comedy duo of Smith & Dale, or Joe Smith and Charlie Dale. Born Joe Selzer and Charlie Marks, the most reliable story has the two Jewish lads first meeting as childhood friends in the East Side of New York City. By 1902 or 1903, they were already performing as the Avon Comedy Four, and although the membership roster is unclear for their first decade, singer Harry Goodwin became an early mainstay of the group. Though they started their act on the Bowery, within a year they were playing some of the top houses in vaudeville, and in early 1914, toured to Europe. That year, the group was joined by honey-voiced tenor Irving Kaufman, who was already making solo records for Edison. However, the Avon Comedy Four proper did not make records until June 7, 1916, when they recorded Ray Goetz' early hit "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula" and "My Mother's Rosary" for Victor, their first, and best-selling recording.
Although they did sing some numbers as part of the act, in the live theatrical domain comedy routines was the Avon's bread and butter; indeed, some hearing their records without knowing who was in the group might wonder what was "comedy" about them. They did record some vaudeville routines, most of them centered on Smith & Dale, but few of these were issued on records, and the group would not have been interested in learning popular close harmony numbers just in order to make records. When Victor decided not to renew them, the made a few records for Emerson and then Columbia, who only issued five sides with the group in 1917-1919. During this time, the Avon Comedy Four moved from a popular novelty on Broadway to first-tier status, scheduled as featured performers in the revue The Passing Show of 1919. When an actor's strike stopped work that year, Goodwin and Kaufman jumped ship, leaving Smith & Dale to hire in a number of rotating comics and singers to keep the act going, which they did until about 1927. They made their last Victor as the Avon Comedy Four in 1924, producing only about 23 sides altogether.
After mothballing the Avon Comedy Four, Smith & Dale went forward as a comedy team, ultimately with success and recognition among the great, veteran Vaudevillians. They made about a dozen comedy shorts, made guest appearances on radio and later, television, through at least 1967, even appearing on an early episode of the Johnny Carson-hosted Tonight Show. Both men lived to very advanced ages, and playwright Neil Simon paid the ultimate tribute through basing his play The Sunshine Boys on their careers. However, The Avon Comedy Four is important to the history of recording for several reasons. They persisted in trying to make records of comedy routines even though the record companies really didn't want them. Although they had a star singer in Irving Kaufman, their singing is rougher and more personable than most barbershop styled, close harmony groups that recorded in the acoustic period. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis, Rovi