Guido Deiro |
Last Days, Part 1
Although beginning around 1928 Guido had begun establishing a chain of accordion studios in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, student enrollment declined in the 1940s, especially during World War II. One by one his studio franchises failed. Gasoline was rationed, making it difficult for students to travel to lessons and for Guido and his affiliate teachers to get out and home teach. Finally around 1947, he lost all of his studios except for the studio at 2720 North Broadway in Los Angeles (pictured on a previous page).
And Guido even had difficulty paying the rent for that one studio. Guido's son remembered, "My father's accordion studio at 2720 North Broadway had only a small storefront, and not much space inside. Yet my father lived in this studio; he could not afford a separate apartment. In the back of the studio was a small room where he slept on a sofa which converted into a bed. There was a tiny toilet room, and no kitchen. When I visited my father, he cooked our dinners on a hot plate. I slept on an army surplus cot. Circumstance had reduced my father from riches to a meager subsistence."
This turn of events must have been very difficult for Guido to bear. For two decades, from 1910 until the late 1920s, he was one of the highest paid-musicians in Vaudeville: he was "America's Premier Accordionist," the celebrated headliner, the successful recording artist, and the handsome ladies' man. He wore the finest tuxedos, stayed at the finest hotels, drove the finest automobiles, and dated the most beautiful singers and actresses. But he lost most of his money in the 1929 stock market crash, and then sound movies and the Great Depression put the Vaudeville theaters out of business.
Guido tried to maintain his image, and he (perhaps unwisely) spent a lot of money wooing women, but without a substantial income, he could not maintain his extravagant lifestyle. In addition, like many famous musicians and actors, it seemed he could not maintain a long-term relationship with a woman, and he suffered great emotional duress when his last wife left him and took his only son with her.
After several years of estrangement, Deiro divorced his fourth wife, Yvonne Le Baron de Forrest, in 1941 on grounds of mental cruelty. The 21 year old beauty, 35 years his junior, had run off with Sam "Baby Shoes" Prezant, a Hollywood bookmaker soon to become a Las Vegas casino operator. She took his only known child, four year old Guido Jr., with her.
Yet there was one factor, more than any other, which foretold the ultimate end of Guido's accordion studio franchise: he could not put his heart into teaching; he hated teaching. He was a natural-born performer, not a teacher. This was, perhaps, the greatest reason for his premature demise.
Mario Mosti (b. 1924), a talented accordionist, teacher, publisher, and accordion repairman, remembered meeting Guido Deiro:I met Guido Deiro when my family moved to California right after World War II. Guido had a small accordion studio with maybe fifteen students and I visited him there once in the Summer of 1946. It was obvious that his heart was not into teaching, as other studios operated by Sylvester Prior and Tony Travis had hundreds of students. A young girl, one of Guido's students, entered his studio. Guido looked at me with a sorry face and whispered, "Giving lessons is poison for me." His heart was simply not into teaching.By 1947, the collapse of Guido's career and marriage, the hardship of the war years, his waning popularity and his failing health combined to put the former vaudeville and recording star into a deep depression from which he never recovered.
I can understand that -- for a man who was such a great star during the heyday of vaudeville in the 1910s and 20s, a hit headliner who got top billing and top dollar for his performances, who would woo the audience with his personality and music and make them swoon, a man who when he was on stage could control the audience like they were in the palm of his hand -- for a great celebrity star like Guido, teaching students, especially beginners, must have been a source of embarrassment and frustration for him. He only charged $7 per lesson at a time when some other teachers charged as much as $20 per lesson. Teaching for a small fraction of his former salary as a headliner must have been extremely difficult for such a natural-born performer and star. A man like Guido needed a stage and adoring fans. When I met him he was clearly a sad and discouraged shell of his former self.
One thing I will say is that Guido, despite the hard times which had come to him because of the demise of vaudeville and the waning popularity of the accordion, still had a magical way with the ladies, even when he was 60 years old. I remember attending a recital given by Anthony Galla-Rini at Pepperdine College. While we were sitting and waiting for the concert to begin, Guido walked down the aisle flanked by two absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking young women who were affectionately holding on to each of Guido's arms. The ladies really liked him.