Guido Deiro: The Accordion Player Who Stole the Heart of Mae West

Guido Deiro (1886-1950) was Italian aristocracy, a count from the countryside from an area near Turin which literally bore his surname. The family grew cattle, grapes, and a variety of fruit, which they sold at a produce market on their property. In his childhood, Deiro took up the ocarina and the accordion, and played outside the store to attract customers. I’m sure this seemed like a great arrangement at the time, but Deiro’s father came to regret it. In order to avoid an arranged marriage and the expectation that he would run the family farm, Deiro ran away as a young man and became a professional musician.

Deiro played the music halls and cabarets of western Europe before the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair brought him to America. The Orpheum circuit booked him right away, and he was to become one of vaudeville’s highest paid stars. He had the edge on big time vaudeville’s previous reigning Italian accordionist Pietro Frosini by being dashing and attractive, and he soon exceeded Frosini in popularity, although they were to become fast friends. Guido’s younger brother Pietro Deiro (1888-1954), also came to the States and worked heavily in vaudeville as well. Meanwhile Guido Deiro also made recordings for Columbia and Edison, and wrote his own compositions, the most popular of which “Kismet” (written 1911) became the basis of a Broadway musical and two Hollywood films.

Around 1914 Deiro was in an act with Mae West. The pair had a hot romance and many sources say that he was the love of her life. Some sources also claim the pair were briefly married, and that West became pregnant and aborted Deiro’s child, which became the cause of their breakup.

Deiro appeared in his own Vitaphone short in 1926, and has accordion playing walk-ons in a couple of other pictures. As vaudeville died in the nearly ’30s he worked in American nightclubs as well as cabarets and music halls abroad. He also gave lessons and sold accordions.

The 2005 book The Brothers Deiro and Their Accordions by Henry Doktorski tells more; and the entirety of his recorded works is available in four volumes from Archeophone Records. To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.