The first appearance of an accordion in a motion picture….
Here’s a bit I’ve been working on for the Accordion Uprising book.
The first appearance of an accordion in a motion picture happened within the first eight seconds of film history. Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince made his first movies in 1888, and the subject of the fourth surviving film is his son Adolph Le Prince playing a button-box accordion and dancing in front of his grandfather’s house. Prince’s films could only capture about two seconds at a time. So for seconds number seven and eight of the very first movies, the accordion made the cut. Le Prince was all set to publicly reveal his accordion-movie technology when in 1890, on the verge of a demonstration trip to the United States, he boarded a train for Paris and was never heard from again. His disappearance has remained unexplained for more than a hundred years – the very first movie mystery.
Some decades later, a number of famous accordionists played accompaniment in silent-movie theatres. In Hollywood though, Syl Prior (born 1894) played while the silents were filmed. With the ever-portable accordion, he played live during shooting, setting the emotional tone for actors like Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino!
It helped to have soundtracks if you wanted to get into films, and talkies opened the way for a number of Golden Agers to be heard as film took hold. Anthony Galla-Rini alone, as a bill-paying break from pushing classical accordion, played for High Noon, Rhapsody in Blue, The Gunfighter, Shine on Harvest Moon, The Razor’s Edge, and Laura. (Both the Syl Prior story and the Galla-Rini info come from the Golden Age of the Accordion book.)
But when you hear accordion in a Hollywood movie or a TV soundtrack, commercial, or on pop albums for the last forty years, you’re probably hearing one of two guys. Carl Fortina and Frank Marocco. Between the two of them they played on 800 movies and counting, plus many, many TV and ad gigs and pop recordings. They played together on Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys classic “Wouldn’t it be Nice?” (Listen near the beginning, and Frank’s sort of fiddle-part under, “You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it.”
A few highlights from Fortina’s 500-some soundtrack credits: Love Me Tender, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Godfather, How the West Was Won, Witness for the Prosecution (working with Marlene Dietrich), and Jimmy Stewart’s bits in the famous accordion-western Night Passage (Jimmy knew how to play, just not so well.) Fortina’s played squeezebox on Star Trek and the Brady Bunch and adapted to Elvis, Dylan, Ringo Starr, Diana Ross, and Luciano Pavarotti.
Marocco’s 300 films include: The Blues Brothers, Heartbreak Hotel, Edward Scissorhands, Finding Nemo (every recent animated feature has to hire one accordionist), Pirates of the Caribbean, Schindler’s List, The Muppet Movie, and Revenge of the Nerds. Classics all.
Carl Fortina got his start when L.A.’s go-to accordionist Dominic Frontiere retired way back when. If these two ever retire, there’ll be a feeding-frenzy among accordionists to see who gets their session chairs. We’ll be there to report on it.