DICK CONTINO - "the accordion man"
was born of Italian parentage on January 17,1930, in Fresno, California.
He attended Fresno High and played fullback on the football team until his
father found out and forced him to stop. As another activity, Dick played
his accordion in the school assemblies and at special functions. His accordion
playing popularized him so well that he easily won the class presidency
at election time.
Dick's father played the accordion and it was he who gave Dick his first instructions. Later, Dick traveled to San Francisco every Friday for six years to take lessons. After school and on weekends Dick worked as a delivery boy in his father's butcher shop, but he always had his accordion handy and would practice many hours each day, striving for perfection and waiting for the break that would carry him up the ladder of success to stardom.
After-graduating from high school in 1947, Dick entered Fresno State to study an Arts course. However, Dick's first and last love was his accordion and music, so after the first semester he left college and went to work as a delivery boy in his father's butcher shop, devoting all his spare time to practice on the accordion.
Dick was interested in getting on a national broadcast and his ambition was to gain popularity and recognition as an accordion soloist and to make popular an instrument that had not been too successful in the entertainment world. But jobs were not easy to-find. His family decided finally that they would move to Los Angeles because they thought there were greater musical opportunities there for this gifted boy. Dick's mother sent him to the local musician's union to get his transfer to the Los Angeles local.
Luck was with Dick Contino, the handsome, talented,unknown accordion player who thus far had been denied the opportunity to demonstrate his ability before the American public.
Horace Heidt, the master showman and an old friend of many years standing with audiences everywhere, was coming out of retirement to go back on the air with his "Original Youth Opportunity Program". The show was dedicated to bringing before the American people not only the finest in entertainment, but also to giving talented young people everywhere an opportunity to display their talents arid win recognition in their chosen fields.
Horace felt the only way possible to achieve this would be to take his show to the people, so that those who could not leave the security of their homes to take a chance in Hollywood or New York, would have an equal opportunity to pass through the "door of opportunity".
Instead of a typical Hollywood premier of his new show with much fanfare, Horace scheduled his first broadcast for a typical American city, Fresno, California. An advance-man was sent to Fresno to search for talent to represent that cry and compete for fame and fortune with the American public acting as judge.
When Dick Contino walked into the Fresno Musicians' Union to get his transfer to Los Angeles, one secretary of the union introduced him to Heidt's talent scout, who asked him to audition for him the following day. Dick was filled with such hope and excitement that he did not tell his folks about the audition, not wanting to build up their hopes and then have them become disappointed if his audition was not successful.
The advance man was greatly impressed with Dick's ability, and arranged for him to audition for Horace Heidt. Horace was equally impressed, and at long last Dick's dream of appearing on a national broadcast came true when Horace selected him as one of four contestants to appear on the initial Phillip Morris broadcast to compete for the weekly prize of $250, the quarterly prize of $750 and the Grand prize of $5000.00
It was on the otherwise calm night of December 7, 1946 Dick made his appearance on the first Horace Heidt - Phillip Morris broadcast. Dick gave his rendition of "Lady of Spain" and the bobby-sox audience stomped, clapped, and yelled with frenzy, declaring him the winner by a margin of a full 30 points on the electric applause meter, thereby awarding him first prize of $250.
Thirteen straight weeks of competition later with overpowering results on the applause meter from California to Broadway, Contino stood up to a microphone at Manhattan's radio station WNBC and slapped out "Bumble Boogie" romping away with the first Horace Heidt Quarter Finals and a prize of $750.
He became a permanent member of the Musical Knights and toured theaters and auditoriums from coast to coast.
He went on to win the 1948 GRAND FINALS and the first prize money of $5,000. With the Horace Heidt show as his launching pad, Dick went on to become the most famous accordionist in history.
Before he penned the hit movie "LA Confidential", writer James Ellroy wrote a book about Dick Contino called "Dick Contino's Blues".
"Accordion Man", a book about the life of Dick Contino by Bob Bove is available from Petosa Accordions.
Dick Contino is a star of the 1959 movie "Daddy-O".