This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
We take it for granted now but back then sound destroyed lives.
Everette Guardado was one of those lives.
That wasn’t his real name, no one had ‘real names’ in those days.
The Australian film industry had boomed after the First World War.
Before the War the Germans were miles ahead of every one else and the Americans were churning out garbage that no one but the Americans were watching.
But, after The Great War, with Europe in ruins and only a half baked American film industry to compete with, the tyranny of distance meant that our film industry could flourish without a care in the world.
Film was the universal language; cut in your own language’s inter-titles and bingo; no accents to worry about, just visual drama to entertain the masses.
Lotte Lyell and Raymond Longford led the way.
Naturally Longford got all the attention but Lotte Lyell was the brains of the outfit and their movies were classics right from the start.
Everette Guardado worked for Longford’s production company and he was a huge star.
It’s hard to imagine today but he could not go anywhere in the big cities of Melbourne and Sydney without drawing a crowd.
In an attempt to get some peace and quiet he bought a huge estate in the hills outside Melbourne.
He called it ‘Girrahween’ after his grandmother’s estate.
The house was palatial and the grounds were something to behold.
Life was good and it seemed like the ride would continue on forever.
In 1928 everything changed with an annoying little film called The Jazz Singer.
Everette was not the first person, or the last, who wanted to beat the living daylights out of Al Jolson!
Within a year audiences were demanding ‘all talking movies’. To make matters worse the American industry was in full swing and the star system was convincing audiences world wide that Hollywood was the only place that could make movies.
The Australian industry began to falter.
In the early days the sound quality of film was atrocious and anyone with a slightly high pitched voice came out sounding like Mickey Mouse.
There was nothing wrong with Everette Guardado’s voice but just like John Gilbert he simply did not sound the way audiences expected him to sound.
His career sputtered along for a couple of years but eventually he packed it in. He was sick of working in small films and his fans had deserted him for the shining stars of Hollywood.
He retreated back to his mansion in Tecoma.
He had more than enough money to sustain him but his heart was broken and his life would end in a sea of sorrow.
For a long time he was forgotten but as the young people began to rediscover film in the 1960s some of us wanted to know more about these early stars.
A friend of mine knew of my passion and told me that he knew where ‘Girrahween’ was located.
It was a closely guarded secret and the locals were determined to keep it a secret.
The estate had been closed up for decades and we had to go cross-country to gain access. This also involved slinking through some private property as the private road that led to the estate was chained.
The house was amazing, even after all this time.
It wasn’t clear who owned it now but it obviously had not been touched in a very long time.
The place looked as though whoever lived there had simply walked out the door one day and never returned.
Legend had it that it was a lot messier than that.
Apparently Everette had shot himself while standing half way up the magnificent staircase.
They found his body at the bottom of the stairs, in a pool of blood.
The room at the top of the stairs had been ransacked and Everette’s collection of posters and cans of film were strewn all over the floor.
It was all too hard for Everette. He had flown so high that he could not live down here with the rest of us.
His friends were sad and wished they had kept in touch, but in the end we all die alone and that’s exactly what happened to Everette Guardado.
The funeral was only a small affair.
Most people found out much later that he had died, but over the years his grave became a Mecca for those of us who love film and remember the stars from those silent heady days when dreams came true on the big screen.
Eventually a few of the neighbours came and threatened us with the Police so we reluctantly left the decaying estate.
I managed a few photos before we were rudely ejected, but my prize from our expedition was a diamond tie stud I found on the floor in, what I deduced, was the master bedroom.
Every time I take it out I imagine myself at some fancy industry party with all the famous movie stars from that era.
I could probably sell it, and when times got tough I thought about it, but some things you just don’t part with; no matter how hard things get.
You cannot get anywhere near the house these days; it’s all barbed wire and armed guards.
But I remember.
Standing on that staircase; how could I forget?