A Magician's Magician
Tony Slydini (1901-1991), better known by the mononym Slydini, was a legendary magician still widely hailed as one of the greatest masters of sleight of the hand and close-up magic. Slydini combined a light-hearted, conversational, almost impromptu style of patter with sleights of astonishing sophistication and quality. He was also a master of misdirection and the human psyche. Most of his tricks were deceptively simple in design, but highly complex in execution. He entirely eschewed fancy props, gimmicks, or gaffs, performing his tricks with just the everyday objects he was manipulating - typically real, ordinary coins or playing cards - and his own two hands. Two of his most famous tricks - Paper Balls in the Hat and Paper Balls over the Head - were designed to be performed using crumpled up paper restaurant napkins.
Slydini was born Quintino Marucci in Foggia, Italy on September 1, 1901. His father was an amateur magician who encouraged him to practice sleight of the hand from a young age. As a young man, Slydini and his uncle immigrated to Argentina, where Slydini became a professional magician in Argentina's version of Vaudeville theater. When work dried up following the 1929 stock market crash, Slydini moved to New York City seeking new opportunities. Initially, he was given the stage name "Tony Foolem" by his US promoter, but other magicians later convinced him this was a terrible name and coined a new stage name, "Tony Slydini," from a portmanteau of "sly" and "Houdini."
Thereafter, Slydini had a long and fruitful career as a New York-based close-up magician. Since his close-up style was not conducive to large stage shows, he never achieved widespread name recognition among the broader public, but he was especially legendary among his fellow magicians, who loved to watch Slydini work because they knew *exactly* what he was doing, but still couldn't detect that he was doing it. Accordingly, his humble New York magic studio became a pilgrimage site for famous magicians who would come to learn the craft of close-up from the undisputed master.
Unfortunately for the modern student of magic, very few videos of Slydini exist. Moreover, Slydini's tricks did not translate well onto a screen because they were meant to be best appreciated close-up and in person, where the effect was truly astonishing. On a video screen, it is possible to watch over and over and gradually figure out what he is doing (although you still can't actually *see* it - he was just that good). The screen also negates much of his brilliant misdirection, which was all aimed at the people sitting at his table rather than at the cameras. Nevertheless, there are a small handful of videos floating around on Youtube, which give you some sense of how masterful this master magician truly was.