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  • Bill Wisch

A Slydini Rebuttal to Darwin Ortiz by Bill Wisch

Recently I was reading through the popular book, “Strong Magic”, written in 1994 by Darwin Ortiz. This book is very well written and contains a large amount of helpful and valuable information on the performance of magic as an art. In several sections of the book, Darwin makes some very positive and favorable comments about Tony Slydini. However, I noticed that he made several statements that were in my opinion, totally untrue and very misleading, especially to anyone new to magic or not versed in Slydini’s captivating and masterful performance style. There are three basic points Darwin makes that I take issue with.

They are:

1) Slydini tried to make his spectator's look stupid

2) Avoid any sense of challenge in your presentation

3) Slydini's style was not effective in entertaining the general public

Darwin's Point Number 1: Slydini tried to make his spectators look stupid

On page 22 Darwin states:

“You know why you no see? Because you no watch!” Translation: “You know why you didn't catch me? Because you're stupid!”

“Slydini's comments made it clear that the spectator's job was to catch the magician.

So far he had lost and the magician had won. He could only hope that next time he would win and the magician would lose.”

“Every time Slydini chided a spectator for not catching him, he reminded the audience that there was something to catch—that it wasn't really magic.”

I want to make it clear that, in all of the time I spent with Slydini, he never, ever went out of his way to purposefully try to make a spectator look stupid. When Slydini challenged a spectator, or an audience, it was because he was going to do his job as a magician…“fool” (mystify) them, not make them appear to be stupid. In fact, on many occasions, Slydini purposefully went out of his way to remind me that the whole purpose was to “have fun with the people.” Challenging them, or making little fun remarks, was Slydini's way of having fun.

Darwin's Point Number 2: Avoid any sense of challenge in your presentation.

“I want to make it clear that what I am advising against is a challenging attitude on the part of the performer.”

“There is no place for challenge in professional magic.”

What Darwin is saying here, that “there is no place for challenge in professional magic” is absurd and insulting to many of the greatest performers and magicians to ever live. Houdini, David Copperfield, David Blaine, Mark Wilson, Thurston, Cardini, and literally countless magicians, nearly all of whom were more successful in magic than Darwin, have used challenge as not only a part of their performance, but as part of their brand, their personality and continues to live on in their legacies to this day.

Challenge as an aspect of a performance can be used as an integral part of entertaining your audience, building rapport and ultimately having fun. The definition of challenge is “something that by it’s nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc.” People love games, game shows, puzzles, etc.. Saying that challenging an audience is wrong is like saying that people don’t enjoy a watching a competition, sports, mysteries, etc., so don’t watch or get involved with them. Challenging and being challenged, especially in entertainment, is fun!

Slydini capitalized on this when the spectator could not “see” how an effect worked. Not “seeing” was the challenge. Catching him was not what he was trying to have the spectator do. For Slydini, it was the ‘cleverness’ part of his personality... and that personality shining through is what made Tony Slydini so memorable and charming to every one of his audiences. Slydini challenging his audiences was fun for both Slydini and the spectator!

Slydini would always say, “Magic is always something they don’t see.”

To Slydini it was always about the “not seeing”, instead of the “not catching”.

He “captivated” everyone…and that’s why he was Slydini.

The basic purpose of magic is to mystify. In the following videos, currently available on YouTube you will see, if you observe carefully, that Slydini is challenging his spectators/audiences not to determine how he actually does the effect, but rather to have them see (“catch”) how the effect is taking place. Often, Slydini would say things like “Did you see?” And the spectator would answer “no.” Slydini did this to Cher (4:04 minute mark in the video below). In every instance where he challenges his spectators, please make note of how both Slydini and the spectator are having fun! Watch the reactions on the faces of Cher and the others and you will see pure joy when they are challenged! They certainly didn't feel stupid.

Darwin's Point Number 3: Slydini’s style was not effective in entertaining the general public.

On page 23, Darwin mentions that:

“Slydini's career consisted of performing for and lecturing to other magicians and, particularly, giving lessons to other magicians. As such, his presentational style should not provide a model for anyone interested in entertaining the public.”

“…Slydini only got away with it because he spent his entire life performing for other magicians. I don't believe Slydini could have sustained a career performing for laypeople without drastically altering his challenge style of presentation. The fact that he never succeeded in having such a career may indicate as much.”

With all due respect to Darwin, what he states about Slydini in the quotes above would be akin to someone saying that Darwin Ortiz is a master with cards but boring as a magician. That Darwin never really made it with the general public and audiences that would come to see magic because all he does is gambling effects and skill-oriented card exhibitions. It was completely unfair to Slydini, non-factual, and out of bounds to state what Darwin did. Period.

With the above said, Slydini absolutely loved to perform for lay people and literally destroyed every audience I ever saw him perform for. One evening, in 1975, that I remember in particular was priceless.

Slydini was set to entertain a group of local theatre actors, about thirty of them, at a swanky private party after they were done with a dress-rehearsal, relaxing in a high-rise apartment overlooking the Hudson River on the Palisades in New Jersey.

I remember the actors had huge egos for the most part and the looks on their faces when they were told that a magician was going to entertain was, let’s say, they were not too thrilled. To top it off, when then they saw this 5’3” man enter the spacious living room I overheard one of them close to me mockingly say, “this is really going to be a ‘fun’ time”.

They all sat down…and for the next two hours they were literally spellbound and totally “freaked out”. After Slydini’s performance of “the Flight of the Paper Balls/Linking Rings” (the final effect), if they could have carried him out on their shoulders as a sign of respect, they would have. They wouldn’t stop praising and chatting with him for at least a half hour after the show and didn’t want to leave! They saw a REAL actor that evening and, I’m certain, never forgot it.

This was only one of many scheduled performances, along with numerous impromptu occasions, that I saw Slydini literally “fry” non-magicians.

What friends of Slydini's, and his students, knew was that Slydini was really two people: Slydini the Performer and Slydini the Teacher. Tony derived great joy in magic, both from performing and teaching. He was not only one or the other. He was both.

Slydini The Performer - Closeup and Stage

For the most part, Slydini was always considered by magicians as primarily a close up magician. In actuality, his stage work was equal, if not better than most noted stage performers. His Linking Rings, Flight of the Paper Balls, Knotted Silks Routine, Torn & Restored Newspaper and Production of Silks, among others, were as good as it gets for any large audience and the fact that Slydini was primarily regarded only as a close up magician proves how underrated his total mastery of magic, was. On stage Slydini was second to none and always the headliner.

Slydini The Teacher

As I mentioned in the letter I was asked to write for “The Magical World of Slydini, by Karl Fulves in 1978, I made note of the fact that, “He possesses the ability to bring a student’s hidden ability and value to the surface, and to aid greatly in the development of that ability”. If you’ve seen the description of the material that was covered during the recent release of “The Slydini Tapes” (selected lessons 1973-1975 at his studio in NYC), I think you can appreciate his monumental teaching style and expertise, especially if he knew you really wanted to learn magic from him.

In Conclusion

Slydini’s audiences never, ever took his comments as demeaning or insulting in any way. He would always go out of his way to showcase his humor to “have fun with the audience” and made all of his comments in jest. He was always a “gentleman of gentlemen”, and never would ever insinuate or treat anyone as if they were stupid.

Slydini’s style was always to use humorous and clever phrases to create and sustain dramatic interest while he attempted to “fool” his audience. While studying with him he continuously reminded me, “always have fun with the people”. I don’t believe that Slydini’s style of showmanship was ever a “catch me if you can” approach as Darwin intimates in his writing. This should be obvious to anyone who saw Slydini perform, whether it was live or from the videos that showcase his performance style and carry on his legacy today.

Slydini was a master at using the challenge element of showmanship and continually reminds his spectators that they should “watch close”, thus creating and maintaining his incredible level of dramatic interest in what was happening right in front of their eyes.


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