March 22 1935
|Died||March 20 2021 (age 85) |
Romaine (born Roman Szydlowski) is an internationally renowned manipulator who honed his craft from the 1930s to the 1970s in Montreal, where, at one time, there were so many nightclubs, you could work for two years straight and never repeat a room. Starting out as a teenage ventriloquist, he ran into trouble one evening when the mechanism in his dummy snapped, and while he managed to complete the show, he decided he needed to be prepared for this kind of mishap and began learning card- and billiard-ball manipulation (i.e., tricks that were small enough to fit in his pockets so they wouldn't bulge during the vent act).
Over time, Romaine's investment in manipulation resulted in a new act, separate from the ventriloquism, and while it began as classic manipulation, it soon became a "drunk act," inspired by Cardini but more reminiscent of W.C. Fields' drunk juggler: "I tried to play the subtle drunk the way Cardini did. It didn't work for me. I wasn't that body type and I didn't look subtle. So I switched over to a much broader drunk character, with double-takes you could see a mile away, and that worked for me."
In 1964, Romaine read in Genii Magazine that Cardini was giving Scalzo lessons, so he wrote to Cardini, who invited him to spend a week in New York: "We had interesting talks about magic, we exchanged a few moves, but he was reluctant to teach. At the end of our session, after a week, he said, 'What you do is very good, but I can't teach you to be me.'"'
Disappointed not to get more from the lessons, Romaine went to Tannen's Magic Shop and asked Lou Tannen if there were any other magic teachers around. Tannen directed Romaine to Slydini, which was the beginning of a lifelong friendship: "Every time I came to New York, [Slydini] showed me the latest things before they ever went into print. So I would come back to Montreal and blow away the guys with miracles nobody had ever seen." These included "The Helicopter Card Trick" and the Paper Balls in the Box. Romaine's interest in close-up magic grew with every subsequent visit, and eventually, he began to develop his own routines, some of which were published by his friend Frank Garcia in Exclusive Card Secrets ("Double Kicker") and Real Secrets of the Three Ball Routines (“Romaine's Perplexing Persian Pearls"). More of his material has appeared in periodicals such as M.U.M. and in the April 2005 issue of Genii ("The Blow Vanish," "Double Kicker," and "Wander-Ring"), which also includes a seven-page interview by David Acer (the source for the quotes in this article).
In 2004, Magic Makers released a two-volume DVD-set on the magic of Romaine called Romaine: Expert Card & Billiard Ball Manipulation, and the same year, Romaine performed and taught a handful of his close-up techniques on David Acer's On Screen & Other Mysteries. Now living in Kitchener, Ontario with his wife Joan, Romaine continues to perform on a regular basis, and frequently tours theaters with magician/ragtime pianist Phil Matlin doing a show they created together called "Back in Time."