John Gaughan: Part Two

Why do you think “Merlin” isn’t looked up on as being as successful as “The Magic Show” was?

John Gaughan: I think in reality it was more successful. The problem was you had a bigger theater and the cost at that time was close $275,000 per week. Then Doug didn’t have a lot of stamina and they (Doug and his wife Debbie) wanted to go on vacation the first time their contract would let them. The producers were begging them “Please, please, continue with the show!” because they were supposed to go somewhere through the end of September into October…when the (Broadway) season starts getting strong. But, they said “No, no, we’re exhausted.”

They also knew that Doug’s stand-in couldn’t hold the show. So, that’s why they closed it…It was a beautiful, beautiful show. The scenery, the lighting on it, it was very enjoyable. It just kind of pulled you along.

What was the biggest challenge for you in “Merlin?”

John Gaughan: God…there was so many of them. It was fun, but so much pressure. You know there was a lot of building it here for New York and having to go there and modifying it and making it fit. Then bringing it back and forth. It was real tough. As usual, you would have Doug conceiving all this stuff and then you would be putting it all together with the clock ticking. By then they decide what they want to do and bring in the art director who then gives the look to all this stuff. Then the choreographer and director are all planning all that. Then…plop…they give it to me. By then, they had taken all of the time. Now I only had weeks to build this stuff.

What went into the creation of the Fountain Levitation illusion that was featured in “Merlin?”

John Gaughan: The “Platform Levitation” was what it was originally called. It was a thing that was built by “Owen Magic” for (TV magician) Mark Wilson. I had worked on Mark’s for years and years. So, here they came to me and wanted to do this thing. But, they wanted to add water to it. So, I had modified Mark’s to move Nani (his wife and assistant) around. So, it swiveled and had the mechanics to go back and forth like we later did with David (Copperfield.) But, Doug said “No I just want it to go back and forth like this.”

But, I remember the big problem was that the water would drain down to the floor so they had to get it off the floor real quick because the boards on the stage would cup and warp.

Can you talk about the “Mascot Moth” illusion?

John Gaughan: Sure, I can talk about anything (Laughs)… It took five people to do that illusion. Doug and the girl were in careful synchronization with the three stagehands underneath the stage to pull this thing off and make it look right. There are all sorts of things that have to happen just perfectly…But, there for instance was another colossal problem with that show (Merlin) in that those stagehands were union…and they don’t care too much whether it works or not…They would be on three days then off a certain amount. If you multiply that into three people, you never get the same three people. Each night there was a different player down below and “Who’s on First?”…

But, boy when it worked it was just so sweet!

In our next installment, John and Company discuss what made Doug the first “superstar” magician and the lasting impact of his influential television specials!

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