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Astrological Profiles

In Favor of Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara_stanwyckI cast my ballot in favor of Barbara Stanwyck.

Born in Brooklyn Heights on July 16, 1907, Barbara Stanwyck was an atypical Cancer, with both her moon and her rising sign in Virgo. Gemini, the sign of the twins, rules her midheaven. A talented actress (Mercury in Leo), she was able to project a wide variety of women -- a paranoid hypochondriac, a confidence artist, a calculating femme fatale, an unflappable witness to a murder -- in modes tragic or comic.

According to Isaac Babylon in The Charts of the Stars, his classic study of six Hollywood starlets from the 1940s (Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Irene Dunne, Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford), Stanwyck's Virgoesque self-restraint combined with the gush of watery emotion that comes from having not only her sun but her Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune in Cancer. She was a good businesswoman (Mars in Capricorn) but prone to morbidity (Saturn in Pisces). 

The actresses of the 1940s – we can add Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell to Babylon’s list -- belie the notion that women born before the age of female enlightenment lacked strong models who could either keep their families together despite the stresses of war or be psychiatrists, reporters, con artists; they could solve murders or commit them, could go crazy, could run a restaurant, pack a gun, slap her daughter, commit adultery, or risk her life as an American agent in South America during World War II.

Executive SuiteBarbara Stanwyck came from a working class background. She went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Thanks to shrewd investments (Mars in Capricorn) she grew rich. It figures that she never won an Oscar though she was nominated four times. Her real name was Ruby Stevens. She was hilarious in The Lady Eve and superb in Golden Boy. She helped William Holden get the title part and became Holden's lucky star. He was crazy about her as photos taken on the set of “Executive Suite attest. In 1939 she married Robert Taylor. Whisperers said it was a sham designed to get gullible people to believe the two stars were heterosexual. Taylor was four years younger than Stanny. "The boy's got a lot to learn and I've got a lot to teach," she said. She kept the ranch and horses when they divorced in 1951. Robert Wagner said he had a four-year affair with her. Could be.

Stanwyck had a sharp tongue. She defined "egotism" as "usually just a case of mistaken nonentity." She had a proud notion of her true worth. "Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don't care what happened before. I don't even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing. I'll take it in those fifteen minutes." During the filming of Double Indemnity, the Billy Wilder masterpiece, she says that her co-star, Fred MacMurray, would look at the rushes every day. Babs would say, "How was I?" And Fred, perhaps in keeping with their dialogue in the movie, would reply, "I don't know about you, but I was wonderful!" Actors look only at themselves.

On the day we visited, Stanwyck, a self-described "tough old broad from Brooklyn," took one look at the script and started laughing. What's the matter? "Be a good lad and re-fill my glass. Scotch, rocks, no water. You know what my biggest problem is? My biggest problem is trying to figure out how to play my fortieth fallen female different from my thirty-ninth."

-- DL  Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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