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Birthday Poems

Sir Larry: an astrological profile [by David Lehman]

OlivierOn this day in 1989, Sir Laurence Olivier breathed his last. The great actor was eighty-two when he shuffled off this mortal coil. He was a master of accents and disguises. As a young man he played the romantic (Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights," "Hamlet," "Henry V," the dashing leading man in "Rebecca," Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice"). In middle age he brought Othello to life, played opposite Marilyn Monroe in one of moviedom's weirdest pairings, was the Roman boss in "Spartacus," embodied the seedy over-the-hill "entertainer," and had enough left in the tank to play the good guy Nazi hunter opposite Gregory Peck in "The Boys from Brazil," on the one hand, and the odious Nazi dentist in "Marathon Man," the best movie about dentistry ever made, which begins with a brilliant car chase (or race) pitting a Holocaust survivor versus an unrepentant Nazi and features a very menacing Olivier, suave Roy Scheider as a spook in Paris, and the earnest Dustin Hoffman as Scheider's younger brother running around the Central Park reservoir. [Ed.: That was quite a mouthful, DL, Split in two?] Olivier and Gielgud play two important Dads in "Brideshead Revisited," which was the hottest thing in highbrow TV in 1982 and '83.

Laurence Olivier was born in Dorking on May 22, 1907, sneaking into Gemini but with as much Taurus trailing him as the clouds that trail the blessed babe in Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode." Olivier was grandiloquent. The risk of overstatement was always at hand. He had his Academy Award speech memorized and delivered it like a Roman emperor. Luckily it was not he but others who wrote the scripts of his movies. His best writers were Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, and Shaw. At the moment of his birth, Jupiter was approximately 180 seconds away from an exact conjunction with Neptune. The association with romantic characters of passion, melancholy, and excellent elocution  -- Hamlet, Henry V, Heathcliff, the master of Manderley, and Mr. Darcy -- is implicit.Olivier astrology

The dialogue among the earth (Taurus, Capricorn) and air signs (Gemini) accounts not only for the temperament but also for the ability to make the practical adjustments needed as middle age succeeds youth and makes way in turn for elder statesman status.Olivier 2 Olivier shone in all three periods of productive adulthood. There is more yin than yang in his chart and his bisexuality was well-known but no big deal. He was crazy about Danny Kaye, and look at the lascivious looks he, the imperial Roman, gives to slave Tony Curtis in "Spartacus."

The fact that Larry's Venus is in Aries (fire) while Vivien Leigh's Venus is in Libra (air) may help to explain the legendary heat and intensity of their initial attraction in 1937. Two years later, when she played Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind" while he lurked in the moors in "Wuthering Heights," they were just about the most glamorous couple in Hollywood (and the competition included Clark Gable and Carole Lombard). Leigh was magnificent but her nervous disposition exacerbated by two miscarriages (1945, 1955), a diagnosis of tuberculosis in her left lung (1944) and the natural decay of the aging process led her to extremes of depression. The marriage lasted twenty years. He saw her loss of physical beauty as an accusation made by nature or the fates, and the ungallant remarks he made after her death testified to their brutal lovers' spats (see Holly Greil, "The Times") and his arrogant self-satisfaction (according to Max McGlow, "The Guardian"). The aging of Scarlett O'Hara's gorgeous face made Leigh's role in "Ship of Fools," where she plays a "mature" woman who travels with a paid companion, so poignant.

After the divorce Olivier married actress Joan Plowright and spent his late eighteen years with this sensible and intelligent woman. No one remembers the name of his first wife, however. If you know to whom he was married (for ten full years) prior to Viv, you could win big. Hint: her name was Jill Esmond. But who was she?

Larry became Sir Laurence in 1948. Not until many years later did people learn that Olivier in Hollywood in the early 1940s was a foreign agent operating in behalf of the British government to try to recruit the US into the war. This could have been foreseen if one had factored in that Gemini was his rising sign -- and his moon was in Virgo! (Source: David Niven.)

Sir Laurence (later Lord Olivier) and Marlon Brando were the exact same height (5'10) but otherwise had little in common. (The same goes for Mick Jagger and Victor Hugo.) Other Geminis born on May 22 include Richard Wagner and Arthur Conan Doyle, which pretty much explains the dynamic of eccentric British empiricism and high German myth-making that encircles the Brunhilde of virginity with the three rings of masterly artistic flame over which the hero must leap in the dramatic depiction of Sir LO's life.

Sir Larry won the best actor Oscar in 1948 and founded the National Theatre in London in 1962.

Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on cheekily 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.

-- DL


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly

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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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