The centennial of Lucille Ball’s birth on 6 August 2011 provides a convenient excuse for an exploration of the astrological effects of the asteroid named for Thalia, Muse of Comedy.
Thalia was the eighth of Nine Muses, bringers of inspiration in classical Greek mythology, the offspring of Zeus and Mnemosyne (“memory”). The couple slept together on nine consecutive nights, and nine months later, the Muses were born, one each on nine consecutive days. Originally undifferentiated, in classical times the Greeks sorted out various areas of special influence among the nine sisters. Thalia, whose name means “joyous” or “blooming”, became the muse of comedy, often depicted with a Mask of Comedy, carrying a shepherd’s staff and crowned with a wreath of ivy, to denote her other area of expertise, pastoral or bucolic poetry.
Asteroid Thalia, a typical Main Belt asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, was discovered on 15 December 1852 by British astronomer J.R. Hind, at a private observatory in Hyde Park, London. It has an orbital period of approximately four and one-quarter years, and follows a path inclined ten degrees off the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun about the earth. This inclination, while not outside normal parameters for the asteroid belt, might suggest comedy’s ability to “throw us off,” disarming and defusing tension and reducing the stress of the “rat race” as implied by the frenetic interaction of asteroids along the major plane.
As one might expect, Thalia appears prominently in the charts of individuals who have made a reputation or career for themselves in comedy, as stand-up performers, actors, or writers and directors of comic material. Particularly when paired with the Sun (intrinsic self-identity) or Saturn (career), Thalia can indicate someone noted for making a living from making others laugh.
Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx and Jack Benny were three of the earliest performers to use visual media to tickle our funny bones, and all had Thalia in combination with both the Sun and Saturn.
Beginning in silent films just after the First Word War, Chaplin entertained the world with his hilarious slapstick routines, in an era when movie comedy had to be visual, because lacking the spoken word. His character of “the Little Tramp”, a down-on-his-luck vagrant with the refined mannerisms and apparel of a genteel man-about-town, made audiences from LA to Athens roar with laughter. Chaplin (born 16 April 1889), a co-founder of United Artists Studios, wrote, directed and starred in more than 80 films, among them “City Lights” (1931), “Modern Times” (1936), “The Great Dictator” (1940) and “Limelight” (1952). His natal Thalia at 2 Aquarius is squared the Sun at 26 Aries, opposed Saturn at 3 Leo, as well as trine Neptune (films) at 0 Gemini.
Groucho Marx, noted for his quick wit and rapid-fire delivery, was best known for the 13 films he made with siblings the Marx Brothers [including “Duck Soup” (1933), “A Night at the Opera” (1935) and “A Day at the Races” (1937)], and his hugely popular long-running radio and TV series, “You Bet Your Life” (1947-1961), an unscripted “everyman” interview/quiz show which perfectly showcased Groucho’s manic ad-lib antics. Born 2 October 1890, Marx’ natal Thalia at 13 Aries opposes the 9 Libra Sun, and is inconjunct Saturn at 11 Virgo, as well as squared Mars at 5 Capricorn, a contact made apparent by the smirking sexual innuendo he often managed to convey from beneath his trademark bristle-brush moustache.
Jack Benny, an American icon of comedy, began as a stand-up in vaudeville in the 1920s, then moved to radio with “The Jack Benny Program” from 1932-1955, a show which was consistently among the highest-rated of its time. The character he created, cheap, petty, vain and contrarian, had audiences in stitches for decades, as he translated his act to TV in 1950, one of the earliest comedy shows produced for the new medium, which ran until 1965. Born 14 February 1894, Benny’s natal Thalia at 18 Aquarius is conjunct the Sun at 25 Aquarius, trine Saturn at 25 Libra, and forms a loose Grand Trine with Neptune at 10 Gemini.
Lenny Bruce and George Carlin exemplify two stand-up comics who also share the Thalia-Sun-Saturn connection. Lenny Bruce bestrode the ‘50’s and ‘60’s club scene like a colossus, playing top lounges coast to coast, although a controversial reputation for “blue humor” and an obscenity charge kept him from all but a handful of network TV appearances. He produced six successful comedy albums, but died of a drug overdose in 1966, aged forty. Born 13 October 1925, Bruce’s natal Thalia at 20 Leo is sextile the Sun at 19 Libra, and squared Saturn at 13 Scorpio, with an inconjunct to Uranus at 22 Pisces indicating the disruptive, shocking and controversial nature of his comedy.
George Carlin, an influential American stand-up artist whose “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine catapulted him to counter-culture stardom, was a frequent “Tonight Show” guest and the winner of five Grammy Awards for comedy albums. Noted for his black humor, he shares with Bruce an obscenity charge, and appeared in over a dozen films, usually in minor or cameo roles. Carlin’s (born 12 May 1937) natal Thalia at 8 Aries is semisquare the 21 Taurus Sun and conjunct Saturn at 1 Aries.
Modern comedians who have taken their careers from modest roots to the heights of comic super-stardom include Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Jim Carrey, all with Thalia/Saturn aspects.
Robin Williams parlayed a one-shot guest appearance as Mork the Alien on the hugely popular series “Happy Days” in the ‘70s into a multi-million dollar film career, incorporating serious roles as well. Williams’ “Mork and Mindy” TV spin-off ran for four years, and garnered him a fan base that has remained loyal to this day. With more than 70 films to his credit, including such blockbusters as “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987, for which he received an Oscar nomination), “Hook” (1991), “Aladdin” (1992), “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), and “The Birdcage” (1996), Williams is among the most prolific comic actors of his day, with characters often exhibiting a pathos that mingles drama and comedy to perfection. Born 21 July 1951, Robin Williams’ natal Thalia at 14 Leo is semisquare Saturn at 27 Virgo and conjoins Pluto at 18 Leo, indicating the intense depth of his portrayals; Thalia is further in sextile to Neptune (films) at 16 Libra, and trine Jupiter (expansiveness, luck, and foreign accents, for which Williams is noted) at 13 Aries.
Steve Martin actually began as a comedy writer in the 1960s, working for “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”, “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour”, and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”, for which, as one of its writers, he won an Emmy in 1969 at age 23. In the early ‘70s, Martin moved to stand-up performances on such popular TV venues as Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show”, “The Gong Show” and “Saturday Night Live”, with a style at once outrageous and manic. During this period he produced several comedy albums, among them “A Wild and Crazy Guy,” one of his tag lines, which included “King Tut”, a single written and sung by Martin, which went to #17 on the US charts and sold in excess of a million copies.
His popularity in the late ‘70s grew to the point where his stand-up act was filling stadiums with tens of thousands, and movies were the next logical step. In 1979 he debuted in “The Jerk”, which he had also co-authored, followed by “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982) and “The Man with Two Brains” (1983), before teaming with comedy legends Chevy Chase and Martin Short in “Three Amigos!” (1986), all popular successes. Like Robin Williams, Martin progressed to lighter comedic roles which increased his appeal and versatility, first with “Roxanne” (1987), a modern interpretation of Cyrano de Bergerac which Martin co-scripted, followed by “Parenthood” (1989), and “L.A. Story” (1991), which Martin also wrote. In 1991 and 1995, Martin appeared in remakes of the Spencer Tracey “Father of the Bride” classics with Diane Keaton, and in 1998, starred with Goldie Hawn in a remake of “The Out-of-Towners”. Martin was chosen to host the Academy Awards in 2001 and 2003, and co-hosted with Alec Baldwin in 2010. Born 14 August 1945, Steve Martin’s natal Thalia at 15 Pisces is trine Saturn at 19 Cancer, as well as squared Mars/Uranus at 14 and 16 Gemini, confirming his status as one wild (Mars) and crazy (Uranus) guy.
Jerry Seinfeld co-created and starred in one of the most successful and long-running TV comedies of all time, the eponymous “Seinfeld” (NBC, 1989-1998), often imitated but never equaled. Its blend of humor, sarcasm and a focus on the minutia of daily life as drivers of plot garnered the show and its ensemble cast, including Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander, a total of 68 Emmy nominations, with 10 wins. “Seinfeld” is still viewed by millions worldwide in syndication, with at least half a dozen time slots available daily, more than 13 years after the series ended. Jerry Seinfeld (born 29 April 1954) sports natal Thalia at 1 Aries, inconjunct Saturn at 5 Scorpio, part of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, by a sextile to Venus at 0 Gemini; Thalia is also squared Mars at 5 Capricorn.
Rivaling Seinfeld’s longevity was “Everybody Loves Raymond” (CBS, 1996-2005), a family-based situation comedy starring stand-up comic Ray Romano, previously most noted for voicing several guest appearances on Comedy Central’s animated series “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist”. The smash hit co-starred Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett and veteran actors Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle, was consistently ranked in the top ten of its genre season after season, and took home 14 Emmys, with more than 60 nominations. Born 21 December 1957, Romano’s natal Thalia at 3 Aquarius is semisquare Saturn at 18 Sagittarius, also conjunct Venus at 10 Aquarius, opposed Uranus at 11 Leo, squared both Jupiter and Neptune at 27 Libra and 4 Scorpio, and inconjunct Pluto at 2 Virgo.
Jim Carrey is another mega-star with links from Thalia to both the Sun and Saturn. Beginning with stand-up comedy in the 1980s, a role with Damon Wayans in “Earth Girls Are Easy” in 1989 led to a spot on Damon’s brother Kennan’s hit TV series “In Living Color”, which spring-boarded Carrey onto the wide screen. Starring in such blockbusters as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994), “The Mask” (1994), “The Cable Guy” 1996) and “The Truman Show” (1998), Carrey quickly became one of the most sought-after comedic actors in the business. Like Robin Williams and Steve Martin before him, Carrey broadened his appeal with roles that stretched his image, as the Riddler in “Batman Forever” (1995), and portraying fellow comedian Andy Kaufman in 1999’s biopic “Man on the Moon”, for which he won critical acclaim. Carrey (born 17 January 1962) has natal Thalia at 2 Aquarius, conjoined Saturn at 1 Aquarius and the Sun at 27 Capricorn.
And let’s not forget the ladies! From Lucy to Roseanne, as you might expect, these Funny Ladies all share Thalia with Venus, an aspect that seems to be de rigueur for female comics.
The undoubted doyenne of American comediennes is Lucille Ball; her trademark flame red hair and zany antics entertained viewers over three decades. Beginning with the iconic “I Love Lucy” in 1951, Ball starred in and co-produced four successful series, initially with singer/band leader husband Desi Arnaz. Sidekick Vivian Vance, Ethel Mertz in the original series, went on to join Lucy in further adventures with “The Lucy Show” in the ‘60s.
Ball began in Hollywood feature films, known as “Queen of the Bs” (“B-films” being the second, lesser feature on a double bill), usually not as top banana, and not typically in comedic roles, but found her niche with broad farce when she went to radio in 1948 as the wacky housewife on “My Favorite Husband.” CBS resisted the move to television when Ball insisted on casting her real-life Cuban-accented husband as her on-screen mate, but the results made TV history. “I Love Lucy” has never been out of syndication, and is the longest-airing sitcom ever, now in its 60th year in glorious black and white, seen daily by hundreds of millions of people across the globe.
“I Love Lucy” was a smash success, and a technical marvel as well— it pioneered the three-camera filming process in front of a live audience, which has since become standard for the industry. Ball’s (born 6 August 1911) natal Thalia at 25 Pisces exactly opposes Venus at 25 Virgo, as well as sextile Saturn (career/husband) at 19 Taurus and Uranus (technical innovation) at 26 Capricorn, making Thalia the string, or focal point, of a Grand Trine Kite.
Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers were early pioneers in stand-up for women comics. Diller began club and TV appearances in the ‘50s, making an impact with her wild hairdos and trademark laugh, cracking wise about her life at home with husband “Fang.” She co-starred with Bob Hope in several ‘60s comedies, and made frequent guest appearances on sitcoms and game shows, as well as smaller roles in feature films; she performed on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno as recently as 2007. Born 17 July 1917, Diller’s natal Thalia at 21 Leo is conjunct Venus at 16 Leo, and opposed Uranus (her exotic, wild-eyed image) at 22 Aquarius.
Joan Rivers has built a career from early stand-up roots, proving herself a talented performer and a successful businesswoman, with a line of beauty and personal care products, jewelry and accessories. Beginning in the 1950s in Greenwich Village clubs, Rivers was soon performing on Jack Parr’s “The Tonight Show”, wrote gags and did on-screen work for “Candid Camera” in the ‘60s, and was a semi-regular on “Hollywood Squares” in the ‘70s, all iconic venues of their time. She has authored 13 books (including 1974’s “Having a Baby Can Be a Scream”) and cut numerous comedy albums, as well as appearing in small supporting roles in feature films and guest spots on TV sitcoms. In the ‘90s, she and daughter Melissa hosted Red Carpet pre-awards shows at the Golden Globes and Oscars for E! Entertainment Television, and the two paired again in a reality show, “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best” in 2011. Born 8 June 1933, Joan Rivers’ natal Thalia at 4 Taurus is sextile a Venus/Mercury (writing) conjunction at 0 Cancer, also semisquare the Sun at 17 Gemini, conjunct Uranus (wacky, kooky, shocking image) at 26 Aries, and sesquiquadrate Jupiter/Mars at 14/15 Virgo.
Lily Tomlin is another successful female comic, often operating behind the scenes as writer and producer, winning Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards, with an Academy Award nomination to her credit. An early start on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” in the ‘60s led to the creation of iconic characters with which she would always be associated, like the telephone operator Ernestine and her “ringy-dingys.” Tomlin broke ground with her cross-gender characters, as the first female comic to impersonate men, and different racial groups.
Tomlin’s first big screen role garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, in 1975’s “Nashville”. More traditionally comedic parts followed, with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton in “Nine to Five” (1980), “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” (1981), with Steve Martin in “All of Me” (1984), and Bette Midler in “Big Business” (1989). Tomlin also set a precedent on Broadway, as the first female star of a one-woman show, “Appearing Nitely”, in 1977, after which Time Magazine featured her on the cover with the legend, “America’s New Queen of Comedy.”
In 1985 she stormed Broadway again, with another one-woman show, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” (made into a feature film in 1991), written with life partner Jane Wagner, which showcased her finely honed ability to step into an alter ego, portraying more than a dozen distinct characters with no wardrobe changes. Born 1 September 1939 (oddly enough, the day Hitler invaded Poland, precipitating World War II), Tomlin’s natal Thalia at 9 Scorpio is sextile Venus at 7 Virgo and the Sun at 8 Virgo, opposed Saturn at 0 Taurus, squared Pluto at 2 Leo and inconjunct Jupiter at 6 Aries.
Tomlin’s sexuality was an open secret for years before she officially came out in 2001, but Ellen DeGeneres made her own sexual orientation a feature of her career by essentially coming out live on set in 1997, first to Oprah Winfrey on her talk show, and shortly after in an episode of her sitcom, “Ellen”, when the character she played realized she is lesbian.
DeGeneres began her career as a stand-up in small clubs and coffee houses in New Orleans in the late ‘70s; in 1982 Showtime named her the “Funniest Person in America,” and she first appeared on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” in 1986. “Ellen” premiered in 1994, and ran successfully for four seasons, but a follow-up series, “The Ellen Show” failed in 2001, and in 2003 DeGeneres turned her sights on talk TV, with “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
A ratings success, the show has won more than 25 Daytime Emmys, including Best Talk Show in its premiere season, and continues to air, its popularity heightened by DeGeneres’ ability to crack a spontaneous joke. In 2007 DeGeneres was chosen to emcee the 79th Academy Awards. Ellen DeGeneres’ (born 26 January 1958) natal Thalia at 16 Aquarius conjoins Venus at 9 Aquarius and the Sun at 6 Aquarius, also opposing Uranus at 9 Leo and sextile Saturn at 22 Sagittarius.
Probably the most popular modern female TV sitcom star, Roseanne Barr ruled the comedic airwaves for almost a decade from the late ‘80s to the late ‘90s. Following up on her stand-up routine as a “domestic goddess,” the frankly frumpy Barr took her portrayal of realistically gritty family life to ABC in 1988 with “Roseanne”. The show was Nielsen-rated #1 in the US in 1989 and 1990, and remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons, winning five Emmys and remaining another perennial favorite in syndication. In addition to starring in the show, Barr produced and was head writer.
When “Roseanne” went off the air in 1997, Barr attempted a talk show format, “The Roseanne Show”, which failed after two seasons, after which Barr returned to stand-up. She appeared in several feature films, most notably 1989’s “She-Devil” with Meryl Streep, and also voiced the infant daughter Julie in “Look Who’s Talking Too” (1990). In the last two seasons of “Roseanne”, Barr earned a reported $40 million, making her the second highest paid female entertainer to that time, after Oprah Winfrey. Born 3 November 1952, Roseanne Barr’s natal Thalia at 14 Sagittarius conjoins Venus at 15 Sagittarius, sextiles Saturn at 20 Libra and is the Apex of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with inconjuncts to Uranus at 18 Cancer and Jupiter at 16 Taurus.
But it’s not just on stage where Thalia works her comedic genius. Writers P.G. Wodehouse, Erma Bombeck, Carl Reiner and Neil Simon all share the Muse of Comedy in prominent aspect.
P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertie novels are among the best-written in the English language, light and humorous fare lampooning the foibles of class and privilege in post-Victorian England. Acknowledged as a master of prose by such contemporaries as Rudyard Kipling and Evelyn Waugh, Wodehouse’s reputation for unequaled comic perfection continues to this day, with Christopher Hitchens commenting, “there is not, and never will be, anything to touch him.” An incredibly prolific writer, Wodehouse penned over a hundred novels as well as numerous short stories, plays, song lyrics and poems, in a career that spanned more than 70 years; his final novel was published just four months before his death in 1975 at age 93. Several of the Jeeves and Bertie novels were translated into teleplays for PBS’ “Masterpiece Theater” series. Born 15 October 1881, Wodehouse’s natal Thalia at 26 Aquarius is trine the Sun at 22 Libra, and forms a T-Square with squares to Mercury (writing) at 17 Scorpio and Jupiter (publishing) at 24 Taurus.
Carl Reiner, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks are three comedy writers who began their careers together in the 1950s on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows”, America’s first popular sketch comedy show. Reiner went on to make his mark as a writer and director in television and film with such mega-hits as “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, and fostering Steve Martin’s career in his earliest roles, which Reiner directed. Reiner also appeared on camera occasionally, most notably as the tempestuous and tyrannical boss Alan Brady on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and latterly in recurring roles as con man Saul Bloom in “Ocean’s Eleven”(2001), “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004) and “Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007). Born 20 March 1922, Carl Reiner’s natal Thalia at 8 Scorpio forms a Grand Trine with Mercury (writing)/Uranus (genius) at 3 and 10 Pisces and Pluto at 7 Cancer, also squared Neptune (TV, films) at 13 Leo.
Neil Simon’s impact on Broadway and film cannot be overestimated. America’s premiere comedic playwright produced more than 30 popular successes in a 45-year career, many of them later translated to film, including “Barefoot in the Park” (1963), “The Odd Couple” (1965), “Plaza Suite” (1968), “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” (1971), “California Suite” (1976), “Chapter Two” (1977), “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1983), “Biloxi Blues” (1985), “Lost in Yonkers” (1991), and “The Goodbye Girl” (1993). Simon has won two Emmys, three Tonys and a Pulitzer for Drama (for “Lost in Yonkers”). Born 4 July 1927, Neil Simon’s natal Thalia at 6 Capricorn opposes the Sun at 11 Cancer, squares a Jupiter/Uranus conjunction at 2 and 3 Aries, and is inconjunct Mercury at 2 Leo.
Mel Brooks’ movies continue to delight audiences globally, with their mix of farce and low-brow humor often done in shockingly funny bad taste. Beginning as a stand-up in the Catskills, Brooks quickly moved to writing and production, but continued some TV appearances with “Your Show of Shows” co-writer Carl Reiner, as a comedy duo on the “Steve Allen Show.” Reiner also used Brooks as the model for Morey Amsterdam’s Buddy Sorell character on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” which he produced.
But it was cinema that became Brooks’ lifelong love; his first feature film, “The Producers” (1968), paired comedy legend Zero Mostel with Gene Wilder, who soon became one of Brooks’ most popular players, repeating their partnership in such classic Brooks hits as “Blazing Saddles” (1974) and “Young Frankenstein” (1974). Later films included “High Anxiety” (1977, a brilliant Hitchcock spoof), “History of the World, Part I” (1981), “Spaceballs” (1987, a “Star Wars” parody), “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (1993) and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995), in all of which he also starred. In 1969 Brooks won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his first film, “The Producers.” Born 28 June 1926, Mel Brooks’ natal Thalia at 28 Virgo is squared the Sun at 6 Cancer, sextile Mercury at 29 Cancer, trine Venus at 29 Taurus and opposed Uranus at 29 Pisces.
Erma Bombeck rounds out our tour of American comic writers. The leading female humorist of her day, Bombeck began as a typist and stenographer for the Dayton Journal Herald, progressing to minor journalistic assignments until she found her comedic niche with a lampooning housekeeping column, “Operation Dustrag”, in 1954.
After just a few months, Bombeck dropped the threads of her career to work full time as a homemaker and mother, and her writing went on the back burner for a decade. But in 1965, the Dayton Journal Herald wooed her back, for a biweekly 450-word column, “At Wit’s End”, for which she earned just $50 weekly. Shortly afterward, the column was picked up for national syndication in 36 newspapers, and Bombeck became the voice of her generation of counter-counterculture mothers and housewives.
By 1969 the column appeared in more than 500 papers, and by 1978, in more than 900. Bombeck was also writing regularly for such women’s publications as “Good Housekeeping”, “Family Circle”, “Redbook” and “McCall’s.” Her portrayal of the plight of frustrated homemakers everywhere struck a chord, but it was not until her fourth book, “The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” (1976), that she achieved truly national prominence as a best-selling writer. Bombeck contributed regularly to ABC’s “Good Morning America” broadcast from 1975-86.
Although attempted TV versions of her work were unsuccessful, her 12 books continued to sell reliably, including “Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own” (1971), “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” (1978), and “Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession” (1981). Born 21 February 1927, Erma Bombeck’s natal Thalia at 3 Capricorn is sextile the Sun at 2 Pisces and Jupiter at 8 Pisces, and squared Uranus at 27 Pisces.
From a simpering smirk to a hearty guffaw, asteroid Thalia is clearly still tweaking the funny bones of people across the globe, something of which her mythic namesake would surely approve.