B.G. Hilton – Author

In Search Of… S02E05 Astrology

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear, You shout but no one seems to hear
And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear,
You shout but no one seems to hear

We start with sirens an police cars. A man in a beige check shirt is patted down and locked up. Some firefighters train, putting out burning cars. What looks like footage of a hospital crash cart recycled from the Life After Death episode.

What does any of this have to do with astrology? Well, Nimoy tells us that police arrests, fire service callouts and hospital emergencies spike on nights of the full moon. It’s a myth that’s been pretty thoroughly debunked, but then so has astrology in general. To hell with it, I’m going to do a ‘research light’ review again. I’ll just watch and enjoy as a woman with fluffy hair and a grey tank-top tells us about her star sign in excruciating detail.

She’s followed by a few other people, who all seem to know their star sign but have highly variable degrees of understanding of what this entails. Some say they know nothing more, some say they read the newspaper astrology column because its fun, others say it’s bunk. One woman with the Fawcetty-est Farrah Fawcett hair you can imagine says she’d like to know more, but doesn’t. Nimoy, smiling, says he’s an Aries with Scorpio rising. It’s kind of charming, oddly enough. He’s dropped his usual tone of stentorian authority to tell us a little about himself, and it’s hard not to break a smile.

Nimoy gives a little potted explanation of astrology. There’s a bunch of people sitting around a campfire being cavemen. People learned of the patterns in the sky. Bone markings suggest they learned at least some of these patterns tens of thousands of years ago. Some people in white robes in the desert. Egyptians divided zodiac into twelve houses. Temples and pyramids. Footage of Greek ruins now. Ptolomy. Romans used astrology. So did Moses — who I thought was substantially pre-Roman, but whatever. Conjunction signalling birth of Christ, old film of three wise men.

The usual stuff, basically.

But enough of that. We’re talking to a bald, moustached guy with glasses and a what I think is a pink jacket, though that might just be the cheap colour the show is filmed in. He is identified as Sydney Omarr, supposedly one of America’s top astrologers. That’s pretty impressive in the 1970s. He tells an amusing anecdote about a Heddy Lamar/William Powell movie that leads into his theory on the difference between astronomers and astrologers. He seems to think that astronomers do nothing but locate and catalogue stars, leaving the interpretation of their research to the astrologers, which is… well, it’s wrong is what. He claims further that astronomers started off as apprentice/bookkeepers for astrologers which I’m pretty sure is also wrong.

Still, nice showbiz anecdote. I like Heddy Lamar. And William Powell. Think I’ll keep an eye out for that one.

Next up is the rebuttal from Dr George O Avo (I think, not clear on spelling), an astronomer from UCLA. In the interest of balance, I should make fun of his appearance too… Oh, he’s got one of those stupid beard-without-a-moustache things. Burn! Dr Avo launches a passionate denunciation of astrology, debunking full moon madness, tidal force, predicting weather with the planets. I’m taking his side until he points out that Hitler believed in astrology. Way to Godwin the thread, Dr Avo!

But the show takes it in its stride beautifully, flipping straight into its ‘Astrology and the Nazis’. Over footage of Hitler and marching Nazis, Nimoy says that “throughout history, the misuse of astrology has been legendary.”

Best. Segue. Ever!

Over more WWII footage, we’re told that the Nazis drafted German astrologers. Their predictions of victory were exploited for propaganda value, and when they predicted defeat they were sent to the camps.

I’m not going to look that up. I want to but I won’t. Go on. You do it, you know you want to. I’ll be here while you do.

Back already? Okay. While Hitler’s personal astrologer was sent to Buchenwald, another astrologer, Louis de Wohl fled Germany to the UK. There he became Churchill’s astrologer and advised the Allied strategy. The implication, though, is that he knew what the German astrologers were telling Hitler, and thus gave an insight into what Hitler would do. This is a little different from saying he won the war because he knew Mercury was in Aquarius or whatever. Apparently, he also predicted the death of the elderly, sickly Franklin Roosevelt. Oh, and he predicted the Hiroshima bomb, although that probably didn’t impress Churchill much. Think he probably knew.

The end of WWII footage, and we’re looking at a portrait of JFK. Ad break!

We’re back, talking to a man with a full beard and feathered hair. Did I mention I love this show? It’s another set of street conversations with people about their star sign, while Omarr talks over them in voiceover, explaining what these signs supposedly mean.

Omarr is talking about how British psychologist Dr Isink’s attempt to disprove astrology ended up convincing Isink that astrology was real. I’m wondering if this is true when we cross to Dr Isnik at his office. He’s dressed in a cream suit and a brown shirt. Damn, but I love this show. The doctor claims that people born under odd numbered signs tend to be extroverted and people born under even numbered signs are introverted.

He’s got a cool accent. He talks about running his data through computers, and now we’re looking at an old timey printer. For science! Nimoy claims astronomy has important commercial applications – but look at that seventies computer! Awesome! Lovely footage of weather as weather consultant John Henry Nelson explains how he can predict storms with planetary angles. He claims that his research substantiates Ptolomy’s astrological theories. Nimoy claims that Nelson’s work helped predict storms for NASA launches.

Really not buying that friggin’ NASA buys into astrology. Really not. Nelson is easily the least silly looking interviewee in this episode – a distinguished looking old man with a pipe.

Omarr again. He’s talking about how a hospital administrator staffed his hospital according to phases of the moon because that way he could predict when the hospital would be at its busiest. He also talks about how another doctor claimed tonsillectomies are more dangerous under a full moon. I don’t know if this is an oddly specific lunar effect, or if he’s talking about all surgeries.

Now we’re talking to a firefighter. Hair neatly parted, moustache. Boring. He says that firefighters have trouble coping with the added work that arrives with the full moon. An ambulance driver also… are they recycling that Life After Death footage again? Cheap bastards.

Footage of the moon. Nimoy claims that the causes of moon-madness are unknown. Have you thought of asking Dr McCoy? And we’re talking about tidal effects that the astronomer debunked earlier.

Now Nimoy’s talking straight to camera about the astrological chart of the USA. Apparently, the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter every twenty years has meant the death of a president while in office. Harrison elected 1840, Lincoln in 1860, Garfield in 1880, McKinley 1900, Harding 1920, Roosevelt 1940, Kennedy 1960. All died in office.

I know. I know it’s unfair for me sitting here in 2016 to say… Screw it I’ll say it. Reagan, 1980 lived to see his successor’s inauguration. So did GW Bush, elected in 2000. Still alive now. Managed to live long enough to see a President who makes him look okay by comparison, which is impressive if you think about it.

Apparently, one astronomer suggested that November was a bad month for Kennedy. Another suggested that he might be assassinated, unless he upped his guard.

You get that? He was going to die, unless he tried not to die. Important point.

Some truly lovely space images as Nimoy talks about the astrological significance of the Age of Aquarius and how we’re all going to be getting on better in the future. All at once, making fun of the soothsayers stops being fun. Why couldn’t they have got that one right?

Summing up, Nimoy reads a horoscope that Sidney Omarr wrote for him. I can’t do it justice. It’s just the usual sort of vague crap you get if you read a newspaper horoscope but Nimoy reads it in such a stern, serious way that it becomes hilarious. I honestly don’t know if he’s doing it on purpose, but I sincerely hope he was.

All in all, not one In Search Of’s best episodes. Mostly it’s the abstract nature of the subject, I think, leaving the episode short on cool visuals or an interesting narrative. The people they interviewed ran pretty much the same range of opinions you’d get on astronomy now – some true believers, some stern debunkers, and most people falling somewhere on the ‘who cares’ spectrum. I fall into the ‘stern debunker’ category, so for me it was interesting to see how so many predictions astronomers made in the past came shockingly true — but how few of those predictions that extended beyond the initial air date have come to pass. To be fair, though, you could just as easily say the same thing about a whole bunch of far more respectable forms of prediction.

Best line

Nothing really stood out this time, honestly. Maybe

Summing up:

Nimoyness: 8/10, Interesting interviewees: 6/10, Interesting visuals: 6/10, Intrusive electronic music: 5/10, Atlantis: 0/10. Overall: 25/50. Pass.

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B.G. Hilton - Author