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1939: Best. Film. Year. Ever.

Recently I watched a documentary on TCM which reminded me just how unusual 1939 was for the US film industry. So many classics were released that year, including “Gone With the Wind”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “The Wizard of Oz”. Eighty years later now, I wondered why that should have been, so of course as an astrologer, for greater understanding, I reached for the ephemeris.

 

It didn’t take long to find the cause. Neptune, planetary ruler of film and fantasy, spent all year playing tag with its natal degree in the US chart, bringing home its penchant for celluloid magic, American style (Neptune was discovered in 1846, roughly contemporaneous with the genesis of photography in the early 1840s).

 

The US Neptune at 22 Virgo holds pride of place as the highest-elevated point in the chart, nudging the MC at 1 Libra. The implication is of the importance of spirituality/religious fanaticism to the country, as well as a tendency to willful self-deception, fantasy, illusion and unrealistic expectations. It’s no accident we term our aspirational spirit, “the American Dream,” with dreams being Neptune-ruled. Neptune is squared closely by natal Mars at 21 Gemini, so we put a lot of energy into our film and fantasy (this combination also prefigures the “War on Drugs”, Prohibition and the militant Temperance movements, with drugs and alcohol Neptune-related arenas); its connection, via sextile and trine, to the primal polarity of the chart, from Mercury at 24 Cancer to Pluto at 27 Capricorn, says that lies and deceit, allied to a willingness to suspend disbelief, form a vital part of how we’re manipulated or controlled.

1939 GWTW

In a crowded field of superlative films, “Gone With the Wind” emerged as 1939’s Best Picture Oscar winner; with its Sun in a T-Square wit Neptune and Jupiter, it’s easy to see why

Neptune here also shows the importance of image on the world stage, whether that be factual or no, and the vitality of the American film industry, one of the country’s leading infiltrators into global culture. So it’s no surprise to find that transit Neptune was making its first return to the US Neptune, reinforcing that natal potential, during what was arguably the best year ever for American films. In 1939, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences allowed up to ten entrants for its Best Picture category, and the list of nominees that year reads like a roster of Hollywood’s finest.

 

Contending for Best Picture, in addition to the three giants noted above, were “Dark Victory”, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, “Love Affair”, “Ninotchka”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Stagecoach” and “Wuthering Heights”. Perhaps even more astonishing is the number of careers that were started, transformed, or boosted by the roles in these films. Fresh starts are the underlying theme of planetary Returns, and true to form, Neptune provided many of these for the performers it rules.   Brit actors Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier all made their first major inroads into American audiences, with their respective turns in “Gone With the Wind”, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and “Wuthering Heights”; John Wayne had his breakout role with “Stagecoach”; Greta Garbo played her first comedic part ever in “Ninotchka” (advertised as “Garbo Laughs”), while horror icon Lon Chaney Jr first showed his genuine dramatic chops with “Of Mice and Men.”

1939 wizard

Also in contention for Best Picture was “The Wizard of Oz”, another perennial favorite which bears testimony to the enduring quality of 1939’s cinematic output

Uranus was in a trine relationship with Neptune for much of the year, from May through October, and appropriately, this was the first time the Academy included an award for special effects, the technical wizardry that was quickly altering the industry. But Uranus’ impact is easy to see throughout. Whether it be the egalitarianism and idealism exhibited in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”; the class consciousness of “Ninotchka”; the alienation, explosivity and eccentricity expressed by ”Wuthering Heights”, the infidelity of “Love Affair”; the desperate struggle for a cure from science in “Dark Victory”; the alternate, alien reality depicted by “The Wizard of Oz”; the racist backdrop of “Gone With the Wind” or the immigration and migrant worker issues in “Of Mice and Men”, Uranian themes were on prominent display in the films honored for 1939.

 

Gone With the Wind”, of course, was the blockbuster to walk away with top honors (winning 8 Oscars total, out of 13 nominations), and a perusal of its premiere chart shows why. Immensely popular when first released, it became the highest-earning film made up to that point, and held the record for over a quarter of a century. When adjusted for monetary inflation, it is still the most successful film in box-office history, and appears consistently in lists of the top ten films of all time.

 

The Atlanta premiere on 15 December 1939 drew some 300,000 people, and the “bigness” of the film can be seen in a solar T-Square, with the Sun at 22 Sagittarius squaring that cinematic Neptune at 25 Virgo and expansive Jupiter at 29 Pisces. Jupiter is also reflected in the sweeping cinematography, the cast of thousands, the epic burning of Atlanta sequence, the theme of cultural displacement and its 3 hour and 58 minute run time.

1939 mr smith

Director Frank Capra’s unique take on American values may have reached its apotheosis in 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, another Best Picture nominee

The Sun also conjoins asteroid Butler at 26 Sag, for male lead character Rhett Butler, and squares Mars at 16 Pisces, evoking the wartime setting. Its conjunction with the Galactic Center at 26 Sag virtually guaranteed universal notice and acclaim. In square from the Neptune side are asteroids Vivian (alternate spelling for lead actress Vivien Leigh), Mitchella (for Margaret Mitchell, the novel’s author) and Clarke (for lead actor Clark Gable) at 27, 24 and 16 Virgo. Asteroid Fleming (for Victor Fleming, the film’s director) at 25 Aquarius sextiles the Sun. Strongly tapped into the USA Neptune Return, “Gone With the Wind” was the perfect exemplar of its energies, and reaped the rewards.

 

The 12th Academy Awards were held on Leap Day, 29 February 1940, and in addition to Best Picture and a host of lesser awards, “Gone With the Wind” walked off with wins for Victor Fleming as Best Director, Vivien Leigh as Best Actress, and Hattie McDaniel as Best Supporting Actress, the first African American to take home Oscar gold.

 

Vivien Leigh was especially highlighted celestially on the evening; beginning at 11 PM PST in Los Angeles, the Awards’ 16 Scorpio Ascendant was just a degree shy of asteroid Lee (homophone for Leigh) at 15 Scorpio in the “GWTW” chart. Transit Lee at 11 Sagittarius was exactly conjunct asteroid Oskar, also with the Moon at 12 Sag and asteroid Academia (for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which sponsors the Awards) at 6 Sagittarius, all opposed a pairing of asteroids Actor and Nike, named for the Greek goddess of victory, at 10 and 18 Gemini. What a winning hand!

1939 leigh

Simmering and sultry as Scarlett O’Hara, Brit actress Vivien Leigh was a newcomer to American audiences when she walked away with Best Actress in 1939; Leigh sports a Vivian/Oskar conjunction in her birth chart

These T-Square the Sun at 9 Pisces, putting Leigh front-and-center, but she’s not alone! Asteroid McDonnell, closest asteroid match to McDaniel, conjoins Lee/Oskar/Moon from 12 Sag, incorporating Leigh’s co-star and fellow Oscar recipient Hattie McDaniel into the victorious mix. Additional markers of a potential Leigh victory include asteroids Scarlatti and Hara (closest to Leigh’s character Scarlett O’Hara), with Scarlatti at 22 Scorpio on the Ascendant, and Hara at 17 Pisces conjunct the Sun, both celestially prominent on the day and in the moment.

 

And speaking of victory, asteroids Viktorov and Hatta, for Victor Fleming and Hattie McDaniel, conjoin at 16 and 20 Capricorn, squared asteroid Victoria, named for the Roman goddess of victory and the root of our word, at 17 Aries, with Jupiter at 11 Aries, bringing publicity and enhancing reputations and opportunities. Asteroid Fleming at 0 Aries is in a Grand Trine with powerful, transformative Pluto at 1 Leo and Academia at 6 Sagittarius.

 

Vivien Leigh’s path to Oscar glory was a smooth one, cosmically speaking. Born 5 November 1913 at 5:16 PM LST in Darjeeling, India (Rodden Rating B), Leigh’s natal asteroid Vivian at 6 Sagittarius is exactly conjunct asteroid Mitchella and also conjoins natal Oskar at 13 Sag, while natal Lee at 21 Leo conjoins Academia at 16, binding both her PNAs to asteroids representing an Academy Award, and denoting a special importance in her life for “GWTW” author Margaret Mitchell. Note how the transit Academia/Lee/Oskar/Moon fits seamlessly atop her Sagittarian placements for the Awards.

 

A conjunction of the MC at 0 Aquarius with Uranus at 3, asteroid Nike at 5 and the Moon at 9 Aquarius shows a natural winning vibe for Leigh, especially as relates to career. Not only that, but she was born to play that role at that time, and reap the benefits of the US Neptune Return, with asteroid Scarlatti at 22 Virgo squared Hara at 24 Gemini, both highlighted by transit Neptune at 24 Virgo when she won for her film portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara. Even the moment was helpful to Leigh: the Awards’ 16 Scorpio Ascendant conjoined both her natal Sun at 12 Scorpio and natal Descendant at 13.

1939 mcdaniel

Hattie McDaniel claims her award for Best Supporting Actress, the first African American to be so honored; McDaniel had Oskar and Actor exactly conjunct, squared Victoria and opposed Nike

Hattie McDaniel (born 10 June 1893, no time available) seems destined for an Academy Award as well. With asteroid Oskar exactly conjunct Actor at 22 Cancer, the connection is obvious; squared Victoria at 16 Aries and opposed Nike at 29 Capricorn, McDaniel’s shot at Oscar gold was written in the stars (Victoria and Nike’s 13-degree separation prevents this from being a T-Square, but it is a potent grouping nonetheless). Mars at 17 Cancer is also with Oskar/Actor, fueling her winning acting career. Asteroids Mitchella and McDonnell are conjoined from 26 and 29 Libra, and both are stationary, signaling an unusually “close” connection between McDaniel and Margaret Mitchell, and one which has a disproportionately large impact in her life (their stationary status). Note also that McDonnell is exactly squared Nike, and also squares Oskar/Actor, another indicator of a highly personal connection to the theme of winning via the dramatic arts.

 

The timing of the Awards played in her favor as well, with its Descendant at 16 Taurus conjoined her natal Jupiter (fame and celebrity) at 18 Taurus, exactly where transit Uranus was for her precedent-shattering win, as the first African American to be so honored. Additionally, transit Victoria at 17 Aries conjoined its natal degree, fresh from a Return, reinforcing her natal winning vibe, while transit Nike and Actor at 18 and 10 Gemini both conjoined her natal 19 Gemini Sun, as well as natal Pluto and Neptune at 9 and 11 Gemini, which in itself reads as “transformational actress.” Transit Academia and Oskar at 9 and 11 Sagittarius conjoins natal Hatta, for Hattie, at 9 Sag, locking up the vote for her.

1939 fleming

“GWTW” director Victor Fleming had two irons in the fire for Oscar gold in 1939, having also directed “The Wizard of Oz” that year; here he is on the set with costars Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable

And what of Victor Fleming? The “GWTW” director had two aces up his sleeve for acquiring Oscar gold that year, as he had also directed “The Wizard of Oz”, another popular nominee. Born 23 February 1889 (no time available), with a natal Nike/Sun conjunct at 3 and 5 Pisces, Fleming is a natural-born winner, like Vivien Leigh. But with natal Viktorov at 15 Aries conjoined by transit Victoria, and natal Victoria at 24 Sagittarius exactly squared transit Neptune, Fleming was a shoo-in for a cinematic award at that time. Natal asteroid Mitchella is stationary at 5 Cancer, trine the Sun (it turned direct three days before his birth), indicating an inordinate importance for Margaret Mitchell’s work in his biography (as with McDaniel), and might help explain why “GWTW” in particular brought home the bacon, his only Oscar win. Natal asteroid Oskar at 18 Taurus was conjoined the Awards’ 16 Taurus Descendant, and exactly conjunct transit Uranus, though his victory was a shock to no one!

 

Although 1939 may go down as the best year ever for Hollywood, Tinseltown could get a second bite of the apple in 2021, when Neptune comes to oppose its position in the US chart, perhaps providing another bumper crop of great films.

 

 

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Alex Miller

Alex Miller is a professional writer and astrologer, author of The Black Hole Book, detailing deep space points in astrological interpretation, and the forthcoming Heaven on Earth, a comprehensive study of asteroids, both mythic and personal. Alex is a frequent contributor to “The Mountain Astrologer”, “Daykeeper Journal”, and NCGR’s Journals and “Enews Commentary”; his work has also appeared in “Aspects” magazine, “Dell Horoscope”, “Planetwaves”, “Neptune Café” and “Sasstrology.” He is a past president of Philadelphia Astrological Society, and a former board member for the Philadelphia Chapter of NCGR.

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patricia

Over the past 20 years I have often thought that the US and the friends I have over there, believe their own movie fantasies and political rhetoric about what a great place it is without looking at its shortcomings of how it treats minority groups and the poor. I grew up in UK after WW2 without all the material trimmings but I lacked for nothing in the areas of health and education which was Government funded and afforded me and my siblings good health and a great education. Sadly the world of fantasy helps to control people who will not think for themselves and in old age regress into self imposed misery of their own lack of internal reflection and disatisfaction. I hope America can pull its way out of the mire and delusion it is in and revert to its initial ideals of a country that can provide hope and a better life just not in material stuff.

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Thomas Canfield

Loved your piece on the great films of 1939. With that Uranus/Neptune trine, there was one other egalitarian film from that year, produced by Warner Brothers, which cast a foreshadowing of political events. “Juarez” was an idealized biography of the great Mexican leader, Benito Juarez, and it had an all-star cast. Claude Rains played the Hitler-like Emperor Napoleon III, who was determined to crush Mexico. Brian Aherne and Bette Davis played Maximilian and Carlotta, the Austrian nobles who became the dupes/collaborators in the conquest of Mexico. Paul Muni played a stoic and firm Benito Juarez, serving as a powerful symbol for democracy. It was a great historical drama, but rather overshadowed by the numerous A pictures put out by the other studies.

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