The man behind the stars


Astrologer: Despite health problems, Sydney Omarr continues to predict the future for millions of newspaper readers.

January 02, 2003|By Louis Sahagun | Louis Sahagun,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LOS ANGELES - It's an early Thursday afternoon, and the world's most widely read astrologer is busy divining the future.

Lying in bed with his head propped up on pillows, Sydney Omarr, blinded and paralyzed from the neck down by multiple sclerosis, waits for a cue from his editorial adviser, Capricorn Valerie Barbeaux.

Seated before an old Selectric II typewriter prepped with a blank sheet and carbon paper, Barbeaux says, "Syd, this is for Friday, December 6, moon in Capricorn. Aries."

His blue eyes begin to dart back and forth as though reading a scroll unfurled in midair.

"Expect some changes in connection with business, career," he says in a monotone. "Written word plays major role; get ideas on paper."

"We need another line, Syd."

After a moment, the 76-year-old astrologer says, "Flirtation begins innocently but could become hot and heavy."

At Omarr's apartment, where the walls are covered with framed photos of him posing with friends and celebrities, from sexpot actress Aries Jayne Mansfield to author Capricorn Henry Miller, it was just the beginning of what would be another busy day in Omarr's 61-year career as an interpreter of the starry firmament.

In an adjacent room, assistant and friend Sagittarius Paul Smalls is organizing Omarr's daily pay-per-call astrological forecasts, and assembling material for the 13 books - one for each sign of the zodiac and one for the entire year - that his boss writes annually. His books have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, making him a wealthy man.

Smalls also is fielding calls from Omarr's prospective dinner guests, adoring women, and his bookie.

A warm blanket draped across his bone-thin shoulders, Omarr struggles to catch his breath, then smiles with an explanation: "About those adoring women: It's the astrology they're in love with, not me."

As for the gambling, "I win more than I lose."

Well, of course.

Would anything else be expected of a man who has worked so hard to promote the ancient practice of divining a person's future from the relative positions of the sun, moon and planets?

Would anything else be expected of a man who, even when he was a teen-ager, worked so hard to promote himself?

Sydney Omarr has made himself the horoscope master to the masses. He also has been a consultant to the rich and famous. A bon vivant. A gambler. And survivor.

His own horoscope indicates that, with Jupiter in the fifth house, he is poised for success through publicity and entertainment. Perhaps that's why he is doing something he hasn't done in years - granting an interview.

He comes off as confident yet modest, spiritual yet rebellious, part mystic, part ordinary Joe - anything but the herbal tea-sipping soul one might expect. This Leo in winter still caps his workday the way he always has - with a hard-earned shot of good scotch and a hand-rolled cigar.

Astrologers, of course, are not for everybody. Pagans, some people call them. Con men, say others.

Since losing his sight a decade ago to the disease that was diagnosed in 1971, Omarr has kept a low public profile.

Now, as his physical foundations erode to painfully diminished levels, Omarr again is speaking out on his favorite subject.

Just don't ask him how it works. He is not exactly sure.

"No one knows what gravity is either," he likes to say, "but we don't fear falling off the world."

At 17, Omarr, whose horoscopes were published in movie magazines, enlisted in the Army. A year later, he was transferred to Okinawa, where he became the first and only soldier assigned astrology duty.

His weekly Armed Forces Radio program - Sydney Omarr's Almanac - predicted the outcomes of professional boxing matches and horse races and was heard throughout the Pacific.

After the service, he attended journalism courses at Mexico City College and went on to become a reporter for United Press. Omarr spent a decade as a radio news editor in Hollywood before becoming a full-time columnist and confidant to the likes of actors Aquarius Kim Novak, Leo Mae West and Libra Rita Hayworth.

Omarr's proudest moment was his three-hour debate on Philadelphia radio station WPEN the night of June 21, 1951, with astronomer Roy K. Marshall, then director of the Fels Planetarium. The confrontation brought Omarr to the attention of astronomers and science writers, and elevated his public image as a skillful protagonist.

The battle lines were drawn under a moon in Capricorn, Jupiter in Aries and Uranus in Cancer, meaning things were bound to get intense.

Marshall attacked with the conventional arguments against astrology, pounding the table for emphasis. Omarr calmly noted that astrology had given birth to astronomy, and that scientists including Isaac Newton believed it should be studied.

Omarr likes to say that, judging from the letters and telephone calls that followed, he won the "great debate." At a minimum, it helped make the stargazer a star.

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