RIP Gene Wilder
“I wanted to come out with a cane, come down slowly, have it stick into one of the bricks, get up, fall over, roll around, and they all laugh and applaud. The director asked, ‘what do you want to do that for?’ I said from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” — Gene Wilder on his role as Willie Wonka
Gene Wilder’s on-screen characters teetered between sanity and reason. All of them seemed unreliable, friable, on the point of fragmentation. Say boo to Leopold Bloom in The Producers and he might have an asthma attack; prod Young Frankenstein and he might explode in hysterical rage; look sideways at any Gene Wilder character and he might burst into tears or just scream.
Let’s start at the beginning of the chart, the Ascendant with the Dark Moon Lilith Rising in Gemini, the sign of duality, dark and light, tears and laughter. As I have written on these pages before, Lilith is our wildness. How appropriate then that Jerome Silberman changed his name to Gene Wilder. Even Lilith’s gender bending is in there: his mother’s name was Jeanne. Michael Wolfstar has written a great piece on on the importance of Lilith in comedians’ charts.
Comedians — the good ones — must break taboos. They perform the task of the court jester for the collective, forcing us to look at the world afresh by pushing against the rules — that’s Lilith working well.
Of course, Gene Wilder embodied the Gemini archetype with his quicksilver tongue and shimmering changeability. What is more, he worked better with a partner — Richard Pryor, Gilda Radner, Zero Mostel, Marty Feldman, Mel Brooks. That’s a Gemini thing — you need someone to bounce off.
His co-star in a clutch of successful 70s movies, Richard Pryor, had Sun at 9° Sagittarius, just on Wilder’s Descendant, the angle of partnership — and indeed in some ways they were different sides of the same coin.
Wilder has a neat yod pointing at his zany, friendly, clever Aquarian Moon (mother).
“When you please your mother by doing something, it gives you confidence that you can please other people. I think that’s where the courage to make people laugh came from.” — Well, he said it.
In fact, Wilder’s mother nearly died when he was a small child, and he was told to make her laugh…
He has Venus, Mercury and Pluto in Cancer, the sign of mothering — and indeed an essential part of his comedy is a kind of fizzingly unstable meekness. This softness seems very Cancerian, but then it’s in conversation with the Moon in cool, calculating Aquarius. So he’s strategising for the laughs, and laughter means emotional connection (however oddly through a quincunx to the Moon).
“On stage… I was free.”
I wonder if on stage — or in front of a camera, Wilder felt stronger and more confident too. His Mars-Jupiter conjunction (physical funny man) sits on the cusp of the 5th house of theatre. That’s part of a stellium too, with Neptune-Jupiter-Mars — great imagination needing to be expressed physically — in Virgo, the sign of perfectionism and craft. He was famously interested in the craft of acting, but not in show business.
And here in Virgo, one feels, is part of the neurotic persona he created. His characters are perfectionists, like Dr Frankenstein, for whom everything unravels. One tiny error snowballs into greater and greater absurdity.
Wilder lived a full, fulfilled life and died at the ripe age of 83 — last week. The eclipse a few days later squared his Ascendant, but probably Jupiter has been ready to carry him away for a while. The time was right: Uranus, the planet of change, had returned this year — and so had Jupiter, sometimes the angel of release .