Novell and Hedy Lamarr in Screenland.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines astrology as “the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.” For thousands of years, practitioners of this pseudo-science have attracted legions of followers hoping to divine their futures. Those that more accurately predicted events rose to positions of great power and influence, like the renowned Nostradamus.
Astrologers have always been popular in the film and entertainment industries, fields where luck and timing often influences who will become big stars or successes. Many are superstitious, because their careers depend so much upon chance and their futures can be problematical. Many insecure or questioning performers often turned to these fortune tellers hoping to make the right decisions in shaping their careers or finding love and romance.
James Cagney and Norvell in Screenland.
In 1930s Hollywood, Anthony Norvell reigned as Hollywood’s top astrological practitioner, earning large sums predicting the future. Good looking, charming, and stylish, the young Norvell wrote columns for fan magazines when he wasn’t performing readings for his famous friends and clients, such as Ronald Reagan, Tyrone Power, and Clark Gable.
Norvell’s pre-Hollywood life is mostly hidden from history, as little can be discovered in census, birth, or death files. Some sources list his real last name as Trupo, but no Anthony Trupo fitting his description turns up in census files. A couple of others claim he was born in Holley, New York in 1905, orphaned at five, and eventually adopted by a farming family. He supposedly left home for New York City at an early age, working at night to put himself through school at Columbia, studying literature, psychology, and philosophy.
A few newspaper stories in 1935 listing his predictions call him Mahlon Norvell, but the majority of stories called him Anthony if including his first name. Most called him “Norvell the Great,” a moniker more suitable for a magician or sleight of hand artist. By 1936, he was called Anthony Norvell, with no reason given for the name change.
Norvell and Jeanette MacDonald, in Screenland. And predictions for Joan Crawford.
An August 1935 “Screenland” magazine story offers the most biographical information of his life found anywhere. The article claimed the psychic was born in New York City on April 25, 1908 and attended public schools, dreaming of film acting and writing novels when he was a child. Norvell discovered astrology in high school. As he told the magazine, “Then it was something of a hobby. The stage was my goal. I began to hand around the stage doors and theatrical agencies. In order to make myself known to and tolerated by the players, I read their charts.” Using his sincere soothsayer skills, many performers began seeking him out.
Realizing his stage career was going nowhere, Norvell moved to Hollywood in 1930, working as an extra, where he read charts on sets while waiting for the next scene to be set up. Someone invited him to a party at Pickfair, where he performed readings for most of the guests. Passionate young newlyweds Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford eagerly sought him out. Norvell informed the inseparable couple that their marriage would last only about four years. At this point, Mary Pickford asked him to stop performing readings, as she was getting depressed, thinking about her own separation from Doug Senior.
Thanks to his attendance at such a swanky party, top stars turned to him for palm and chart readings. Norvell also began penning articles for fan magazines. In this same issue of “Screenland,” Norvell predicted that Mary Pickford would never remarry, but would instead seek solace in religion or work. He foresaw Joan Crawford marrying again. He also stated, “Jean Harlow will never find permanent happiness in marriage,” and would lead a “tragic life.” He predicted disaster if she married her debonair boyfriend, William Powell. The astrologer also predicted that James Cagney would retire in three years and possibly become a doctor, and that young Shirley Temple would continue on a fortunate path her entire life.
The article stressed Norvell’s swanky life from his career as an astrologer, mentioning the young man lived in a mansion and drove a Rolls Royce. It also mentioned that readers could send letters to the dashing star reader, asking for “Cosmic Counsel” regarding their love and work lives. The Associated Press also ran occasional stories around the New Year listing his predictions.
The February 1937 “Screenland” magazine called him “Lucky” Norvell, claiming that three Filipino man servants and four secretaries worked for him. They also included a few predictions, such as Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond living happily together in a long and happy marriage. As he did in 1936, he predicted a long and successful career for Jimmy Stewart.
An ad for Norvell, in Screenland.
Screenland” and “Picture Play” magazine began running ads promoting his skills, stating that if readers sent a dime with their birthdays and a self-addressed, stamped envelope, Norvell would read their charts.
By 1939, some fan magazines ran what could be considered advertorials, featuring predictions by Norvell with an ad on the same page stating that readers could send for their free horoscope by the star reader. In one such story in a 1940 issue of “Screenland,” Norvell described a successful future for Shirley Temple, stating, “Her chart shows that she will never suffer the sad oblivion of the has-been, because she will always be important in whatever field she chooses to enter.” The same story noted that Robert Cummings and his mother believed in astrology, with his mother a practitioner in the field. Offering his full horoscope predictions for the year, Norvell predicted that Bob and Delores Hope would celebrate their 50th anniversary.
An August 1940 article in “Screenland” included a photograph showing Norvell posing with the 25,000 letters he received a month from readers anxious about their love and money lives. In other issues that later year, Norvell wrote that Garbo’s focus was her career, “…and her wedding certificate is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract.” He reported, “Mickey Rooney will make successful choices in work but not in affairs of the heart,” that he, Rooney seemed to fall in love with every woman he met.
These popular articles landed him an agent, and the Bert Levey Agency booked him on a transcontinental personal appearance tour on vaudeville in 1939, with Norvell giving predictions and offering readings from the stage. He opened at Oakland, California’s Roosevelt Theatre in early March, grossing about $4,000 for the week. The week of April 20, Norvell appeared at the downtown Orpheum with Morey Amsterdam serving as Master of Ceremonies, offering topical jokes on current events of the day. In early May, the Los Angeles Times ran his predictions that Hitler couldn’t live more than two years, and would die from a throat wound. The star gazer predicted war within a year but that the democracies would win, and also claimed that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would not run for a third term.
Norvell collapsed on stage at Lincoln Nebraska on February 11, 1940, with the February 12 issue of Variety joking that he hadn’t foreseen that. On January 2, 1941, ads began running occasionally in Variety announcing, “Available for private consultations by appointment only.”
Norvell and Gene Autry, in Screenland.
The fortune teller and soothsayer found himself mired in trouble in 1943, when undercover policewoman Mary Galtron had him arrested March 25, 1943 for violating the city’s fortune telling ordinance. Norvell invited her into his home and gave her a palm reading, giving details of her love life and her mother’s health. After his arrest, the astrologer claimed he was an ordained minister of the International Constitutional Church. Municipal Judge LeRoy Dawson convicted him March 29 for failing to ask her to become a member of said church, or to explain anything about it. On April 2, he fined him $75 or 150 days in jail. Norvell appealed, but the Appellate Department of the Superior Court upheld the ruling in June.
Norvell continued raking in big bucks, with the June 1953 Los Angeles Times listing he and his wife Edna purchased a home at 10539 Bellagio Road for $125,000 from Mr. and Mrs. Wood Feurt containing a projection room and swimming pool on 1 1/3 acres. Two weeks later, the Times noted he bought a 22-unit apartment building at San Vicente and Avondale Avenue for $250,000, and also purchased two apartment buildings at 10551 and 19555 Wilshire Blvd. for $1,275,000.
Building his following, Norvell ran ads in the 1959 and 1960 Los Angeles Times listing his Church of the Religious Mind services meeting every Sunday at 11 am at the Four Star Theatre, 5112 Wilshire Blvd., with a free lecture series in 1960. He also appeared Monday through Friday at 7 am on radio station KGF, and offered free classes every Tuesday evening at 7:30 pm at Park Manor, 607 S. Western Ave. The prognosticator needed paying disciples to keep his lavish lifestyle flowing.
By the 1960s, Norvell began writing books such as “Think Yourself Rich,” “Mind Cosmology,” “How to Control Your Destiny,” and “Dynamic Mental Laws for Successful Living” that described how to employ the mind to escape bad thoughts and achieve goals and dreams, a metaphysical example of “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Insecure people continued looking for easy answers on how to achieve success and assure positive outcomes to their lives, flocking to his books. A magazine review of “The Occult Secrets of Transmutation” called it “Psycho physics,” how to utilize the higher self to convert through spiritual energy into any material object you desire. He appeared on television as an expert in para-psychology.
In 1976, Norvell appeared at the 50th Anniversary of the Valentino Memorial Service, describing the astrological aspects of Rudolph Valentino’s life. More than 700 people attended the service, with actresses Mary McLaren and Corinne Calvet also speaking about the late star. He also spoke at the annual Tyrone Power Memorial Service in 1978, talking about his former friend and client.
Norvell passed away July 23, 1990 in Bridgeport, Fairfield, Connecticut with his wife at his side. Though mostly forgotten today, Norvell was one of the first major astrologers to the stars, offering them confidence and calm in dealing with their unpredictable and often insecure futures.