Top Center: Bruce "Zolar" King; Bottom Center: King's book, which was featured in the "Libra man" scene of the 1976 Grey Gardens film by by David and Albert Maysles, Elen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, & Susan Froemke; Right: the face of Occult America author Mitch Horowitz photoshopped onto a coin-operated fortune teller
Aside from reading, my big three interests are (1) writing (2) promoting my writing, and (3) erasing the line between science and mysticism. I’m reading Occult America by Mitch Horowitz. Fun and fascinating. This passage is only tangentially related to writing, but it’s got the other two covered nicely:
One vending machine especially caught my eye: a dime horoscope dispenser. Drop in a coin, pull a lever, and out would slide a little pink scroll wound in a clear plastic sleeve.
That coin machine . . . machine had it’s own story, one perhaps less august than that of ancient scholars or Renaissance courts but, to a young boy, no less fascinating. It was invented in 1934 by a clothing and securities salesman named Bruce King – or, as he was better known by his nom de mystique, Zolar. (“It comes from ‘zodiac’ and ‘solar system’,” he explained. ‘Registered U.S. trademark.”) His initiation was not in the temples of Egypt but on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. There he witnessed a goateed Professor A. F. Seward thrusting a pointer at a huge zodiac chart while lecturing beachgoers on the destiny of the stars. Professor Seward sold one-dollar horoscopes to countless vacationers – so many, the rumor went, that he retired to Florida a millionaire. (The rumor, as will be seen, was true.)
Bursting forth from the boardwalks, Bruce King knew he had what it took to sell mysticism to the masses. “I felt the competition wasn’t great,” he told John Updike in The New Yorker in 1959, “and I could become the biggest man in the field.”
And that’s only the beginning. I’m going to enjoy this book, and will probably finish reading it just about the time UPS delivers my pre-ordered copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s new Ambergris novel Finch, which promises to be a fantastic noir/dark fantasy thriller of high literary caliber.
Oh, and here’s the Grey Gardens link.