Thirty years ago this summer, a wise-beyond-his-years 14 year old visited Los Angeles for the first time. From the sun to the ocean to the mountains to the Hollywood sign, everything about California seemed picture perfect. I can still remember standing on Hollywood Boulevard and seeing her for the first time, looming 85 feet over the glitz and gore with larger-than-life attitude.
Platinum blonde. New Wave sunglasses. Massive bust. And a splash of pink neon screaming out a single word:
For decades, Angelyne was one of Los Angeles’ most mysterious icons. At the peak of her popularity, highly stylized billboards screamed out her name at 200 major intersections. Seeing her driving the hallmark pink Corvette became known as a sign of good luck. Somehow, she embodied the innocence of the American Dream and the cynicism of the Hollywood fame game all at once.
Long before social media superstars were a thing, Angelyne perfected the art and science of being famous for being famous. Everyone wanted to know her. Many wanted to be her. But who was she, exactly? Actress? Singer? Supermodel? Cartoon character? Was she a faded movie star trying to stay relevant – or a jaded starlet still trying to catch her big break?
Truth be told, she’s got quite the impressive portfolio. She’s starred in films, ranging from 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise to 1988’s Earth Girls Are Easy and beyond. She’s had a long-running musical career that started in Hollywood’s punk rock clubs and continues today. As an artist, she specializes in self-portraits and hosts major art shows. She’s even dabbled in politics with a 2002 run for mayor of Hollywood and a 2003 campaign for governor of California. As the human heart and soul of Hollywood, she still makes guest appearances at local nightlife events. She manages a fan club database that numbers well into the hundreds of thousands. (True confession: I’ve been a card-carrying member since 1988.)
And, as it turns out, she’s one hell of a businesswoman. In fact, you could say everything I know about personal branding, I learned from Angelyne. Nobody has ever mastered the fine art of putting herself out there better than she has. No blonde bombshell has ever separated a man from his money faster or with more charm.
By the turn of the century, the billboards began to disappear, appearances and sightings became less frequent, media attention began to wane, and outside Los Angeles, many began to wonder: “whatever happened to Angelyne?” Trust me – she had no need for a comeback, because she’s never gone away. In fact, she’s fiercer than ever now.
The adventure begins
While visiting Lethal Amounts in Los Angeles last November, I was stunned to see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Win a Ride with Angelyne in her Famous Pink Corvette!” shrieked the contest entry box, lined with pink fun fur and feathers.
“How is this even real?” I asked the cashier. He explained that the gallery owner was friends with Angelyne, and that she’d agreed to take lucky winners for a spin. The thought of meeting her was still too surreal to comprehend, but I entered the contest immediately.
Five months later, I got a random text message from a Los Angeles number. “Congratulations – you’ve won a free ride with Angelyne in her Pink Corvette!” After some negotiation back and forth with her agent, the date was set – as were some very specific instructions.
1.) I was to meet Angelyne at a Hollywood coffee shop at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 29.
2.) No photos could be taken without Angelyne’s advance permission and payment. Single photos were $20, and autographs would cost extra.
3.) I should bring cash for any merchandise purchases, because any credit card purchases would involve a hefty surcharge.
4.) I would be asked to reconfirm my meeting 24 hours in advance.
That morning, I sat at the Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard, my mind racing over what was about to happen. What questions would I ask her? What questions would she answer? What eccentricities would I experience?
Was I really about to get behind the wheel with Angelyne?
Suddenly, it was go time.
My date with Angelyne
Shortly before 1:00 p.m., the famous Pink Corvette roared into a Sunset Boulevard parking spot. Angelyne’s agent Scott emerged from the passenger door and waved to me. As I approached the vehicle, Angelyne rolled down her window and dramatically extended her hand.
“Hello,” she cooed in a baby doll voice. “I’m pleased to meet you. Can you get my meter, pretty please?”
As she emerged from the car, I got my first glimpse of this living legend. She was totally decked out in pink from head to toe: pink ribbons in her hair, pink sunglasses, pink jacket, pink floral dress and high heels. She was more petite than I expected, but she also walked with a purpose and a passion that was twice her height. She was truly a spellbinding sight to behold.
As she marched back to the trunk, the hustle began in record time. “Do you need anything right now? A t-shirt? Do you have dogs? I have dog tags. Have you heard my music?” She began digging through the trunk, filled to capacity with Angelyne merchandise. “How about a postcard? I can autograph that, you know.”
I agreed to a t-shirt and postcard, hoping to move past the sales pitch. Sticker shock sent in immediately. “That’s going to be $50. The t-shirt is a special design, you know, and the postcard is a limited edition. If you want it autographed, it will be an extra $10. Do you want coffee? Let’s get coffee.”
We closed the deal and approached the coffee shop. Four times in the 50 feet from door to door, people stopped Angelyne and asked for photos. “Photos cost $20,” she explained, “and you can’t take them if you don’t pay.” With eye rolls and giggles, most fans walked away without paying a cent. Anyone who tried to snap clandestine photos was immediately met with the snap of Angelyne’s Chinese fan.
“How do you handle all the paparazzi?” I asked her. “When everyone has a camera phone, how do you avoid being photographed?”
“I’m running a business,” she said. “I am the product and I can’t just give it away for free. You know that I usually charge $500 for a ride, right? You’re very lucky to win a free ride with me. Not just everyone gets one.”
She stopped dead in her tracks. “You fed the meter right? Is it taken care of?”
Arm in arm, we walked into the coffee house and sat at two tables: Scott at one and Angelyne and I at the other. All heads turned as we walked in, and the coffee house staff greeted Angelyne by name. “I’ll take my usual special,” said Angelyne, “with two cups. You don’t mind getting this do you?” she whispered to me. She picked up a bottle of Perrier and held it like a baby. “Can I get this too?” she asked. I covered the tab and we sat down to chat.
“I’ve been in love with Los Angeles for 30 years.” I said as an icebreaker. “How long have you lived here?”
She nodded but said nothing, playing with her phone.
“I’ve been a member of your fan club since 1988,” I said. “How has Los Angeles changed since then? What do you think of the new Hollywood?”
Angelyne just stared at me, then her phone, and then at Scott, signaling to me that this would be nowhere near a linear interview conversation. It was going to be more stream of consciousness than any interview I’d ever experienced.
“Have you heard my music?” she asked. “Do you want to buy my CD? There were only a limited number made, so it’s not cheap but I can give you a good price. Hey, have you ever seen my magazine?” Scott presented a binder containing two issues of Hot Pink magazine. “Donald Trump was in my magazine. Can you believe it? Nobody knew back then what he was going to do!” She made a sound similar to a growl, shook her head, and slammed the binder shut.
Scott reminded Angelyne that she had an interview with Intersection magazine later that afternoon, and needed to stay on schedule. Just then, her coffee order came up, and a teapot and two tiny teacups were delivered to our table. Angelyne demurely poured herself a cup, then looked at me and nodded, before pouring one for me too. I found myself at the strangest Mad Hatter tea party of my life. We raised our teacups in a toast to her brand new Corvette.
“What are we drinking today?” I asked skeptically. Angelyne explained it was a vanilla, coffee and tea blend that was “designed just for her.” I had a sip or two. “Very nice,” I said. She quickly poured me another cup and put the Perrier bottle into her purse. “Can you get me some ice water? Very important. Ice water.”
When I returned with the ice water, Angelyne announced we had to leave for our ride. As we got into her beautiful Corvette, decked out in Hello Kitty accoutrements, she explained that the car’s pink color was custom made for her. “I’m on my fourth Corvette now,” she said, “and they have all been the same color. Nobody else is allowed to have this color. It is uniquely my own.”
“What do you think of my car? Isn’t it amazing?” she asked. I told her I was amazed to find myself sitting in the same spot as Moby from the “We Are All Made of Stars” video. Angelyne giggled and said “you’re right, he was sitting right there, wasn’t he? Do you like music? What kind of music are you into?”
She turned on the car radio and asked me what I wanted to listen to. Before I could answer, she said, “Hey, do you want to hear my music? This is ‘Kiss Me L.A.’ Do you like it? I have it on DVD if you want to buy it.” She cranked the music up super loud and eased back into her seat. To be honest, she sounded really good.
“How do you feel about social media?” I asked, hoping to gain some insights from the woman who invented selfies. “I just joined Instagram so I can promote my artwork,” she said, “but I don’t like social media. It’s not real. I am real. I live in the real world. I don’t like that people can be one person online and one person in the real world. I’m just me.”
We drove about a half block down Sunset Boulevard when Angelyne announced she needed gas. “Can you put $20 into the tank? I’ll take a photo of you filling up the car for free.” I agreed with this proposition, so we pulled into a nearby Shell station. As I was filling up the car, no less than four people stopped by to talk with Angelyne. Most wanted photos, but Angelyne remained firm with the $20 per photo charge. After one woman declined to pay the fee, Angelyne asked her if she wouldn’t mind taking a photo of us instead. The woman looked completely confused, but agreed. Somehow, this wound up being one of the best photos of the day.
“I get pulled over all the time,” said Angelyne, “but it’s usually because they want photos with me.”
“Do you give photos to free to police officers?”
“No,” she said with a smile. “They pay like everyone else!”
Now heading west down Sunset, Angelyne informed me that she was the subject of a famous documentary in the 1990s. Would I be interested in purchasing one? It was an extremely rare collector’s item, she said, and it would be the perfect souvenir of our day together. She pulled into a nearby Denny’s and began rummaging through her trunk, only to come back empty-handed. “I’m just going to have to stop at my studio,” she explained. “Do you mind coming with me? It’s just a few blocks away. But hold on, I have to use the powder room.”
When Angelyne returned from the little girl’s room, she pulled out a Square reader and processed my documentary purchase. “Are you sure there’s nothing more you need? Do you want gifts for your friends or family? Is your birthday coming up? How about your wedding anniversary? Hey, check out these keychains!”
As we sat outside the Denny’s hostess station, I couldn’t stop thinking how strange this experience had been. Over the course of 30 minutes, we’d traveled about six square blocks and I’d already spent over $150. I hadn’t felt so hard sold since the medinas of North Africa, and those salesmen certainly lacked Angelyne’s whimsical charm.
Getting back into the car, Angelyne suddenly turned to me and put her hands over her mouth. “The interview! I forgot all about the interview!” We tore out of the parking lot and headed back to the coffee shop. “Can you do the meter? I have to get inside. The French people are waiting. I’m going to tell them you’re my bodyguard. Do you want to be my bodyguard? That would be a good job for you. Look at you and those shoulders. You wouldn’t get to talk much, though. Just grunt.”
We went back inside, where Scott was waiting with Intersection magazine. Angelyne asked me to sit at the front door and wait for her. About 30 minutes later, she returned and said we were ready to head to her studio. The Intersection team followed us to the car, where they posed for photos with Angelyne. We got back into the car and headed towards Hollywood Boulevard.
“I have another ride that I’m running late for,” said Angelyne. “People don’t normally get to see my studio, so you’re extra lucky today! Hey, did you donate to my Kickstarter? We’re bringing the billboards back. They’re as important to Los Angeles as any other public art. If you want to donate today, I can accept that on a credit card. Or we can always stop at an ATM?”
We pulled into a back alley and entered a gated parking lot. Angelyne took the first available spot, pointing out her other pink Corvette parked nearby. “Can you hold my purse? It will be easier for me,” she said, as she walked up two flights of stairs in high heels. We arrived at the studio, and she whispered to me with a smile, “It costs an extra $100 to come in here.” After seeing the look on my face, she poked me and said, “Of course I’m kidding!”
The studio was instantly overwhelming. Fragments of billboards decorated the walls, along with poster art and other artifacts from Angelyne’s career. One entire room was filled with her original artwork. There was even an oversized key from her campaign for mayor of Hollywood, faded after years under a skylight. The combination of pop art, plush furniture and hot pink PeeWee’s Playhouse gave the space the feeling of a deranged anime bordello. I still can’t believe I was ever actually there. It was truly a visit to a New Wave Shangri-La.
“Are you coming to the party tonight?” she asked. “This is the outfit I’ll be wearing later. What do you think? Come up and talk to me at the party, and maybe I’ll let you be my bodyguard for real!” (She referred, of course, to the Sex Cells dance party at the Echoplex, happening later that night.)
“Do you want a few pictures in here? Okay, let’s pose for a few. Do you mind if I sit on your lap? Hold my leg, will ya?” After a short photo shoot, Angelyne was ready to go. We were now going on two hours and the clock was ticking.
“So you joined my club when you were a teenager?” she suddenly asked. “Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you. What were you like as a teenager? Did you have to put up with bullying at school? It’s so unfair what gay boys have to put up with. Gay boys are my favorites; they’re such amazing and brilliant people. Did you date women when you were younger? Did you have to break any hearts? You seem like a heart breaker. I hope growing up was easy for you.”
I suddenly realized that I was the one who was being interviewed, not Angelyne. Every direct question I asked her was redirected. Anything I asked about her personally became a question about me. She disclosed next to nothing about herself the entire day, while simultaneously making the day all about herself. As the interviewer, I found myself almost entirely speechless the entire time. It was difficult to find words that even made sense in these mesmerizing moments.
I managed to ask one last question – and this one got a firm answer.
“What’s your inspiration?” I asked. “What excites and energizes you right now in the world?” Glancing into the rear view mirror, Angelyne paused for exactly two seconds before saying, “I am inspired by the beauty of who I am and what I stand for. My beauty is enough inspiration for me.”
As we pulled back into the coffee house, now clocking in at two hours and ten minutes and $180 in accumulated purchases, I wasn’t sure that I knew Angelyne any better than when I started. She remained enigmatic, elusive and otherworldly as ever, still maintaining that perfect illusion of her own design. I was more convinced than ever that nobody knows the true Angelyne except Angelyne.
She’s everything you’d expect her to be and more: kind, compassionate, sweet, bold, brassy – but also sassy, strategic and even shrewd. Make no mistake – this is no “dumb blonde” you’re dealing with, but a razor sharp and resilient businesswoman who’s built an empire of personality all on her own. Let the haters hate – Angelyne will always have the last laugh and the last dollar.
As we parted ways at the front door, Angelyne thanked me for supporting her business and hoped I would stay in touch. She reminded me to follow her on Instagram to “see all the pretty pictures” and join the Kickstarter so she could “send me some extra special gifts.”
A few handshakes and air kisses later, and our meetup was over. Angelyne told me to “stay blonde and stay beautiful.” With a spin of her heel, she was gone.
She shimmied over to the table we’d been sitting at earlier, where a young man was waiting patiently in an Angelyne t-shirt and a pink jacket. She sat down across from him, winked and dramatically extended her hand.
“Hi, I’m pleased to meet you. Would you mind getting me a Perrier? Thirsty. Very thirsty.”
The hustle was on.
As a lifelong Milwaukeean, Michail Takach became fascinated with its nightlife culture, venues, and neighborhoods at a young age and has committed himself to researching and documenting those stories not told in history books. Through the Wisconsin LGBT History Project, Takach seeks to make our history and heritage accessible, visible, and portable for future generations–before it is too late. Twitter@michailtakach