Photography by Larry Lombardi. Billboard Painted by Scott.
If the city of Los Angeles could package all those quirks that outsiders find so amusing about its more colorful residents -- the egregious plastic surgery, the pret-a-porter spirituality, that end-of-days cult of celebrity worship, all those fading would-be starlets still hustling to auditions, and of course the automobile -- into a single mascot, she would be Angelyne. If you've spent enough time in West Hollywood in particular, you've probably seen her fly down the street in her custom-pink Corvette (she is on her eighth), in which she racks up 100 miles a day flitting about the city.
"I'm the most photographed celebrity in the world. People take pictures of my car all day long," Angelyne explained one afternoon over tea at the French Market Place, a small West Hollywood shopping center decorated like a Parisian street scene.
It had been, by Los Angeles standards, a frigid night (50 degrees; Angelyne wore pink fur), and the arctic blast had claimed its latest victim: Angelyne had caught a cold.
"I don't respect this reality for what it does to people," she said, motioning for me to turn off my tape recorder each time she felt a sneeze come on. "If I can catch a cold, I don't want to be here."
She is, perhaps as Quentin Crisp was to New York, L.A.'s version of the everyman's savant who wears the city like a bathrobe. If you leave a message on her fan hotline, she's usually amenable to meeting just about anyone for a cup of coffee to discuss unicorns or aliens or spiritual pathways to enlightenment -- it will probably set you back the price of a beverage, and an Angelyne T-shirt ($42), or other ephemera she hawks from the trunk of her car all day long (her assistant suggested I arrive to tea bearing "some Starburst candy, for good luck").
"I'm a pink entity on top of a yellow unicorn. I want to maintain my mystery and the totality of the magic of who I am. I'm not a publicity whore," she said. "Unicorn has the word 'icon' in it. 'Unicorn' and 'icon.' "
Only a few close acquaintances have cracked the mystery of who, exactly, Angelyne is, but outlandish rumors have long floated around town -- she's a man; she has a rich Arab benefactor; she's a lesbian; a jealous heiress once paid a homeless man to torch her first Corvette; she once dated Charlie Sheen. According to early interviews, she's from Idaho (Angelyne claims not to remember where she's from), and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager after her parents died. In the mid-1980s she began putting up billboards in Hollywood of herself -- reclining, buxom, blonde, scantily dressed -- with a phone number. They were apparently advertisements promoting her band, also called Angelyne, though no one would have guessed, and they soon became a staple of the Hollywood skyline.
Photo Credit: Hans Olson
At one point hundreds dotted Los Angeles, making her a local curiosity reporters jumped on. But it wasn't until one of the billboards was featured in the opening sequence of the hit 1985 ABC series Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, that Angelyne made it to the national, and global, stage. TV appearances and interviews soon followed. In 2003, during California's chaotic recall election, she ran for governor. She has been presented with a key to the city of West Hollywood, where she was proclaimed an honorary mayor.
"Gay men are very mothering to me," she said. She's also made a hobby of picking up gay strays in the neighborhood to act as companions, assistants, and protectors, one of whom she'd brought to tea, a silent and good-looking 23-year-old Native American who had moved to Hollywood six days earlier from Montana.
"Meeting Angelyne was supposed to happen," the young man said. The two met at a coffee shop and bonded over having out of body experiences. It once happened to Angelyne when she was on the set of the 1988 film Earth Girls Are Easy, where she and her car have a cameo.
"I got up and turned off my alarm, and I just floated up from my body. And this is what I want to aspire to for good. You can't feel the body, and it just feels wonderful," she said. Having "achieved everything I've planned to achieve so far," these days Angelyne is questing to re-obtain this weightless euphoria permanently.
"I don't read books. I just go in. It's hard to understand how I function," she said, although she does have an astrologer who coaches her. "I want to get to a pain-free existence, a bliss existence. I want to get there first and have everyone else follow suit. Is that too hard to happen?" Has anyone done it before?
"No," she replied.
Angelyne sent the Native American boy to fetch the waiter, and we stepped next door to a shop called Baby Jane of Hollywood, a movie star memorabilia store "famous for our celebrity earthquake ruins." It's one of Angelyne's favorite spots and owned by her friend Roy Windham, who considers himself the pre-eminent Angelyne expert.
"She's huge in Germany," Windham said.
Angelyne has been hanging around Baby Jane for 20 years, stopping in weekly to admire autographs and old movie posters. She loves Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis. "Angelyne is the first self-made celebrity. She didn't have money. She didn't come here with the Hilton or Kardashian name," Windham said. "She was the first person to get appearance fees for being a celebrity, but not a movie star or TV star."
It may have been her icon Bette Davis who inspired Angelyne's unconventional path to notoriety. When Davis, a 10-time Academy Award nominee, was in her 50s and unable to find work, in a fuck-you gesture to the industry, she took out a quarter-page ad in Variety. It read: "Mother of three.... Divorcee. American. Thirty years experience as an actress in motion pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood (has had Broadway)." Davis got work afterward, but more importantly, the talk shows started calling. "Angelyne is quite the film buff. You wouldn't expect that. I expected her to be all about herself," Windham said. "But you can really sit down with her and talk about movies."
Then Angelyne took out her cell phone -- where earlier she had been showing me pictures of herself with Elvira and Amanda LePore -- and attached a credit card scanner to the earphone jack. "Do you want to go for a ride in my car?" she asked. "Let's take care of your T-shirt first."