Angelenos have been on a first-name basis with Angelyne since the 1980s, when the diva of indeterminate age made her debut as the 50-foot woman plastered on billboards and buildings on Sunset Boulevard. These days, she’s more likely to be spotted zooming down the 101 in her notorious magenta-mobile. An Angelyne sighting is a quintessential Los Angeles experience, considered a lucky charm by natives and a right of passage for newcomers. She’s a mirage on wheels, zooming into view just long enough for you to question your bearings before dissolving into a puff of exhaust. As longtime fan Damon Devine put it, seeing Angelyne drive by is “like seeing Santa Claus.”
Last Saturday, Devine, a 37-year old make-up artist, was among the early birds at Angelyne’s art exhibition at the Museum of Digital Art in Hollywood (up through Oct. 10), where dozens of giclee prints and several paintings displayed her iconic visage. “I’ve known her for 20 years now,” Devine explains, “and sometimes she still doesn’t seem real.”
Though largely famous for, well, being famous, Angelyne has undeniable gifts; she’s seduced more than a few followers with her shameless self-promotion and enigmatic persona. “She’s the woman I thought I’d grow up to be,” 27-year-old Maggie Milstein says. “I thought I’d have a pink Corvette and the hair, everything.” She adds with a laugh: “I didn’t end up that way.” For one, she drives a Subaru.
Milstein is co-producing an indie fantasy film with Angelyne, based in part on the mysterious celeb’s real life experiences. The blend of fantasy and reality is fitting — Angelyne consistently peppers her vague statements with distortions of truth. In Milstein’s movie, Angelyne is the only character that can successfully “transcend the body.” Why is that? “It’s because she’s an alien,” Milstein says. “She inspires people to be OK with themselves and with their bodies, despite being different.”
Angelyne would agree that she’s on a higher path, seeking liberation from her physical form. “People project themselves onto me,” she says. “How people interpret me is what they feel inside about themselves.” I ask her how she sees herself, and with a deep nod she replies, “I represent a higher, loftier state of consciousness that people will hopefully be able to aspire to and finally rise above the phenomenal.”
For a celebrity revered for her superficiality, Angelyne goes surprisingly deep when I get her alone for a phone interview. “I’m on a quest to find out who I really really am,” she says — and she asks for my help in putting out “powerful energy” to that end. “I’m a super-charged entity,” she says. “I came here to energize everybody else’s destiny. I’m doing a good deed by being here.”
For all her wispy spirituality, Angelyne is still celebrated as a rebel: “If you can be on a billboard just as yourself, not representing anything, I think that’s pretty punk rock,” says leather-clad Scott Graham, a fan since 1982, when he joined the Angelyne Fan Club at the age of 12. At the exhibition, Graham remembers Angelyne’s frequent visits to Retropolis, his Melrose Avenue boutique, in the 90s, where she purchased hundreds of dollars of clothing with a wave of her hand. To Graham, Angelyne has always been a spoof of Hollywood itself, subverting the established channels of fame in true DIY fashion. “She’s shameless,” he says, flipping his neon pink mohawk out of his eyes as he peers at an Angelyne original on MODA’s main wall.
The space is all about Angelyne, with video projections of the vixen oohing and aahing, and pink champagne served to the minglers as they take a gander at a raffle to win a ride in the ‘Vette. (One lucky loser gets the privilege to wash it.) The main wall is adorned with a dozen carbon copies of the doe-eyed Angelyne, fairylike figures staring flatly into the room. Each self-portrait varies — in one, Angelyne straddles an inverted skeleton; in another, she peers playfully through her own legs. Her character is always the same, a cartoon nymphette complete with rosy cheeks, signature pink pout, buoyant breasts and neon nipples — genitalia distinctly absent, not unlike a sexless Barbie doll. The repetition borders on obsessive fan art, and the show doesn’t leave much to interpretation: Angelyne is her own biggest fan.
“I’m basically inspired by my beauty,” she says. “I love my looks. I think my face has fantastic balance — I’m all about the balance of things. The eyes, the nose, the lips are in a good place. I happen to know when something looks right.”
Most of the people at the art show aren’t there for the art; they’ve come for a close encounter with a mythic creature. The crowd runs the gamut of Hollywood’s weirdest, from devout fans toting Angelyne t-shirts, hoping for face time with the goddess herself, to skeptical hipsters seeking novelty worth an eyebrow twitch. Costumed fanboys and girls borrow from every corner of the fashion spectrum— punk rock grommets and 50s hair flips, Indian headdresses and cotton-candy wigs, unabashedly trashy lingerie and Elvira-esque macabre webs. The scene is more a cultural WTF moment than art opening.
As she flits around the gallery, it’s hard to get more than a canned response out of Angelyne, who fiercely guards her image at every opportunity. I ask her how she still manages to draw a crowd and she quickly quips, “It’s because I’m ethereal… Ooh!” She tells me to “make sure to get the ‘Ooh!’ in there.”
In the hubbub, I snap several candids of her, for which I am quickly chastised. She prefers to pose and expects to be paid $10 per shot. In fact, every interaction with her is monetized. An autograph costs an additional $10, and admirers don’t go long without fielding offers for t-shirts (a whopping $40 to $60) and stickers (a more affordable $5). At her own art opening, Angelyne spends most of the evening outside the gallery, hawking memorabilia out of the trunk of her car. She’s a dogged saleswoman — two times during our interview, she asks if I need to purchase any Angelyne items.
She was certainly ahead of her time. Today, brand strategists in L.A. are as ubiquitous as actors, but before the concept made its way into the vernacular, Angelyne had branding down to a science. Reclining languidly upon the skyline on Sunset Boulevard, she was a precursor to countless vapid and shrewd celebrities from Paris Hilton to Kim Kardashian, who decades later would also rise to famous-because-I-say-so stardom.
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Her unabashed self-promotion seems prescient amid the contemporary sea of Instagram sexpots, DIY divas and social media influencers. Despite the new wave of technology, she’s opted to stay old-school; though reproduced ad infinitum, her wares are sold exclusively offline. “I don’t need to do any of that,” she says of social media. “That’s all virtual. I’m real!”
The queen of kitsch has been pimping a calculated and idealized version of herself for the last 30 years — the artwork, the t-shirts, the billboards are copies of copies of copies that would make Andy Warhol proud. It’s been a good long 15 minutes, and she’s still able to leverage her mystique enough for a quick sale or a cameo.
Those who bought a moment with her on Saturday night got a piece of the Tinseltown promise. Though weathered, Angelyne endures as the glittery Patron Saint of Hollywood. The night with her may have come and gone, but the selfies remain.