UPDATE: Gary Baum, author of The Hollywood Reporter piece, issued a response to this article. It can be found below the original text.
“Saw your post on Angelyne a while back and I came across this,” a friend posted on my Facebook page. “Thought you might be interested …”
It was a link to The Hollywood Reporter's exposé titled “The Mystery of L.A. Billboard Diva Angelyne's Real Identity Is Finally Solved.”
I felt sick to my stomach. I interviewed Angelyne earlier this year for a story on the return of her iconic billboard campaign, and the deeper I got into the THR story, the more I felt Angelyne had been robbed of something precious. Reporter Gary Baum did a thorough job of revealing the forever-in-pink L.A. enigma's origin, and did so while granting anonymity to the hobby “genealogist” who'd contacted him with evidence of Angelyne's birth identity. A self-made woman who'd reinvented herself as a Corvette-driving, Sunset Strip Barbie had, by virtue of her self-inflicted overexposure, deservingly had her persona stripped away. Meanwhile, the male informant who'd rigorously investigated her backstory (why?) maintained his right to privacy.
Angelyne's fans felt a similar nausea and berated Baum on Twitter, where he posted a link to his article with the description: “A year in the making: I tracked down the true ID of only-in-L.A. enigma Angelyne. She was forged by the Holocaust.”
The publication of documents featuring Angelyne's personal information — including the names of concentration camps where Angelyne's forebears were tortured — felt unnecessary.
“Reading this article made me feel really gross,” illustrator Adam Ellis tweeted.
“This only makes her more fascinating,” jazz recording artist Tamela D'Amico tweeted. “As far as making up a better story for herself … she is the Holly Golightly of L.A. It's great.”
Other readers were rapt by the revelations. But, more important, how does Angelyne feel?
“I feel a lot of love from my fans, more than ever before,” Angelyne said during a phone interview on Friday. “I love you all, fans, and I don't want you to be upset because I am Angelyne. I am a leader and it should be an example to everybody that no matter what happens in your life, no matter how much anybody hurts you, you should just rise to the occasion and embrace who you are.”
Ultimately, Baum's most valuable source was Angelyne's ex-husband, Michael Strauss, who confirmed the information provided by the genealogist and provided never-before-seen photographs of a young Renee Goldberg, before she became Angelyne.
Strauss' motive, according to Angelyne, is to “glom” onto her fame.
“The minute a person because famous, everybody changes their tune,” Angelyne said. “[Strauss] will be saying things just to get his name out there. I can't blame him. It's OK. I've got a lot of fame and if he wants to take some of it, that's fine. I hardly know the guy.”
The truth about Angelyne is this: No one can disassemble what she's built without her permission — and Angelyne notoriously does not grant permission — unless it's on her own terms.
Angelyne answered some of our questions about the story.
How do you feel about the article that was recently published about you?
I think it is very, very, very wrong — especially in light of the fact that I do so much for people. I should at least have my right to tell my story — my way — and my truth, rather than have somebody mess up the information. A lot of the details are not correct. … And y'know, it's OK because when I first became famous, I came with a set of rumors and this is just part of being famous. It makes me feel a little guilty getting a lot of attention for things that aren't true, but I feel I deserve the attention, so it doesn't matter. Who I am is Angelyne — inside, outside — and I inspire people. As far as any facts go, I'm going to write my own story.
Does this mean you are going to write an autobiography?
Well, of course, I've always planned to do that. I just hope it makes as much of an impact as the lies. But I have to feel it. I don't want to have to be forced to write my autobiography [now] just because this article was published.
Do you feel the information hurts your image or business?
No. I was born with mystique. Mystique is intensity — you can feel it. Just because you solve a mystery doesn't mean there's no mystery left. Just because some information was hidden does not mean that there is no intensity left. I'm still a mystique. I'm still intense and I'm still a sex goddess. And that's never going to change because that's who I am.
What's the best thing about being Angelyne?
I'm a rebel and I get what I want — no matter what. And I hope to inspire people to become who they are to their maximum self, like pieces of artwork.
What do you like your legacy to be?
When I finally die and leave this earth, I want to have created a pathway for people to become their highest self, to their highest good, and be satisfied so they can die happy. We all want to die happy.
What are some things on your bucket list?
Lots of things! You'll just have to watch and see what happens. Ask me why I love L.A. …
Why do you love L.A.?
Because I own it!
How does it feel to own L.A.?
Oh, it's just so magical and I love it and I want to share it with everybody because the L.A. I know is the good part of it.
Angelyne added this: If you would like the chance to win a free ride in her famous pink Corvette, email your contact info to the Angelyne fan club email@example.com with the subject line “Win a Ride With Angelyne!”
UPDATE: Gary Baum, author of the THR piece, issued the following response …
Angelyne has always had the right to share her own narrative and it remains unchecked by The Hollywood Reporter’s serious, sensitive, newsworthy coverage of her origins. She is also a famous person who sought her notoriety. Journalists don’t require permission to uncover truths about public figures.
It’s notable that Angelyne questions the veracity of the article but doesn’t outright dispute that she’s Renee Goldberg. As the piece makes clear, I repeatedly attempted to discuss the information with her. Only after its publication is she speaking out, in vague terms, to quarrel with it.
I absolutely agree with Angelyne’s contention that she still possesses mystique. In fact, I believe my act of journalism enhances it. The article, despite her perfunctory protestations, only deepens, widens and textures the public’s understanding of who she is: both a uniquely and emblematically American story.