Angelyne—first name only—was doing the whole “famous for being famous” thing back when Kim Kardashian, reality television and Instagram thots were just a twinkle in our eyes. With her low-cut, pink mini dresses and blonde bouffant, she is the eternal Barbie, and the quintessential Holly-weirdo. Her appeal is her mystique—the fact that everyone knows about her but doesn’t actually know anything about her.
Angelyne is most famous for appearing on billboards throughout Los Angeles since the 1980s—which she says were funded by investors—and she’s such a local legend that Fergie even dressed up as her one Halloween. The first time I became aware of her existence, I was a Southern California kid who was completely obsessed with the movie Earth Girls Are Easy. Angelyne had a brief cameo, along with her signature pink Corvette. Years later, I’d catch her driving around both in Los Angeles and in Ventura County, where I’m from. She lived in Malibu, a short drive away from my hometown; since I was constantly driving back and forth like her, I’d joke to friends that we should carpool. Last October, we finally did.
I first met Angelyne while attending her art show at a small gallery on Sunset Boulevard, at an opening event filled with Angelyne-worshipping Hollywood weirdos. Hundreds of paintings, both original and prints, decorated the walls and tables inside, each piece depicting the artist in various poses and themes. It was like Kim Kardashian’s Selfish, but with Angelyne, drawn by Angelyne’s own hand.
Next to a cake customized with her portrait were two clear plastic contest boxes: Twenty-two people could win a ride with Angelyne, while one lucky loser would have to wash the car. As I dropped my card in the box, I thought, “With my luck, I’m probably going to have to wash it.”
A week later, I received a phone call from Angelyne’s rep, a man named Scott. He informed me that I was one of the winners of the ride contest, and the “lucky loser” of the car wash. I laughed at the chances, then immediately felt nervous. I hadn’t washed my own car by myself in years. What if I did a shit job? We made plans for the following week for me to meet Angelyne at her favorite Coffee Bean on Sunset Boulevard. I told jealous friends I would wash the car in booty shorts and squeeze the sponge out all sexy.
The day of our Coffee Bean meet-up, it’s raining, so after I give Angelyne a pink leopard print fan I brought as a gift—she likes hiding her face in photos, especially with various pink fans—she suggests we go somewhere to talk.
She’s wearing a psychedelic bodycon dress with peace signs printed on it. Her flamboyant style has barely changed, and neither has her mode of transport; whenever her ever-present pink Corvette reaches a certain amount of miles, she buys an updated version. (The car is currently living through its eighth reincarnation; she has christened it “Blissful Pussycat.”) As we turn onto Hollywood Boulevard, a throng of fans notices the ‘Vette and points; she smiles and waves back.
As she drives, she flips open a pink Motorola Razr cell phone to read a text she received about California’s assisted death law, which had passed that same day. “This is great news. I had a friend who was in a wheelchair who was just so tortured and no one would help her,” Angelyne says. “You should always want to die young. Even if you’re 60 or 100, you’ll die young.” Yet with her musings about death and dying, like most people in show biz, Angelyne is not one to openly discuss her age. (A Hollywood Reporter article from August 2015 refers to state records revealing her age at the time to be 53.) As Angelyne and I chat, she’s very complimentary, and our drive takes on a surreal tone. “I like your tatas,” she says, pointing to the top I’m wearing with daisies printed over the boobs. “I like your ring.” “What does your father do? I bet he’s a millionaire,” she asks. “Not exactly. He’s a chef,” I reply. “Well, you should be a millionaire. You think like one.”
Angelyne has to use “the powder room” so we stop by a McDonald’s. “I like the french fries here,” she says, while handing me a magazine to look through while she excuses herself to the restroom. The magazine had a recent interview with her in it. In the 1986 book Crackpot, director John Waters talks about meeting Angelyne, describing her as a “’50s glamour girl gone berserk.” Though he wrote that she has “everything it takes to become a star,” he chided Angelyne for not having a sense of humor. I understand why he said that—it’s not like she comes equipped with an arsenal of Dolly Parton-esque witticisms.
But Angelyne is her own wonderfully strange alien, a canny businessperson who predicted how to market her image decades before Instagram or Snapchat, and has used it to fuel her ability to make art. She had bit parts in other films, including 1998's Soleil Moon Frye-directed Wild Horses, and released three albums. On “My List,” a catchy pop song from 1983, she sings about “all the guys she’s kissed.”
Then there was the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, which was packed with fringe candidates from every planet, from Gary Coleman and Gallagher, to Arianna Huffington and Larry Flynt. Angelyne, of course, was also on the ballot. She told Reuters at the time: “Entertainment is a lot harder than politics. Entertainment is a matter of emotion and ego and politics is a matter of basic rational mathematics.” Her slogan was, “We’ve had Gray, we’ve had Brown, now it’s time for some blond and pink.” She ended up coming in 29th place, losing to slightly more famous but equally fringe actor/politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On our driving date, her self-promotional savvy is on full display. Back in the McDonald’s parking lot, she pops the trunk of the ‘Vette, revealing piles of posters, magazines and other official Angelyne merchandise, including t-shirts. “Those are $40 each,” she says. (My boyfriend bought one from her a couple of years ago for $20. Inflation.)
I buy one, but Angelyne won’t let me stop there—she’s an extreme hustler. “Do you have a dog? I have dog tags.” Angelyne refuses to do anything for free. It costs $10 to take a photo of her and she berates anyone who tries snapping a pic without coughing up the dough. If anyone knows about millionaire mentality, it’s her. In a time when practically anyone can work a hustle off the internet and social media, though, Angelyne prefers the old school way. “When I was starting out, I was on my own and had to represent myself,” she explains. And despite her ability to self-promote, she doesn’t even have social media accounts of her own, because she won’t give up anything for free—not even a simple photo. She’s kind, but also very shrewd.
And yet, small gestures are considered good luck in Angelyne’s world. A sample scoop of Baskin Robbins ice cream. Giving away a Band-Aid she had in her wallet. She’s also considered a token of luck herself—it’s common lore among Angelyne admirers that if you see her drive by in her pink Corvette, you’ll have a lucky day.
We end up at Thai spot in a shady strip mall in Los Feliz with a health inspection rating of “B.” “This place is really good,” Angelyne says. She sends her vegetables back to the chef twice, until they’re cooked to an Angelyne-approved consistency. Clearly a business lunch, she also leaves the table twice to retrieve artwork from her car; I am coerced into buying a painting of her naked and standing between two skulls.
“Have you had an out of body experience?” she asks. “Do you like astrology?” I tell her I’m a Libra and a Scorpio rising. “I had a boyfriend who was a Scorpio rising,” she says. “He was hot, but also too hot tempered.” Angelyne admits she doesn’t like being controlled and says she knows that I don’t either. She then tells me she still wants the car to be washed, which catches me by surprise, and suggests I bring a friend. I have a few people in mind that would kill for the job, so we plan to meet the following week. When we’re finished, she hands me the bill for our meal. There’s no playing around here.
The following week, Angelyne, my friend Curtis and I meet at a car wash. Angelyne keeps calling me “wig” as if we were Real Housewives Atlanta Season 1 Kim Zolciak and Nene Leakes, except it she means it as a compliment.
“You’re like a China doll.”
“You’re Asian Bettie Page.”
She also keeps addressing me as “Mommy,” as in, “I’m hungry, Mommy!” I notice there’s a brand-new iPhone in her possession, but she says she only uses it for email. That vintage Razr is still her main form of communication.
Because she immediately clocks Curtis as a musician, part of her hustle with him is to name-drop famous artists who are also fans of hers—Billy Idol, Tom Petty, Ariel Pink, Slash. “Dave Navarro has bought all of my paintings,” she says, before casually dropping one name that stops me dead in my tracks. “John Stamos loves me too. He wore the shirt once.” Curtis looks at me. “You know, Marie loves him.” Angelyne looks at me and says, “Oh, then we should arrange something. Maybe you can deliver the new Angelyne t-shirt to him.” I blush. She is good. We both get suckered into buying more stuff, but she does give me one very special parting gift: her pink and black leopard print fan.
The last time I see Angelyne, we’re both at a Halloween party at MODA, the same space on Sunset Boulevard which held her art show. I consider pulling a Fergie and dressing up as her, but I’m unable to pull the costume together in time. As part of the evening’s planned rounds, I stop by and am surprised to discover it mostly empty. An hour passes until she finally arrives. Angelyne is not in costume, but why should she be? She only needs to come as herself. Angelyne seems bummed at the turnout, then sees me. “Everything is going to be alright now,” she says to no one in particular. I feel like teacher’s pet.
Everyone is called to form a circle so she can judge the costume contest. I’m dressed as a Rockford Peach from the movie A League of Their Own. It’s fun, but definitely one of my least creative costumes. As Angelyne covers her eyes and spins around, she points to choose a winner, then shuffles backwards until her manicured finger lands on yours truly. I’m pretty sure it was rigged, but I’m happy to find out I won $100. “Now you have money to buy something else from me,” she whispers in my ear, a hustler to the very end.
Contact the author at email@example.com.
Images via Marie Lodi.