Being Angelyne

WORDS: Yasi Salek
PHOTOS: Rick Rodney

“Every question is invasive,” Angelyne tells me. She is perched on a magenta chaise lounge, and I’m sitting nearby on a pink furry chair in a corner of her office in the middle of Hollywood. It is a fantastical space festooned with fuchsia rabbit’s feet and assorted leopard print. The walls are crammed with artwork, and all of it depicts Angelyne. There is Angelyne as a winged angel, holding a golden crown of laurels. There is Angelyne in a body suit, riding a giant parrot. There is a delightfully cartoonish and quite good painting of Angelyne standing with her real life friend, the late drag queen Divine. As it turns out, Angelyne painted this one herself. I am not here to admire the art, however, but to interview the woman that has been called, amongst other things, the billboard queen of Los Angeles. But what is it exactly Angelyne is, or does?

“People describe me from their own perspective,” she says when I ask her directly. “Hopefully I’m described using their most positive aspects of themselves, reflected onto me, because I represent part of them.” This is how Angelyne speaks, like some sort of bubbly, bleach blonde Buddha. “I hope that through me people are moved onward and upward to a higher consciousness.” She mentions that she herself has had several out of body experiences, though she won’t go into detail about them. It’s no secret that Angelyne has made efforts to become famous, starting with those now iconic billboards. But why? “To me, fame means inspiring people to rise to their highest occasion, number one. And number two, to put the most glamorous, positive side of humanity on display for the purpose of being able to get through this reality,” she says.

Angelyne’s own way of “getting through this reality” involves a certain level of discipline. Her control over her image is serious and almost principled — you won’t catch her shilling gummy hair vitamins or flat tummy teas — and she is fiercely independent. She does not, and has never had a manager, though she does have Scott Hennig, a man whose title is “Fan Club President.” He is tall and thin and often wears an Angelyne t-shirt (the same kind she sells out of the trunk of her car). The scope of his purview is unclear, but he is clearly devoted to Angelyne and helps her manage her affairs. As her friend and fan, John Waters once put it, “Angelyne is about agency, and control, and doing what she wants, when she wants to, beholden to no one.”

Before there were Kardashians to keep up with, before there was Tila Tequila, Amber Rose, and each and every real housewife, there was Angelyne, the busty blonde who may have actually invented being famous for being famous. Ask any LA resident who drove through the city streets between the mid 80s and early 2000s, and it’s certain they have seen her visage, larger than life, lounging across a sky-high billboard somewhere in Hollywood. And if they were lucky, they also have glimpsed her IRL, cruising around town in her custom hot pink Corvette Stingray, elusive and shiny, like a mini-dress wearing, wedge-heeled unicorn. It does feel like an actual stroke of good luck whenever one spots Angelyne parked outside a Whole Foods or enjoying a shrimp cocktail at Musso & Frank’s.

Little is known about the Hollywood icon, and she likes it that way. Here’s what we do know: She might be from Idaho. She is not married. She really, really likes the color pink, partially because it came to her in a vision once as a source of good luck. And she’s really, really into luck.

Though the exact nature of her income is unknown, she is a natural hustler, and sells quite a lot of Angelyne merch — t-shirts, tote bags, keychains — in exchange for photos with fans. Whatever you might think of this approach to personal economics, it allows Angelyne to keep doing exactly what she wants to do, which is of course, to just be Angelyne.

Being Angelyne has long been a full time job, and it has entailed more than just gracing billboards. She is credited in twelve feature films, most famously appearing as herself in Earth Girls Are Easy, delivering one lilting line: “Excuse me, could you back up? I need to get some unleaded.”

Angelyne has also dipped her toe into the world of politics: in 2002 she ran as a candidate for Hollywood City Council when there was a chance it would cede from Los Angeles, and followed it up with a run for governor of California a year later. She didn’t win, but ended up finishing 28 out of 135.

Currently Angelyne is writing a book with the working title Angelyne’s Philosophy, From Sex to God. I would buy this book. I could use some of whatever it is that has buoyed Angelyne all these years, whatever has fortified her belief in herself so she never had to be anything other than who she is, whatever other people might think of who she is, however difficult it may or may not be.

In an aside, she tells me that infamous avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger once wanted to cast her in a film to play Jayne Mansfield, but that she refused. I ask her why, and she says, simply, “Because I’m not Jayne Mansfield. I’m Angelyne.”