England has the Queen, Los Angeles has Angelyne. A figurehead with no official political power, but a symbol behind which the citizenry can rally. An embodiment of what it means to be of a certain place. And I got to ride in her pink Corvette.
Angelyne pioneered the art of being famous for being famous. In 1984, glamour shots of her in sexy poses started appearing on billboards throughout Hollywood. She wasn’t advertising a product, she was just advertising herself…and her enormous boobs. Her identity and motives were a shared mystery among LA residents and tourists, and in the age of the internet’s infancy it proved to be a tough one to crack.
The longer the mystery went unsolved, the more the shared obsession grew. To this day, Angelenos trade stories of seeing her drive around in her bright pink Corvette the way people in other regions trade tales of Nessie and the Yeti.
Then one day in 2017 a writer from The Hollywood Reporter pulled back the curtain. Through exhaustive research, he finally pieced together the puzzle of Angelyne’s origins. Everyone in town read his article. And almost everyone immediately regretted doing so.
The mystery was the whole point. Never getting a straight answer was what kept us believing in our Busty Bubblegum Bigfoot. When we all stop clapping, Tinker Bell dies.
But I still believe.
Angelyne offered an immediate rebuttal to the Hollywood Reporter exposé in an interview with LA Weekly, at the end of which readers were encouraged to email her fan club for a chance to win a ride in her mythical Corvette. Having been fascinated by Angelyne ever since I first moved to LA, the idea of doing a ride-along with her seemed too good to be true. But thirty-nine minutes after I pressed “send,” I got an email back from her long-time assistant, Scott:
“You won. Call me to set up the ride of your life.”
I proceeded to flip out. Then I made arrangements to meet Scott and Angelyne at a Coffee Bean in Hollywood (like any date made over the internet, it’s best practice to meet in public first). Scott flagged me down and told me Angelyne would be arriving soon. He was juggling phone calls and a notebook full of appointments and reminders. Things had apparently gotten rather hectic for the two of them in the wake of the Hollywood Reporter piece. When Scott’s phone rang with the news that Angelyne was pulling up outside we both went to hold a parking space for her.
And there was the Corvette.
When I bragged to a few friends about winning the contest, one of them deflated my victory a bit by claiming that the “prize” isn’t as difficult to win as it may have seemed. A significant chunk of Angelyne’s income is derived from the sale of T-shirts and other pricey branded merchandise, so the rides are actually given away regularly as a chance for her to push her wares.
Sure enough, once Angelyne stepped out of her car and greeted me with a flirtatious flourish, she popped her trunk and showed me her mobile merch store.
I had visited Angelyne’s website ahead of time and decided that when she inevitably made her pitch I’d buy a baseball cap with her unmistakable silhouette on it. At 45 bucks it would certainly be the most expensive piece of headgear I’ve ever owned, but I considered it the admission fee for my Corvette ride, and it has since served as a lovely reminder of the experience.
As we walked back over to the Coffee Bean, she locked arms with me and quietly asked, “Have you read any fake news about me lately?” I admitted that I had read the Hollywood Reporter article, but that I also read her follow-up in the LA Weekly. It was clear that the recent uninvited press coverage was weighing on her, but she maintained her bubbly demeanor and excused herself to the powder room at the restaurant next door (the sanitary condition of the Coffee Bean’s restroom was admittedly beneath her).
I made small talk with Scott while I waited for her, and a few minutes later I felt Angelyne’s fingers dance along my shoulders. She invited me to sit with her at a table by the window, where I presented her with a copy of a book I had written about a punk rock band. She was not only touched by the gift, but she was excited to chat about music and share details of her time in a new wave band.
As she flipped through the pages of the book, she talked about someday writing her own memoir. She spoke of racy photos that have never before been published, but was also proud of an ongoing photographic hobby: arranging items on dinner plates to resemble celebrities. She pulled out her phone and swiped through a dozen of her creations. Condiments and garnishes and various bits of food had been styled to look vaguely like George Burns, Cher, Queen Elizabeth, E.T., and Angelyne herself. I solemnly swear that if a photo book of Angelyne’s plate-based portraiture ever comes out, I’ll be the first in line to buy a copy.
We didn’t actually purchase anything at the Coffee Bean. I was surprised they let us loiter as long as we did, but soon enough it was time for our drive. I wanted to make sure I got a photo of the two of us together first, and suggested maybe Scott could take it for us. She said he might be busy, I said I’d flash him some puppy dog eyes and maybe he’d agree. She said “Is that what you do?” in a playfully scolding tone. Scott was, in fact, unable to resist my puppy dog eyes.
Angelyne charges a fee for photos, which some might take issue with. Considering that her career is based solely on her image, it seems a fair trade to me. Her billboards and her persona have created a demand, she has attached a price to the supply. For ten bucks she struck several poses with me as Scott snapped away, and she allowed me to take pictures during the rest of the ride as well. The only rule was that I couldn’t photograph her face. Some may deride this as simple vanity–an attempt to disclaim the passage of time. But not only is it valid for her to protect her image and most valuable financial asset, I believe it’s because Angelyne knows she’s a symbol. Her billboards are ageless, so too must be Angelyne herself.
With my photos taken and my new hat on my head, I finally slid into the passenger seat of the legendary pink Corvette and we drove up Cahuenga Boulevard, right through the heart of Hollywood.
As we approached a 7-11 on the corner of Yucca Street, Angelyne pointed out her newest billboard, the first to pinken the LA skyline in several years. It’s impossible to count the number of times I’ve gazed at one of her billboards in all my years of living in LA, but certainly this was the gaze I’d remember most: looking up at an Angelyne billboard, while wearing an Angelyne hat, inside Angelyne’s Corvette, sitting next to Angelyne.
We turned down Yucca towards the Capitol Records building and I got a glimpse of what it was like to be Angelyne on a day-to-day basis. People on the sidewalks couldn’t keep their eyes off the car. Staring. Pointing. Stopping in their tracks. For the past 30-odd years this has been Angelyne’s routine experience. Even the biggest celebrity one can name can throw on a hat and sunglasses and hit the town in a low-profile car if he or she wants to escape the public’s gaze. Angelyne, as far as I know, is committed to always being camera ready, and always driving one of the most visually boisterous vehicles in town (and in a town already known for its automotive showmanship that’s saying something). The stares were a delightful novelty for my brief spin, but I had to wonder how that level of attention would affect me over the course of several decades.
Since we had initially bonded over music, Angelyne spent the entire journey playing me songs from her various albums. After the first few measures of each tune, she would turn to me for my review. If I didn’t answer quickly enough she would say, “You don’t like it” with an adorable pout, and skip to the next track. I genuinely enjoyed some of her material, but at the same time I couldn’t help but laugh a little on the inside, because as quintessentially “LA” as the experience already was, having someone drive you around and play you their own songs on their car stereo is absolutely the most “LA” thing one could possibly do.
We headed south to Sunset Boulevard and even though I had passed the Hollywood Palladium countless times in my life, it somehow looked different through Angelyne’s windshield.
Angelyne agreed to drop me off at my car, which was parked on a nearby side street. We rolled past a homeless encampment and turned the heads of the half dozen or so people living there before she came to a stop by my beat-up Saturn. I asked to take a few more photos of her car before she pulled away and she offered to let me take a picture of her hand on my leg in order to make the ladies jealous.
I thanked her for the ride and told her it had been an honor. I gushed over how her billboards and the occasional sight of her Corvette around town had always felt like little beacons of positivity in a city that can, at times, grind a person down. She said she has heard the same sentiment from many others, even from well-known celebrities. I recounted some of my earliest experiences with her billboards and said that meeting her was an incredible culmination of a mystery I had been following for nearly half my life.
She replied sweetly, “The mystery will never be solved. There’s always more.”
I got out and snapped a few final photos as she did a three-point turn and drove off. The people at the homeless encampment cheerfully waved at her as she passed them once more. She waved back.
Another sunny day in Los Angeles.