For decades, the mysterious blonde bombshell known only as Angelyne has been a mainstay in the lives of Angelenos. “A pop culture icon of self-creation and self-marketing since the early 1980s — now regarded as a forerunner to Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and every personal-brand hustler on social media” is how the Hollywood Reporter describes her. But very little is REALLY known about her. She brushes aside questions of her backstory with vague, breathy non-answers. Rumors abound that she was born in Idaho or Georgia or this place or that, and that she’s much older than she claims – in her 70s or more. Even if you’ve known her for 20 years or more (as I have), you still feel like you know absolutely NOTHING about her other than her carefully constructed public persona.
“I lost my parents at a young age,” she once said, “and because of that, I sought the attention of the world through my tricks. I said, ‘Well, I’m going to get the love of the world.’ ” When I pushed for more, she shut me down. “It’s just a long story,” she said, the cartoonishly girly lilt of her voice gone flat. “I don’t want to get into it. I made my way here.
Now Hollywood Reporter has uncovered the long-buried details of her early life, her parents, and an early marriage back in the 1960s. It’s a fascinating read.
Her name? Renee Goldberg. She’s from the Valley. She is 66 years old. Her parents Hendrik Goldberg and Bronia Zernicka were Holocaust survivors who endured “unimaginable horrors at a series of concentration camps, first together at Skarzysko, where prisoners’ main job was to make munitions, and then apart at the 20th century’s most infamous hellscapes, including Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.”
In the late ’60s, she married Michael Strauss, the scion of a Beverly Hills dynasty who made their money inventing the changeable reader board on movie theater marquees. Although the marriage didn’t last long, he still has sweet memories of their time together.
They’d met through mutual friends while she was still living on the Westside. “She was the most gorgeous redhead,” he said. “She was unique, beautiful, smart.” Later, during their short matrimony, they lived together with Annette and her first husband at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, “right where Wolfman Jack used to record.” Strauss emailed me photos while we were talking: the pair posing barefoot by the pool at a friend’s backyard party, a striking black-and-white portrait he’d taken of Goldberg at his family’s Trousdale Estates home. (A budding photographer, he shot the likes of Donovan and War.) And, most importantly, he sent the same yearbook photo the genealogist had shown me.
Strauss explained that Goldberg’s childhood had been difficult. Her father, a man with a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm, had been controlling, cruel and narrow-minded, propelling her to flee home early. Like many survivors of trauma, Henry didn’t discuss it. This extended, to Strauss’ memory, as far as Goldberg’s own history; her father told her she was born in Israel, not a German displaced-persons camp. Regardless, “she has never considered herself Jewish.”
Strauss was surprised to learn from me that Goldberg’s mother had died just a few years before he met her; he’d always thought it had been much earlier, a hardened scar. “She’d never talk about her mother — ever, ever, ever. It was a subject that couldn’t be brought up. If I brought it up, it was shut down.”
After they broke up — it was amicable — he traveled for several years, returning to L.A. in the mid-1970s. “I hooked up with Renee again, and she was Angelyne,” he said. “I wasn’t there when she made the transition. All of a sudden, big boobs, blond hair, this voice — the voice used to make me nuts. It didn’t compute with who I’d known she was.”
It would be another decade before she’d achieve notoriety for her pioneering famous-for-being-famous billboard campaign. “As an entrepreneur, I was sad that she wasn’t ever able to be more [financially] successful,” Strauss said of her career, which emerged out of punk and new wave bands and occasional bit parts in films. “Why didn’t she take it farther? Why not a TV show? She invented this marvelous, crazy, out-of-this-world character but couldn’t fully sell it. I was always a Renee rooter: ‘Come on, girl, take it to the next level!’ But she only had the capacity to take it so far.”
The whole article (with many more pics) is absolutely fascinating, a must-read. It makes her slightly more compelling and *almost* empathetic.
(Photos of the latter-day icon, Pacific Coast News)