Long before social media provided a powerful platform for self-promotion, there was a blonde babe by the name of Angelyne.
She forged her own path toward fame, creating a mythical persona and plastering it all over Los Angeles via a bounty of billboards in the 80’s and early 90’s. She started her “career” as a singer, but music was ultimately beside the point. Angelyne’s real talent was selling glamour, sex appeal and mystique a la Marilyn Monroe, and she did it before Kim Kardashian squeezed into MM’s dress, Paris Hilton fashioned herself into a baby-voiced Barbie personified and other influencers learned how to brand their personal allure online.
The new Peacock TV series Angelyne provides an overview of the L.A. legend’s outlandish life, and it does so by cleverly maintaining mystery about who she actually was and is (her billboards are long gone but the titular figure still gets locals and tourists alike excited, as she’s sighted zooming about the city in her signature hot pink corvette).
Structured mockumentary-style, the 5-part yarn builds off a click-baity Hollywood Reporter piece about Angelyne’s backstory and provides varying points of view that both support and contradict that article, highlighting the lore that surrounds her in a campy and undeniably celebratory way.
So who was Angelyne and who paid for all those billboards, some of them massive, in prime L.A. locations, like Hollywood and Vine (not far from the World of Wonder‘s HQ)? Was she an heiress like Hilton? Did she have a rich husband? And what exactly was she trying to promote beyond her image?
By design, you won’t come away with all the answers after binging the Peacock show (the first episode is available for free on the streaming service, but you’ll have to subscribe to watch the rest, by the way). Still, thanks to star and producer Emmy Rossum you will come to understand if not appreciate Ang’s drive, determination and focus on fame.
I am not a woman, I am an icon… I am not a woman, I am an icon…”
Rossum, donning prosthetics to look like Angelyne in 2017, is seen repeating as the series begins, anxiously preparing herself on what is presumedly the day The Hollywood Reporter story, The Mystery of L.A. Billboard Diva Angelyne’s Real Identity Is Finally Solved, comes out. She disputes a lot of what that story uncovered, both in real life and in the series. The multi-faceted narrative approach seems an attempt by the writers and producers to provide dimension to the story. Weaving in and out of different points of view anchored by a talking head format, interspersed with flashbacks, it pulls it off.
Angelyne is both fluffy fun and an ironic feminist fable.
Rossum tells us during a recent Zoom interview,
“Angelyne is so unconventional.”
“I think along with our director, Lucy Tcherniak, and our showrunner, Allison Miller, we really wanted to take an unconventional approach to building the story from the writing perspective as well. We had incredible women in the writers room.
For me, Angelyne represents positivity and pink. She’s a trailblazer, she’s rebellious, she is equally kind of fierce, and has a lot of business savvy. And she’s also got a childlike imagination and wonder, and a fierce belief in herself. And she really is the original influencer.”
“I think one of the most interesting things are all the stories about her.”
“Some she tells herself, and then others that just exist in rumor about her. I think finding a way to create this kaleidoscopic narrative that would investigate fame as a whole, and how all these different stories and rumors went into building the icon that is Angelyne was really kind of what we were after.
Going with hyper-realism, and recreating archive footage very, very authentically, then doing incredible fantastical sequences with magical cars and pink moons and out of body experiences –that to us felt equally authentic to her. Some of those are things that she has talked about and other things we imagined, things that reflect her spirit.”
Rossum, who plays Angelyne from her early 20s up to what is probably her 60s, might not be the first actress who comes to mind when you think about the bodacious Dolly Parton-esque blonde, but the brunette beauty, best known for her work on Shameless (currently streaming on Netflix) really channels her subject’s moxie and charm.
As a native Angeleno we’ve met Angelyne a few times while out and about, and like many, we’ve purchased some of the merch she often sells out of her ‘vette at Hollywood events. We also booked her for a live interview on our internet radio show (she was helping L.A. burlesque performer Vanessa Burgundy promote a Valentine’s Day show in her honor), but at the last minute she decided to do it by phone rather than in person, calling in from just outside the station from her famed car. Speaking in an airy Betty Boop voice, she was delightful, funny and smart during that chat. We took a photo with her (she covered her face with a fan) and bought a sticker after.
Rossum, who is originally from New York, says she became aware of Angelyne as a tween.
“I was 13 and in L.A. for the first time, auditioning for pilot season in a Hertz Rental Car with my mom.”
“I looked out the window of the car and I saw this billboard with this incredibly beautiful, scantily clad woman, and a phone number. And I thought, ‘who is that woman?’ So I started asking people around town who she was, and everyone would smile, and then tell a different story. I thought was just so fascinating.”
Though the real Angelyne just told Inside Edition that she had “a glimpse” of the series and “it doesn’t do me justice,” Rossum told us that Angelyne’s blessing was essential for her to move forward with the project. Unlike Hulu‘s recent Pam & Tommy, documenting Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee‘s relationship and sex tape scandal, Angelyne did in fact, have involvement, signing off on use of her art, music and more for the series.
After doing a ton of research, watching everything that she could find, working with vocal coaches and movement coaches to capture Angelyne’s physicality and vocal tones, Rossum met with her elusive subject.
“I met her at the Roosevelt Hotel, because she said that was her lucky contract signing place.”
“I was way over prepared. I had bought all of her meditation tapes on eBay, because she didn’t sell them through her official site anymore. And I had memorized them. We sat down and she said, ‘so why do you have such a hard on to play me?’
“I thought that’s exactly why.”
When we ask Rossum about what some might perceive as Angelyne’s narcissism and self-absorption, traits that run rampant in modern culture thanks to social media, she explains that she doesn’t see the character way.
“Angelyne is always in control. “
“I think that she knows that people will underestimate her based on her appearance and I think she uses that to her advantage. She’s a rebel. She’s authentic. She does what she wants, and she makes up the rules for herself,” Rossum says. “I told her, quite honestly, I was more nervous to meet her –because I admire her– more than any other person that I’ve ever met. I’ve sat with Barack Obama and Buzz Aldrin and I was really excited to sit with Angelyne. I think the way that she has committed to the positive and imbued her life, every step of the way… she has turned herself into art. “
“It’s incredible and inspirational.”
(Photos, Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock)