Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


So I was heading up Highland Boulevard the other day, and right at Franklin – just before the Hollywood Bowl – was a sight familiar to anyone who has been in town more than a year or two: a huge billboard of the pneumatic blond queen of Hollywood, Angelyne. I happened to have my trusty old digital snapshooter with me, and clicked a photo. Unfortunately, the camera settings were all wrong, and the result was brutally overexposed, like a photo lit by a nuclear blast. Sensing a potential post winging away into the autumnal smog – and being unemployed, with more than a little time on my hands -- I went back the next day (camera properly set up, this time) to take another shot. But things move fast in Hollywood, and Angelyne’s infamous billboard had been replaced overnight by another ad featuring some kind of French Mouse, hawking yet another animated movie about.... some kind of French Mouse.

It just isn’t Mickey’s world anymore, is it? I can only assume this French Mouse movie is another Disney product, which makes me wonder: in the long history of giant, soulless, heartless, Cheapskate Hollywood Corporations, has there ever been a company that made so many millions of dollars by exploiting mice in all their forms?

I doubt it.

Some dark day in the future -- when abandoned wrecks litter the empty freeways, clean, drinkable water has become more precious than gold, and our deep blue oceans have turned into warm, murky swamps thick with stinging jellyfish and foamy green slime -- the mice will emerge to have their revenge. I don’t know how or when, but we haven’t heard the last from our furry little friends...

Anyway, having failed to record this latest eruption of Billboardus Angelyenias, I culled the photo above from the web. It’s similar to the image I attempted to capture (although my light-blasted shot did not include Herself and her pink chariot), and will give those of you living out there in the real world beyond Hollywood some idea what she’s all about.*

I first became aware of the Angelyne Phenomenon back in the very early 80's, when black and white posters featuring her undeniably impressive physique suddenly appeared all over town. Those early posters must have struck a resonant chord, because it wasn’t long before big full-color billboards began to pop up throughout Hollywood. Lord knows where she got the financial backing for such big scale, high-visibility promotion, but those billboards propelled her to whatever position she now occupies in the virtual dreamscape that is Hollywood. Whether her original goal was to become an actress along the lines of Marilyn Monroe or Jane Mansfield, or simply to create her own iconic – and marketable – persona, remains a mystery, but at a certain point she succeeded in becoming “Angelyne.” If you drive around town long enough, eventually you’ll spot that famous pink corvette. The first time I saw her she was cruising down Beverly with car’s top down and her own top up, so to speak. Everybody who sees her for the first time does a double take, and I was no exception. A couple of years later, I pulled into a bank parking lot looking for an ATM, there she was again: Angelyne in that singular car, caught in the act of balancing her checkbook. I had to walk right past her on my way to the money-machine.

So what does one say to a Hollywood icon? Did silver-tongued flattery pour from my lips like warm desert honey? Not exactly.

“Lookin’ good, Angelyne,” is the best I could manage, accompanied by our culture’s thumbs-up gesture of universal solidarity.

Yeah, I kow -- highly unimaginative -- but at least I didn’t grab my crotch and bellow “Yo Angeleene, I gots sumptin’ for ya here...”

She responded with a smile, then squeaked a quick "thank you" and went back to adding up all those little numbers in her checkbook.

That’s it -- there’s no second act to this story, much less any dramatic conclusion. She was still sitting there, staring into her checkbook as I drove away with my freshly replenished wallet. I ran into her again in a natural foods store a few years later, where she looked more like some hapless refugee from an Andy Warhol production of “Alice in Wonderland” than a minor Hollywood legend of billboard fame. By then, it was glaringly obvious she’d come a long way from the salad days of her youth -- up close, the ravages of age and all that artificially buoyant flesh are impossible to hide.
Then again, I’m not quite so young as I used to be, either. The same thirty+ years has washed over me since I first saw those provocative black and white posters plastered on bridge abutments all over town. Age runs us all down in the end, taking back – with extreme prejudice – every precious gift bestowed by life.

I have to give her credit for persistence: after all these years, she’s still Angelyne, the buxom blond on the billboards. If the image she projects to the world doesn’t meet current standards of age-related feminine propriety or modern political correctitude, I doubt she cares a whit. She is who she is, a self-made icon proud of what she’s done. Whether one views this as a testament to individuality, will, and the human spirit -- or rather as some pathetic incarnation of blind denial ala “Sunset Boulevard” – probably depends on how you look at life.

Is that glass half full, or half empty?

Damned if I know. Sometimes I think it all depends on the weather. Either way, whoever she really is/was, "Angelyne" seems to be drinking deeply from a glass of her own making. If in the process she’s managed to imprison herself in a pink plastic cage, well, maybe she likes it in there.

It’s her life. Who are we to judge?

*Wikipedia's explanation of the Angelyne phenonmenon can be found here, or you can go straight to the source. Further examples of her various billboards can be found here.


Burbanked said...

I remember seeing her a few times in my near-decade out west, and she was decidedly on the unfortunate downslope of age, sun damage and excessive plastic surgery. More than anything else, though, I always thought of her as LA's perfect metaphor: a plastic, not-quite-real person, larger than life, whose function cannot quite be discerned.

D said...

We were shooting a commercial in Hollywood Methodist Church when that billboard was up at Franklin. We could see it from our catering setup in the parking lot and it inspired a long lunch conversation filled with witty banter.

Jade said...

I love Angie, she's great! I want her to contact me!