If you visited Los Angeles in the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, you’ve seen her.
Billboards towered over the city’s palm trees and wide-lane highways showing a blonde, buxom woman, generally clad in pink and often reclining on a red corvette. Sometimes they displayed all of her, sometimes just her heavily powdered face, sometimes just her bust, straining against a lacy bra. Near these photos was a phone number, the word “management” in small print, and a signature in looping cursive: Angelyne.
As NPR put it, she was the self-described “blonde bombshell billboard princess.”
But that was a pseudonym. Everyone knew what she looked like, but no one knew who she was.
Until this week, when journalist Gary Baum, reporting with a mixture of public documents and family testimony, published a report in the Hollywood Reporter claiming to have unearthed her true identity.
Angelyne’s birth name is Ronia Tamar Goldberg, later Americanized to Renee Tami Goldberg, according to Baum, who said she was born in Poland in 1950 to Polish Jews who met in the Chmielnik ghetto during World War II and later settled in Los Angeles.
Angelyne’s spokesman, Scott Henning, denied the accuracy of Baum’s report, telling him: “This stuff comes up every few years — it seems to get more and more ridiculous. My favorite one of all was this 300-pound black woman who claimed to be her mother. ‘I’m your long-lost brother,’ ‘your twin sister.’ Chalk it up to life in Hollywood. I’ve never heard of ‘Renee Goldberg.’ It’s laughable; it’s outrageous.”
But Baum insists that he has solved the decades-old Hollywood mystery of Angelyne’s identity.
The first Angelyne billboard went up in the early 1980s. She just appeared. And like that, through sheer force of will, she became famous around town.
Famous in Hollywood, that is.
“She’s a cult figure in Hollywood,” B. Akerlund told the Hollywood Reporter. “When you ask New Yorkers, ‘Do you know Angelyne?’ they don’t. But here, she’s a legend.”
Eventually, the real Angelyne — still buxom and proud of it, still playing the role of pinup seductress — began zooming around the Hollywood Hills in a pink Corvette.
But her identity remained unknown. She was both famous and mysterious at once. As L.A. Weekly put it, “Angelyne is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Everyone knows about her and yet doesn’t.”
Novelist Ajay Sahgal wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1995, “I have lived in Los Angeles all my life, I have seen Angelyne billboards almost every day for 10 years and I have no idea who this woman is.”
His readers had their own opinions. One wrote in a letter to the editor, “When my 5-year-old son saw an Angelyne billboard across the street from his nursery school, he summed up her essence by saying: ‘Mommy, that lady needs a bigger bra.’ Angelyne’s people should either locate her billboards to places with an appropriate audience or put some clothes on her.”
Another offered an answer to Sahgal’s question: “Angelyne is simply a self-made, typically-L.A. character seeking desperately to be a celebrity.”
That letter wasn’t incorrect. What was missed, though, was how aware of that desperation Angelyne was.
As she told Baum in 2015, perhaps falsely, “I lost my parents at a young age, 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.’”
Those tricks included more than just the billboards, though at one point she had “about 200” of them around town, her spokesman, Hennig, told the Los Angeles Times, adding, “And we have about 100 more bus-shelter ads going up. We have, in the past, had our billboards up in New York, Germany, England. There have been discussions about putting them up in Japan. She has a very large overseas following.”
Another “trick” was her run for mayor of Hollywood in 2008, after previous mayor Johnny Grant died. The mayor’s role is basically honorary.
But she went for it with striking aplomb, one of 135 candidates. She came in 28th.
“I’ve been called the saving grace of Hollywood, the muse of Los Angeles, the inspiration of glamour,” Angelyne, wearing a short miniskirt, told NPR before the election. “If it’s somebody who isn’t glamorous, who cares? But it’s important for me to be in the position. Me, me, me, Angelyne, ’cause I’m so much a part of Hollywood. It just needs to be me. That’s it. There’s nothing else to say. Boom!”
Her self-created fame led to parts in movies like “Earth Girls Are Easy” and “Dangerous Love.” None of her film roles were large — she has been credited as Busty Lady, Gas Girl and Blonde — but they were roles nonetheless. She also recorded at least four records, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Perhaps her most lucrative business offerings were her personal appearances and her likeness, which she kept tight, taut and in tune with the help of George Semel, the plastic surgeon known for working on Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Of him, Angelyne once said, “I felt like I was working with an artistic collaborator. Fillers are amazing.”
The money flowed in.
She was hired to make appearances at high-profile events, such as the birthday party of David Fincher, the director most recently known for “The Social Network” and “Gone Girl.” She auctioned off rides in the pink Corvette. She sold T-shirts bearing her picture, L.A. Weekly reported. She licensed images of her face for $10,000 a pop, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Through it all, she was credited merely as Angelyne. “Like Banksy, there are countless theories as to her true identity, but no concrete proof,” wrote the A.V. Club.
When Baum asked about her past in 2015, she said, “I want to save it for my memoirs — that’s my right for my own financial interest.”
Baum suggested Angelyne thought revealing her name or her origin would “detract from her carefully burnished glamour.” What made her famous, in other words, was that very mystery.
Her profile faded somewhat in recent years, even in Tinseltown. All stars burn out sometime. But she still makes appearances, still drives around in her pink Corvette, still plays coy with the media.
More from Morning Mix: