So L.A. : Angelyne & Me : What's the Story Behind the Billboard? Share the Pain of One Who Tried to Find Out.

Ajay Sahgal is a novelist. His last article for the magazine was on poet Wyn Cooper

I'm guessing you drive around this city more than you care to, but then that's life in Los Angeles. You have to do it, so you try to make the best of it. Talk radio helps. So do books on tape. Some of you even read (don't shake your heads--I've seen you, People magazine propped on the steering wheel). And sometimes you even look out. What do you see?

Billboards. Chances are, you pass one every day that you can't figure out: An overly buxom blond woman, dressed in pink, reclining on a pink Corvette. The name Angelyne is written across the photo. You know the one I'm talking about. Down in the corner you see the word management and a phone number. You probably think: "Who is Angelyne?" But do you bother to find out? Do you call the number? No.

I do.

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.

"Hello and welcome to Angelyne Management Co.," says a peppy male British voice, a recording. It gives me information on the fan club and another phone number I can call to join. Then it tells me to leave a message. I do not call the fan club hot line. I leave a message stating my intention to do a profile of Angelyne.

A few hours later, I get a call from Scott Hennig, who says he is calling from Angelyne Inc. He asks me about the intended article, and I tell him that this will more or less be the standard celebrity profile.

Hennig says he'll ask Angelyne and get back to me.

*

The celebrity profile I envisioned should have gone something like this:

"Angelyne walks into: a) the bar at Musso & Frank Grill b) the lobby of the Chateau Marmont c) Swingers, wearing her skin-tight hot pink ensemble, oozing fame. She gives her order for: a) a bottle of Ty Nant water--still b) a caffe latte c) milk, and then attempts to flirt with me. The Angelyne experience has begun."

This would gratify certain expectations that readers have come to share, and it might have actually told people something about the woman whose form is draped all over Los Angeles. But this is Angelyne, and apparently things are done Angelyne's way or no way at all.

"When can we meet?" I ask.

"Angelyne's too busy right now," Scott Hennig says. "It's best if this interview was done over the phone."

"But I'm looking to get a different kind of piece here," I say. "I want to get a look at who the woman is, the woman behind the billboards."

"I'm going to fax you some information and clippings on Angelyne," he offers. "Look them over."

"When can I meet her?" I ask again.

Hennig says he'll talk to Angelyne and get back to me.

*

I dig around. I do research. I investigate. That's my job.

I have seen Angelyne in person perhaps half a dozen times. She's almost invariably in her car, a hot-pink Corvette with a license plate that reads LEAN LUV. She has always been driving in the opposite direction, so my Angelyne experiences have been more or less through the rearview mirror.

I have a friend who claims to have been at a party in Laurel Canyon in 1986 when Angelyne walked in with KROQ-FM deejay Rodney Bingenheimer. My friend didn't talk to her.

Another friend was at an ATM machine on Fairfax and Beverly in 1990. Angelyne was next in line. He got her to autograph his receipt. I ask to see this receipt but am told it was lost years ago.

Someone else I ask says that he saw her at the then-raging nightclub Power Tools in 1987. Calls to the guys that ran Power Tools go unanswered.

The press materials that Scott Hennig faxes over reveal that Angelyne has recorded four albums and appeared in at least 15 movies and hundreds of TV shows. I rent "Earth Girls Are Easy" and "Homer & Eddie," her more well-known film roles. Total combined screen time: 80 seconds. Long shots, passing shots, looped dialogue. I go over it all, frame by frame. In this day and age, considering our computer technology (see "Forrest Gump"), I'm not entirely convinced of the existence of a person called Angelyne.

There are those billboards. There are those who have seen her (or so they claim). All I can be sure of seeing is that Corvette and a flash of blond hair, maybe red lipstick. There are 80 seconds of screen time. Angelyne is still an enigma.

My thoughts lead to only one place: conspiracy. Possibly reaching to the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Hennig calls back and tells me that because of a series of wardrobe fittings, Angelyne will not be able to meet with me.

"Wardrobe fittings," I say. "Wardrobe fittings for what?"

A long pause, silence over the phone line.

"Perhaps you should ask Angelyne that," he says finally.

"I'd like to ask her in person," I say. "It's impossible to get a full picture of someone until you've met them."

"That all depends on how you write it," he offers. (Helpful writing tip from Scott Hennig, I think; I'll try to remember that.)

"I need to meet her, or I'm afraid this just won't work," I bluff.

Hennig says he'll ask Angelyne and get back to me.

*

Rumors. There's a great line in "The Player" when Tim Robbins' character asks his lawyer, played by Sydney Pollack, whether the rumors he's been hearing are true. Pollack says: "The rumors are always true. You know that."

So I line up the rumors.

Hennig's press materials put Angelyne's age at between 28 and 33. Let's think about this. I first remember seeing Angelyne in the mid-1980s. In 1987, People magazine put her age at 28. You do the math.

"She's 57 years old," my friend Bruce insists. "Look at her."

"I'm trying," I say.

"Maybe 47," another friend says. "Definitely over 40. Look at her."

"I'm trying," I say.

Other rumors: Angelyne has a rich Turkish boyfriend who pays for all her billboards. Some people say it's an Arab sheik. She's dated Charlie Sheen. She's dated Madonna. She is mobbed by adoring fans and Japanese tourists wherever she goes. She lives in Studio City. She lives in Beverly Hills. She's a Scientologist. She's a lesbian. She's a man.

The rumors can't possibly all be true.

Hennig calls a day later, this time with Angelyne on the line. Apparently, I'm not going to meet with her. Her voice is small and faint. I can barely make out what she's saying.

"Tell me about yourself," I say.

"Well," Angelyne says, "let's see. I think I'm all about acceptance and loving one another. I signed autographs for skinheads the other day. Some way, somehow, I'm able to be friends with everybody. Any race. Little Mexican children see me and they scream and laugh, 'Angelina! Angelina!' "

"I'm not quite sure how to respond," I say. Angelyne continues.

"I'm like a doll," she says, though I'm not sure because I can hardly hear her (she might have said, "I'm like a dog"). "There's no racial barrier. I have this one-minded, 'I like everybody attitude.' "

"You get a lot of attention then?" I ask. "When you're out in public?"

"Oh yes, of course. I've signed thousands of autographs. It happens all the time with (people of) every age and genre. They all seem to relate to me. Even foreigners."

Again, I'm not sure what to say next to this disembodied little voice. And I'm thinking: Genre?

"I don't mean any disrespect," I say, "but why exactly do you think you're a celebrity?"

"Because I am. Everyone knows who I am. I'm famous for the magic I possess."

This makes no sense to me whatsoever. It all feels vaguely sinister. And it reeks top-level government conspiracy.

Save for a few key figures in the O.J. Simpson trial, celebrity comes from doing. Yet Angelyne, arguably one of the most famous faces in Los Angeles, has bypassed all the usual work and achievement and is famous for . . . being famous.

What she actually does is anybody's guess. It is hard to get a straight answer.

*

I am expecting a call from Angelyne, but Scott Hennig calls instead, offering some excuse. My first impulse is to be angry, but I need information. So I talk to him.

Hennig tells me that a total of 12 people are employed full time by Angelyne Inc., but is vague about what they do. My guess: something covert, something that involves picking up a mysterious briefcase in a hotel room in Gstaad.

"How does Angelyne Inc. make money?" I ask. "Those billboards have to set you back something like $20,000 a month."

"You'd have to ask Angelyne that," Hennig tells me.

"How many billboards do you currently have up?"

"About 200. 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."

"Don't you think they're a little stupid?" I ask.

"Actually," Hennig says evenly, "I think they're very colorful and elegant. Those billboards are part of the Los Angeles skyline, along with the Chinese Theater, the Hollywood sign and palm trees."

"And she makes money how?"

"Personal appearances, merchandising. There are Angelyne posters, T-shirts. We are talking to a couple of very large companies that want to put out quite an extensive and varied line of Angelyne-related items. We're close to putting out a doll. Our investors are very happy, let's put it that way."

"People invest in Angelyne?"

Hennig sounds indignant. "People invest in things all over the world. Maybe they invest in stocks, maybe in a luxury yacht, a chinchilla farm or whatever. We have people that invest in Angelyne Inc. It's a registered California corporation. It's the business of celebrity."

There is indeed an Angelyne Inc. But according to the State Franchise Tax Board, its corporate status was suspended in 1988. When asked about this, Hennig makes reference to Angelyne's crack team of lawyers.

"When can I sit down with Angelyne face to face?" I ask.

Hennig says he'll ask Angelyne and get back to me.

*

Aside from Hennig's faxed press materials, all I can find written about Angelyne is two interviews, both in small gay magazines, Spunk and Female FYI. Here is what I gather:

Angelyne is from Idaho. Her parents died when she was 5 years old (standard CIA background dossier). She used to sing in a punk band called Baby Blue. She doesn't admit to having any plastic surgery. She will not divulge her measurements. She is "into" lots of things, among them crystals and fairies. Asked if she has any hobbies or special interests, she replies: "I like to take trips out of my body. I also have a passion for driving--I get off on it."

She has written a screenplay called "The Bra That Ate L.A." and has a writer working on a screenplay for her titled "Artona, Queen of the Universe." She also thinks that if she weren't doing this (whatever this is), she'd "probably be a rocket scientist right now. I really find it fascinating to be a laboratory scientist or something like that."

Last year she claimed to have spoken, through a medium, to Marilyn Monroe, who from time to time advises her on her career, admonishing Angelyne not to make the same mistakes she did.

I'm thinking this: Angelyne should be placed in the pantheon of L.A. circus freaks. People in the future should remember this person, because she is an example of what bad states of mind one can slip into when looking for some way to make one's mark in a city that has disappointed so many.

*

A few days later, I have a premonition that Angelyne is in Caracas, working for the CIA. That morning, Hennig phones to tell me that Angelyne will be calling me momentarily. He hangs up. A few minutes later, she calls.

Again, it's hard to hear her. "Are you, by any chance, calling from," I hesitate, "Venezuela?"

She ignores me. "The minute the first billboard went up, it was like filling a (and here she either says "pig" or "pit"--I can't tell). There hadn't been a billboard queen in Hollywood before. I'm the quintessential billboard queen that's supposed to happen. That's why it's so readily and easily accepted. I feel like I've been embedded in the cement of Hollywood for 3,000 years."

Later I talk to a guy I know who had dinner with Angelyne a few years back. "Angelyne is over." Cryptically, that's all he has to say.

Driving down Hollywood Boulevard a week later, I look up and see an especially huge Angelyne billboard. I remember a few months back, in the same neighborhood, I looked up to see a giant, 40-foot blowup Angelyne doll, perched on top of a building like a nightmare float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Mulling this over, I spot something pink out of the corner of my eye. And there she is, in a hot-pink Corvette, crossing Hollywood Boulevard, heading down Vine. I think fast. I make a dangerous right turn from the left-turn lane. There are no sirens. Everything gets very quiet. There is just me and my car, chasing down Angelyne in her car. Fifteen minutes and 20 moving violations later, she gives me the slip. I'm thinking: she's been trained in guerrilla surveillance tactics. Manuel Noriega was probably in that car. Or Carlos the Jackal. I'll never know.

I call Hennig with newfound determination to meet with Angelyne. We crossed paths, I'm thinking. It's too great a coincidence.

"I have to meet with her, Scott," I say, "I need to actually see her."

Hennig says he'll ask Angelyne and get back to me.

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