Emmy Rossum stars as the enigmatic Los Angeles icon.
By Will DiGravio Published May 19, 2022
Real Stories is an ongoing column about the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s so simple. This episode focuses on the true story behind the new miniseries Peacock Angelyne, starring Emmy Rossum.
She has been compared to Banksy. Considered a precursor to Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. And been called, in a Hollywood journalist article by Gary Baum, “the enigmatic diva of the Los Angeles billboard”.
The woman in question is Angelyne, the so-called “Queen of the Billboard”. In the 1980s, Angelyne appeared on billboards all over town. The problem? Angelyne herself was behind the poster campaign. As Baum wrote in 2015:
The famously famous reality culture of the 2000s and the social media frenzy of that time can be traced to his pioneering DIY billboard campaign.
Angelyne, her billboards, and pursuit of fame are the subject of a new Peacock miniseries, angelyne. The characteristics of the show Emmy Rossum (Shameless) in the lead role. Here’s a look at the real story behind the show.
The first billboard
Baum notes that Angelyne is primarily a local celebrity. Go to other big cities and you probably won’t meet anyone who knows the queen of the billboard. But in Los Angeles, everyone knows who she is. And it’s not a bad place to be royal.
Prior to her fame in the early 1980s, Angelyne worked as a musician, trying, like so many others, to make it in Hollywood. In 1982, Baum reports, Angelyne was attempting to enlarge a pin-up poster of herself. She wanted to advertise “the struggling eponymous rock band she was leading at the time at the size of a billboard”.
While doing so, Angelyne met Hugo Maisnik, a wealthy young entrepreneur who agreed to finance the billboards. Angelyne described it to The Hollywood Reporter as a “very eccentric and bored prankster”. In the years that followed, Angelyne would soon be everywhere.
A signature look
Those familiar with Angelyne’s billboards might know them from just one color: pink. Angelyne with blonde hair wears pink and is often photographed alongside her Corvette in the same color. And while many can easily recognize this signature look, few know the story behind the star.
As Ajay Sahgal wrote in a 1995 profile in the Los Angeles time:
I’ve lived in Los Angeles all my life, seen Angelyne’s billboards almost every day for 10 years, and I have no idea who this woman is.
Sahgal writes that friends have often spotted Angelyne around town, sometimes with celebrities. Or they would see her in the famous hot pink Corvette, which sported the LEAN LUV license plate. Sahgal attempts to conduct an in-person interview with Angelyne, but her publicist, who was reached via a phone number on the bulletin boards, merely faxes a selection of press clippings.
Eventually, Sahgal gets Angelyne on the phone for an interview. When asked why she is famous, Angelyne replies:
Because I am. Everyone knows who I am. I’m famous for the magic I possess.
Angelyne About the city
Some of Angelyne’s enigmatic fame comes in one of the most organic forms possible: simply zipping around Los Angeles in that hot pink Corvette. Angelyne’s profiles often talk about this favorite Los Angeles pastime, fans who adore Angelyne.
Her sudden appearance gets everyone in Hollywood excited. Baum reports that Courteney Cox once approached Angelyne to proclaim, “I love you.” After spotting Angelyne, Kim Kardashian posted on Instagram a memory of seeing her as a child and thinking, “She looks alike and in the same car! Made me smile.
And for tourists just passing through, you can still spot the star in her car, selling merchandise from the trunk and charging $20 for a photo. Performance artist and critic Kate Durbin told Baum:
She interprets the Los Angeles narrative in a complicated way. The New Age-y stuff. How everything has a price. She is the literal embodiment of these ideals. One of the things we can learn from watching Angelyne is that life is a performance.
From time to time, Angelyne has also dipped her toe into politics. In 2002, she ran for mayor of Hollywood (an honorary gig), Baum reports, promising “hot pink glamour.” The following year, she ran in the state governor’s recall election and Arnold Schwarzenegger ended up with the top job. His slogan :
We had Gray, we had Brown, now it’s time for blonde and pink.
Last year, she got involved in California politics again. During the recall election to replace Governor Gavin Newsom (which he won), Angelyne gave an interview to Los Angeles Magazine on a potential run. She says:
My slogans are “Good Luck California” and “I have the Key to California”. I will sit on the key. In 2003, I set the pace and the path for people who weren’t just people in gray suits. I am this gorgeous busty blonde and people have seen that if Angelyne can run with this image we can all do it and 500 people have followed my lead.
Who is Angelyne?
In 2017, Baum published a detailed profile in The Hollywood Journalist under the caption “Mystery of LA Billboard Diva Angelyne’s true identity finally solved”. This article and the investigation to uncover Angelyne’s past was a major source of inspiration for the Peacock series.
As Baum reports, a genealogist had taken a particular interest in the story and worked to find out exactly who she was. He discovered that Angelyne was born Renee Goldberg, in Poland, in 1950, to two Holocaust survivors. After World War II, the family moved to Israel and then to the United States in 1959.
Her mother died when Angelyne was only 14 years old. She attended San Fernando Valley High School. Baum reports that she married and then divorced in 1969. And that’s where the “written trail” ends. Baum writes:
I pitched Goldberg’s idea as angelyne to friends and colleagues who had been fascinated by her over the years and had occasionally had their own fleeting collisions on the sidewalk, the surprisingly unsurprised reaction (especially from Jews) was consensual and instantaneous: it makes sense. The stereotypical old school shmatte– the sale, the inflexible the negotiations, the pure boilerplate sass – “I’ve known that woman,” I was told happily, as if welcoming a long-lost relative into his home, “all my life.”
Telling your own story
In Baum’s profile, Angelyne does not confirm her extensive reporting. When asked, she replies, “I know you want it to be true because you’re Jewish—and that’s sweet! She then tells Baum, “I know you love me and you don’t want to hurt me,” and adds that she wants to keep the story “for my memories; it is my right for my own financial interest.
While the memoir has yet to be written, Variety reports that Angelyne is working in conjunction with the show. She had originally planned to appear but pulled out for “reasons which remain unclear”. However, she “granted the show the rights to her life, brands, art, and catalog of punk-pop music, all of which are used on the show.”
For Rossum, it was important that Angelyne be involved. Rossum said Variety:
And it was really, really important to me that she got paid for her contribution, not just to the show, but to pop culture over the past 50 years.
Angelyne debuts on Peacock on May 19
Related Topics: True Stories
Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based video critic, researcher, and essayist who has contributed to Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.