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Eight Things We Learned From That Riveting THR Story On Angelyne's Identity
Angelyne, for those of you who aren't familiar with the name, rose to fame in Hollywood through sheer force of will; she simply declared that she was a celebrity, without giving any context as to the why and how. She was a proto-Kardashian: famous for being famous, giving a new take on the chicken-egg conundrum.
Despite fleeting stints in music and film, Angelyne's efforts are best exemplified by the billboards that began cropping up around Hollywood in the mid 1980s. Again: no context, no slant, no information save for a name and a contact number that directs to management. The billboards simply pitched Angelyne, and they were commonplace up until the early 2000s, when they started petering off (she would aim for a billboard revival in 2017, but that effort seems to have stalled). Today, she is mostly known for the pink Corvette that she steers around town.
So, who is Angelyne, really? To be honest, this was not a question that had crossed my mind. It's a testament to how throughly she's played up her persona as a pink-clad superstar; the act is air-tight, all-encompassing. I'd spoken with her on the phone once for an article, and I was surprised that, even after decades on the job, she doesn't miss a beat. Her answers were contrived to deflect any personal prying, but there was something resembling sincerity in how effortlessly she evaded my questions. Without knowing it, I came to take Angelyne at face value; the act itself was A Thing to me, and I never questioned it.
Others, of course, are much more curious that I am. "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," one L.A. Times reporter opined in a 1995 article. Well, the guessing game may be over, as The Hollywood Reporter believes that it has tracked down the true identity of Angelyne. Writer Gary Baum's article, published on Wednesday, is more than a token of pop culture curio; it weaves a mesmerizing and heart-breaking tale of a person who's had a past filled with tragedies, and who forged a path into a new life by way of self-reinvention.
Here are some select takeaways from The Hollywood Reporter piece. We've also included some thoughts from Baum, who spoke with LAist over the phone.
For a long time, Angelyne was performing the impossible by keeping her identity in the shadows.
An interesting point—one that's obvious but worth repeating—is that Angelyne has done what many a politician and movie star have failed to do: keep their past under wraps. "Angelyne is one of the vanishingly few contemporary public figures whose background has remained shrouded in mystery, along with the conceptual artist Banksy, Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto and aircraft hijacker D.B. Cooper," wrote Baum. (Though Banksy may be taken off the list soon, as his identity may have been revealed by accident in June.)
As Baum told LAist, Angelyne's ability to hide her past is something that can't be replicated today, what with the ubiquity of smartphones. "She was able to step into this because of this time she'd did it in. You were basically able to walk away and become a new person," Baum told LAist. "It's something you could do 50 years ago that you can't do now. You can't just essentially disappear anymore, and transmogrify into someone else. Technology doesn't allow it. No one call pull off the Angelyne trick anymore."
Angelyne is Renee, and she hails from the Valley.
As for the big reveal: it's Renee Goldberg. Furthermore, Goldberg grew up in the San Fernando Valley and had attended Monroe Senior High School. As noted at THR, this is a far cry from some internet rumors that have portrayed her as a far-flung visitor (apparently, Idaho is often cited as her home base).
This information was brought to Baum's attention by an unnamed "hobbyist genealogist," who had actually built a whole dossier on Goldberg's past. "It was well-cited. And I'd fact-checked the information presented," Baum told LAist.
Renee's family had suffered a number of unspeakable tragedies.
Copies of immigration, marriage and death records trace a history of tragedy for Goldberg and her family. Goldberg, who was originally named Ronia Tamar Goldberg, was born in Poland in 1950. She was the daughter of Polish Jews who'd met during World War II—her parents, Hendrik and Bronia, were among the 13,000 sent to the Treblinka death camp, and among the 500 who came out of it alive. Hendrik and Bronia would be channeled through a series of concentration camps, and were at one point split up and sent to Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen separately.
Bronia died when Renee was just 14.
The Goldbergs moved to Israel shortly after Renee's birth, and they stayed there until 1959. They then had a stint out in New York before arriving in the Fairfax District in Los Angeles. It wasn't much longer after that that Bronia passed away—Goldberg was 14 at the time. What made the tragedy even worse was that Goldberg's relationship with her father was almost non-existent.
Certainly, parts of Goldberg's history runs counter to our perception of Angelyne, who's always projecting a sense of effervescence. "It puts her as a melancholic and tragic figure," said Baum. "To a degree where a lot of people don't want to see it. She's always cast herself as a figure of light. And I think it's troubling to people to know about the past."
Angelyne was married, once.
One of the most fascinating parts of the article is a photo. It's a black-and-white shot of a young Renee Goldberg at a Beverly Hills home. In the shot, Goldberg is looking away, offering her profile to the camera. She's dressed in a black sweater and a checkered coat; while subdued, the shot is also captivating in how it hints at something that exists outside of the frame. It's a pretty wild divergence from Angelyne's billboards, which make a point of presenting its message upfront.
This shot, of a young Goldberg, was taken by Michael Strauss—the two got married in the late 1960s. As explained in the article, Strauss was also Jewish, and his family had made a business out of the those changeable reader boards on movie theater marquees. The pair would eventually get divorced, and while things remained amicable, Goldberg's transformation into Angelyne was something that Strauss couldn't wrap his head around. "It didn't compute with who I'd known she was," said Strauss.
Angelyne distanced herself from her Jewish heritage.
Baum, in recounting his past interviews with Angelyne, mentions that she was always vague about her religious background. One may assume that it's part and parcel with her act as a glam celeb. But, as Stauss told Baum, Goldberg had denied her Jewish heritage even before she became Angelyne. "She has never considered herself Jewish," said Strauss.
Angelyne was a mystery to even those who knew her best.
When Baum tells Stauss that Bronia died when Goldberg was 14, Strauss expressed surprise; he said he was always under the impression that her mother had died when she was much younger. "She'd never talk about her mother — ever, ever, ever. It was a subject that couldn't be brought up. If I brought it up, it was shut down," said Strauss. "She's had a significant effect on those around her, but even they did not understand her," Baum said to LAist.
In spite of a number of big reveals, the mythology of Angelyne still looms.
As Baum told LAist, some voiced concern that his article would break up the aura of mystery that surrounds Angelyne. In other words, it would be a total killjoy, forcing us away from the rosy hues of make-believe, and nudging us into the harsh light of reality. Though, perhaps paradoxically, Baum's article only serves to deepen the myth of Angelyne. The article highlights the length that Angelyne had to traverse to get to where she is. It also draws a contrast between the pink-tinted persona and the largely unassuming lifestyle she was leading before. It also emphasizes the mind-boggling conviction she's put into her work. Taken altogether, Baum's piece is a character study that takes place from a distance; for every answer supplied, another question crops up in its wake.
"It's not just about unmasking her. It is about why she is, what drove and forged her. Angelyne became who she is because of who she was," Baum told LAist. He says that the piece, which gives a nuanced portrait of Angelyne, is long overdue. "The engagement with her has either been dismissive or it's been a kind of shallow or cutesy regard for her," said Baum. "I feel that Angelyne is a kind of synecdoche for how we experience Los Angeles—often times superficially, but there's a serious complexity there, and there's some darkness and ambiguity. And that's Angelyne."