Emmy Rossum and Angelyne

This is my series of articles on the Peacock miniseries about Angelyne, starring Emmy Rossum.

First, a bit of prelude. How did I come to this show? Let’s examine the usual infection vectors that I might have followed.

The show not only stars Emmy Rossum, but based on everything I’ve read, she was the driving force who brought this project to fruition. I imagine she must have read the bombshell 2017 article by Gary Baum that ripped a giant hole in Angelyne’s formerly murky back-story, optioned the rights to it, and then kept pushing it forward, year after year, until she got it over the finish line.

Am I a fan of hers? Not particularly. I note that she is largely known for Shameless, a show she starred in for many years. I tried watching a few episodes of that, once. I hated it.

Maybe I am a fan of the show runner, Nancy Oliver? It is indeed the case that I tend to follow the work of my favorite directors and show runners, because they are the people who have the most influence over the final product. I’m a lot more likely to watch something made by someone I respect, like Steven Soderberg, Martin Scorcese, or David Lynch, compared to any other random project by someone I am unfamiliar with. But in this case, no. For one thing, I think Emmy Rossum gets a lot more credit for bringing this show to life than Nancy Oliver does. And from a brief look at Nancy’s list of credits, I see she is known for Six Feet Under. I tried watching a few episodes of that, once. I hated it.

(Are you noticing a trend? When it comes to movies, television shows, music, and most other art forms, I hate almost everything. Yes, even that beloved chestnut from your childhood that you are so fond of. Let’s just not go there, so we can remain friends.)

I suppose I could be a fan of Angelyne herself. Alas, no. It looks to me like she wanted to become famous, and if that was her goal, she failed miserably. She got off to a great start with the billboards in the early eighties, I will grant her that much. Lots of good buzz at that point! But she undermined herself by being a prickly primadonna. She insists on having everything her own way, to the point that she has alienated everyone who might have wanted to work with her. And the fact that she is still trying to operate from the same playbook as the one she started with, decades later, is just sad.

But that was a bit of a feint, because the answer to how I came to this show is indeed my interest in Angelyne. I am not a fan, but I am certainly intrigued by her. I have a hard time imagining why anyone would want to live the way she does. I cannot look away.

My introduction to Angelyne was in John Waters’ book Crackpot. I see that it was released in 1986. I probably read it in that same year, or not long after. In an article about Los Angeles, he had this to say about her:

If you’re looking for celebrities, the easiest one to find is Angelyne. She started her career by erecting giant billboards of herself in Hollywood (corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue), New York, and London, displaying nothing but her likeness and a phone number. Dialing excitedly, I was thrilled that no one answered the first time — the ultimate in Hollywood attitude. Looking like a fifties glamour girl gone berserk, Angelyne drives around town in a hot-pink Corvette, wearing a matching, revealing outfit, blowing kisses to anyone who looks her way. She cheerfully responds to all comments, from “We love you, Angelyne!” to “Yo! Sit on my face!” Although she’s making a record, she’s currently famous for absolutely nothing.

Angelyne has everything it takes to become a star, but she has one fatal flaw: She has no sense of humor about herself. Every time she is queried about her past, she claims a “lapse of memory” and says her only heroine is “herself.” When I asked if she identifies with the great Jayne Mansfield, she blasphemed, “Jayne went into the fourth dimension and copied me and did a lousy job.” When she said, “I pride myself that I have more sex appeal with my clothes on that most girls have off,” I wondered who would be attracted to this female female-impersonator. “I’ve got no competition” and “I’m very intelligent” were a few of her other humble remarks. Yes, Angelyne is a budding star and a vital part of the Hollywood community, but she desperately needs a new writer.

I agree with all of that, and it is all still true today. She has not advanced even an inch from that point, decades later. She is still driving around Los Angeles in a hot-pink Corvette, the latest in a long line of similarly-colored Corvettes she’s owned over the years, selling merchandise out of the hatchback. Same as she has always done, right from the beginning. Personally, I have a hard time imagining a more hellish existence than that.

I have been following Angelyne for quite a few years now, probably to an unhealthy degree. For example, I knew that she had spent her childhood in the Los Angeles area, despite her story that she was from Idaho or Iowa or wherever, long before the Gary Baum article arrived to set the record straight. I knew this because some of her relatives have Facebook accounts. I am not going to go any farther into it than that, because those people have their own (private) lives and are free to tell their own stories in their own way. And also because I am a little bit in awe (and a little bit terrified) of how much stuff I have discovered about Angelyne over the years. Let’s just say that the mysterious source who provided Gary Baum with the material he used to write his 2017 exposé is not the only person in the world who is capable of internet sleuthing.

As if Angelyne’s story isn’t sad enough on the face of it, I am pretty sure she has had no contact with any of her relatives since some time in the 1980s, when she was in her twenties and thirties. She has a sister, a step-mother, two half-siblings, and various nieces and nephews. Her father has since died, but he was alive when Angelyne made her break with her family. I cannot say whether this was a mistake or not. Her father was reported to be abusive to her. I have also cut a bunch of relatives out of my life, and I don’t regret it.

So, that’s how I came to this show. Now, why have I decided to write about it? Because I am an idiot. (Ha.) But that’s not the only reason.

I didn’t watch this thing until a year or so after it was released, because it was originally only available on Peacock, an outfit I had never heard of before this. I wanted to watch it, but not enough to pay for yet another streaming service. I already have too many of those.

On our around June 2023, the show became more widely available. I bought it on Apple’s streaming service for only ten bucks. Much to my surprise, I absolutely fucking love it.

How could this have happened? For starters, I hate everything. As someone who has spent far too many hours researching Angelyne, I would be particularly sensitive to any failings of this show, because I am keenly aware of all the highlights from her life that it depicts. But no: in my opinion, the show got all of those big events exactly right. A tricky thing to achieve, given that Angelyne has her own reality, which only occasionally intersects with what the rest of us would call reality.

I want to write about this show because I love it, and that is rare for me.

All the reviews I have read rate this show as middling to poor, which is baffling to me. It feels like those reviewers were watching a completely different show than the one I saw. As (apparently) one of the show’s few fans, I want to put something a little more positive about it out into the world.

The bulk of the material I plan to write is going to be episode recaps. I know that when I am watching multi-season multi-episode shows with a lot of characters and plot arcs, I find it easier to follow along if I have good recaps to read after each episode. As of this writing, the wikipedia page for the show only has a recap for the first episode, out of five, and it is a measly 220 words. Pathetic.

One final thought, before I end this chapter. Based on the show she made, Emmy Rossum has a much higher opinion of Angelyne than I do. And that’s why she was the perfect person to bring this story to the screen. I have a hard time imagining that anyone could have made a more big-hearted, loving tribute out of this material than she did. As far as I am concerned, this is the definitive fictional take on this story, and the only one the world will ever need. Any subsequent attempt to bring a fictionalized account of Angelyne to the screen will be redundant. My hat is off to you, Emmy.