In the latest edition of “Guess who turns out to be Jewish,” a poignant story of Holocaust survivors, self-invention and self-denial, and a whole lot of pink.
Gary Baum at The Hollywood Reporter wrote a piece so engaging and uniquely Hollywood that you have to picture him with a Fedora and cigarette dangling from his mouth as he huddles over a typewriter. And the story? About one monoynmous Angelyne.
Ask an Angelino about Angelyne, and she’s bound to strike a chord. Even if you didn’t encounter her in movies or music (easy to miss, there was little mainstream exposure), she was a California presence for a couple of reasons. One: She was one of the gag candidates in the infamous 2003 gubernatorial election. The other: She’s mostly famous for plastering billboards of herself all over town, propagating her own celebrity status. Picture the great Jewish actor Judy Holliday in It Should Happen to You, where she plays a young woman down on her luck who uses up her savings to rent a billboard with her name on it. Except in this case, instead of just her name, the billboards also featured Angelyne in seductive pinup poses.
Angelyne’s origins were always obscured; she popped up, fully formed, buxom, blonde, all-American, if your idea of American is features of gentile beauty dialed to the extreme (plastic surgery helps). She has claimed she was an orphan from a small town, maybe in Kentucky, who came to Hollywood to seek her fortune. It turns out, that’s not quite the case.
Angelyne’s birth name was Ronia Tamar Goldberg, though Ronia Tamar became Renee Tami before her full transformation: Legally, her name is Angelyne Llyne. She was born in Poland, in 1950, to Holocaust survivors who met in the Chmielnik ghetto (out of 13,000 prisoners, 500 survived). As a baby, Goldberg moved with her family to Israel, and they lived in Bnei Brak until little Ronia was about nine. From there they settled in California, and about a decade later Goldberg struck out on her own. (Photos of her at that age bear a slight resemblance to Natasha Lyonne.)
While Angelyne’s backstory is fascinating, the most captivating parts of the article are Baum trying to confirm his findings. Now in her late sixties, and her fame established, Angelyne still seems terrified of having the truth revealed, as if her Jewishness undermines everything she has worked for. She claims the genealogist who brought his findings to Baum is a stalker. She threatens legal action. Throughout, she refuses to admit her origins:
“I know you want it to be true because you’re Jewish—and that’s adorable!” she tells Baum in the story. When he tries to explain himself, she presses him: “Is your editor Jewish?”
It’s nothing new for a female actor to pretend she wasn’t born with a name like Goldberg— Lauren Bacall did it, for one. But that’s the thing: It’s nothing new. In the era of Natalie Portmans and Ilana Glazers, it seems odd to hide something that hasn’t been as much of an impetus to success for decades.
“She has never considered herself Jewish,” her first husband, Jewish himself, told Baum. Her mother died when she was a teenager, and her father was emotionally closed-off and mean, never discussing his trauma. And so, Renee never processed her own.
Perhaps to Angelyne, being Jewish means anger, and loss, and being stuck in the past. Her image, pink as far as the eye can see, a carefree sexpot, is about comfort, far removed from pain. She has created for herself the identity of a woman of privilege. Maybe it’s not her career that would suffer if she admitted she were Jewish. It’s her.