Total Recall: How I Re-gifted a Bottle of Champagne to Shoot Angelyne
California has always seemed a bit wacky to me. It is, after all, the place where I was almost killed by gunfire both before and after having successfully escaped death a number of times in Vietnam. The first instance was in 1967 when I was covering the story of an escaped murderer from San Quentin. The fugitive, who was holed up in a Manhattan Beach motel, blew his room up with dynamite, and lived long enough to escape the blast by diving out of a window only to be gunned down by the police. I was between the warring parties at the time taking pictures. That event gave a whole new meaning to the term "early check out."
The second was in San Francisco in 1975 where as President Ford's official photographer I was right in front of him when a bullet fired by Sarah Jane Moore came closer to killing me and a Secret Service agent than it did him.
There was actually a third time that same year in Sacramento when another distressed damsel, Squeaky Fromme, also attempted to assassinate my boss as he was enroute to a meeting with Governor Jerry Brown. That was the day I first met Gray Davis, who at the time was Brown's chief of staff.
For about the same price as full roundtrip fare from Los Angeles to New York you could buy the political cruise of a lifetime—a one-way ticket on the Recall Express. Thirty-five hundred bucks and 65 valid signatures put you on the ballot as a candidate to be governor of California.
The first big shock after the initial realization that the Recall initiative had been ratified, and that indeed a special election would be held, was that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be among those running to replace Governor Davis. I was on the set of Jay Leno's Tonight Show when Arnold dropped the bomb. As drama goes, it was a definite ten. The unbelieving look on Leno's face after Schwarzenegger announced that he would be a candidate pretty well summed it up.
My mission, on assignment for Newsweek Magazine, was to try and illuminate the zany story by photographing a cross section of the candidates. There were the front-runners, Arnold Schwarzenegger without whom the story would have escaped notice east of Las Vegas. Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante who magnanimously offered himself up as the democratic alternative to replace Davis if the recall succeeded. State Senator Tom McClintock, the republican with a strong following among the conservative faithful, and Arianna Huffington, the self-righteously rich writer who railed against the fat-cat tax dodgers on one hand, but paid hardly any taxes herself.
And as we know, Arnold won. But bad news, Arnold, Cruz Bustamante is still Lieutenant Governor! There might even be something positive about that--I'm sure that Bustamante will unselfishly offer himself up as an alternative if Arnold ever faces recall.
The candidates who really interested me, however, were the little guys, the Gary Colemans, the performance artists, the porno king and queen, a sumo wrestler, students, clowns and openly gay folks. White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen once said, "California is a land replete with fruits and nuts." Even though he took flak at the time for saying that, it would be hard to drive a wedge into that statement these days. And I was fortunate enough to photograph several of them for my piece.
The mood and tone of my story can best be summed up in a word: Angelyne.
As a candidate she was the personification of what was both right and wrong with the recall. Angelyne is not particularly well known outside of Los Angeles, but anyone in the sighted world around The City of Angels, could not possibly have missed her. Angelyne's huge portraits have appeared for years on billboards from the Sunset Strip to Santa Monica. She is best known for being, well, Angelyne. She drives a pink Corvette, wears pink clothes, and trucks around a poodle named Buddha who is more often pink than white. She is a flamingo in a fallow field. And for that reason I sought her out.
When I finally reached her manager, he agreed to let her be photographed, with a condition: Angelyne would allow only one picture, (and I mean one single shot), which, as he pointed out, I would be lucky to get anyway. I wasn't exactly looking to do, "A Day in the Life of Angelyne," so one frame would have to do. He then said, "One more thing, Angelyne loves presents." "Like what?" I asked suspiciously. "Certain kinds of bubble bath, but she particularly likes champagne . . ." he said. "Are you telling me she won't do it if I don't present a present?" I asked. "Angelyne loves presents," he responded. What the hell. I've never particularly liked champagne, and have accumulated a cupboard full of bubbly given to me over the years—perfect for this situation. If I'm paying ransom for one measly shot, I might as well re-gift loot presented to me by generous friends.
We rendezvoused at a restaurant in Malibu. Angelyne was more than I had hoped for—petite, yet somehow bigger than life. She was blazing in pink, and seemed to have stepped right out of one of her humongous ads. I offered her the champagne (gift wrapped . . .), but she seemed disappointed. "Where's the bubble bath," she asked, a bit petulantly I thought. I told her that I didn't have time to shop for that, and hoped she would understand. I don't think she did.
The photo session proceeded, and Angelyne did everything except push the shutter release. She told me where she was going to sit, and how she was going to sit there. To find that special spot she held a mirror up before her and walked in a circle to see exactly how the light was reflecting off of her carefully manicured face. She determined what was going to be in the fore and background, and propped her "Angelyne for Governor" sign, (pink), behind, and her feet up just so on the concrete bench. With a grand flourish, she flung a flurry of blinding pink feathers across her lap. "You're getting an exclusive here," she said sincerely. "This is the first time anyone has photographed me in this boa." She then put on her over-sized red sunglasses, dropped them down a bit to stare over their top so I could catch her eyes above and her parted lips below.
When Angelyne was sure that all was right with her visual world, and that her cleavage was properly cleaved, she waved a giant pink key at me like some kind of magic wand, and said, "Take the picture." Snap. "Okay then, there you are!" She jumped up, told me to order lunch for her and her assistant, (which I paid for), and then tried to sell me three tee shirts with her image on the front for 20 bucks apiece, (I bought two). Angelyne held out her hand for a farewell shake, and said, "Thanks for taking my picture, you can send me the bubble bath later—Chanel No. 5 Bath Gel, of course."
Of course. And I will. But that's a present I'll have to buy—it's something I've never gotten for Christmas or my birthday.
© David Hume Kennerly
Contributing Editor, Newsweek
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