Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Inside the Surreal, Self-Invented World of Pamela Anderson

I first meet Pamela Anderson on a Tuesday. She's posing on the deck of a mid-century house in Beachwood Canyon, in the low hills of Hollywood, as afternoon fades gently into evening. It's hard to say what's more striking, when I first walk into the house: Pamela Anderson, or the light on the deck, golden as only LA light can be at the end of a clear afternoon. Beneath the sky, a band of grey smog hangs on the horizon—under that, the creeping 101, the spindly marquees of hotels.

Pamela is wearing black lingerie and a trench coat, and her hair is groomed into a neat bob. All day, she's been a fantasy out of Hitchcock or Fellini: She's posed in tears with a pistol, in silk pajamas, taking drags from ultra-thin Capris while clasping an oversized cordless phone in a convincing semblance of panic. When the camera is doing its work, the small army of assistants, stylists, hair people, and hangers-on all fall silent. All I can hear is the beep-click of the shutter and Lana Del Rey on the stereo, for mood.

It's not right to say she is unrecognizable in the photos being taken; she is Pamela Anderson. But she looks small for someone so much larger than life, and somehow modest, miles away from the beach-bronzed rock 'n' roll goddess I was expecting. It's a strange effect. The Pamela Anderson that comes up when I google her name, all smudged eyeliner and wild chemical blonde, feels like another woman. It feels like an invention. In my time with Pamela—beginning here and ending ten hours later, dazed, in an Uber winding back down the hills—I will learn that the line between invention and reality is porous.

As I'm waiting to speak with her, night falls. An assistant pulls the photographer aside. "I'm going to get wine," she whispers, "what should I get?" Rosé, chardonnay, champagne; the consultation spreads to Pamela. "Goldschläger?" she jokes. That's how she met her first husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee—she sent him a shot of Goldschläger from across a Las Vegas bar. He licked her face and they were married not long afterward, a modern-day fairytale, on the beach in Cancun, the bride in a white bikini. Their union was catnip to paparazzi, and the Anderson-Lees were rarely out of tabloids throughout the mid-1990s, inadvertently creating the celebrity sex tape genre before bearing two children and divorcing. Much of what I know about Pamela Anderson before meeting her is colored by the vivid imagery of this era, which I absorbed at an impressionable age. The assistant goes for rosé.

The segue from shot to matrimony sounds improbable, but that's the way Pamela tells stories: as impressionistic collages of names, moments, and places, sometimes daisy-chained into breathless sequences. Each is like a little flower arrangement. David LaChapelle, Las Vegas, bathrobes, glitter on her skin, "visiting Elton in his room." That's how she lives, too. She doesn't have a manager, or an agent; she never really has—"they just give up on me," she says. Instead, she meets people, follows her instincts, gets into pickles, unpickles herself, picks up, moves on. She claims to be both unmanageable and suggestible, demonstrating a combination of freewheeling courage and guilelessness that has led her to who she is today: a newly-single sex symbol pushing 50 with a rolodex full of artist friends and two adult sons, entering what she calls "Chapter Two" of her career. (,,,)

Pamela became a celebrity in a different age. Although hounded by paparazzi during her rocky and very public marriages to Tommy Lee and briefly, Kid Rock, she retained some measure of inaccessibility. Her heirs to the throne of tabloid notoriety have no such luxury, nor do they desire it. The celebs created by Instagram and YouTube became famous to be seen; what's the point of privacy? Now that every would-be Kardashian can send out a constant, direct-to-consumer stream of staged intimacy and selfies, access—the longtime currency of fame—has been upended. Pamela, whose image was ubiquitous before ubiquity could be juiced with retweets, is left in the strange position of having to renegotiate the nature of her own public image.

by Claire Evans, Vice | Read more:
Image: Tucker Tripp