Malibu’s mythical Pink Lady appeared and disappeared 50 years ago
On Oct. 28, 1966, traffic approaching the tunnel four miles north of Malibu on Malibu Canyon Road ground to a screeching halt. Overnight, a 60-foot-tall painting of a pink, naked woman had appeared on the rocks above the tunnel. No one knew where it came from. According to the LA Times, “The painting made more headlines in Los Angeles than President Johnson and the Beatles.”
Many long-time Malibu residents remember it vividly.
“I remember it well,” Planning Commissioner John Mazza wrote. “The residents of Malibu at that time were ranchers, surfers or hippies; and they thought, for the most part, that it was cool. It was the government types who went crazy when it made it to the LA Times and people came to see it.”
Who was the mystery artist? Turns out it was Lynne Westmore Seemayer, a 31-year-old mother of two and a paralegal living in Northridge. According to news accounts of the time, she scaled the cliff after dark and painted the Pink Lady in just one night; she assumed her work would be anonymous.
She never imagined all hell would break loose over her creation.
The Pink Lady hadn’t even been Seemayer’s first choice of subject matter — she initially hoped to draw a bird, but decided its wings would be obstructed by brush. If the less controversial bird had won out, the art might still be there.
Her father was Ern Westmore, winner of an “extraordinary accomplishment” award for his makeup on the film “Cimarron” by the Academy in 1931, and a member of the famous Westmore family Hollywood hair and makeup dynasty.
Seemayer often drove by the tunnel on the way to visit her mother in Malibu. “There was graffiti on the rocks all the time,” Westmore told the LA Times. She thought, “If someone was going to that trouble, why not do something creative?”
The idea for the Pink Lady took months to execute. Starting in January 1966, Seemayer spent several nights per month erasing graffiti from the rock face, with only the full moon for light. She used a series of nylon ropes to hang onto the cliff — long before rock climbing became common. By August, she was able to sketch the outline of the Pink Lady.
Finally, on Friday, Oct. 28, starting at 8 p.m. during a full moon and working until dawn, Westmore finished the 60-foot-tall naked woman running with flowers in her hand.
Word of the painting spread — stories about it were all over local newspapers and TV newscasts. County officials complained it was a traffic hazard distracting drivers, and said it had to go.
Watching the county trying to get rid of the painting became a spectacle, with cars parked half a mile away on both sides of the tunnel.
At first, the county tried high-powered fire hoses, which only made the Pink Lady brighter. Paint remover and paint thinner didn’t work, either. Seemayer had used house paint, which is apparently very difficult to remove from a rock surface.
Each time the county failed, the crowd applauded. Some signed petitions protesting the action.
“It was very exciting,” John Van Hamersveld, a former Malibu artist who was honored during last spring’s surfboard exhibit at City Hall, recalled. “Everybody wanted to know how she did it.”
Most of the public had assumed the artist was a man until Seemayer came forward midweek. Arriving on the scene, she was horrified and appealed to county officials to stop the proceedings. It made no difference — on Nov. 3, workers covered up the Pink Lady forever with 14 gallons of brown paint.
Seemayer received hate mail from people offended by the nude painting. She changed her telephone number, but calls kept coming.
She sued the county for $1 million over loss of the work and invasion of privacy. The county countersued for $26,000 to cover the cost of erasing the Pink Lady and the “public nuisance” it created. The court threw out both cases after determining the Pink Lady had been painted on private property.
Malibu Cultural Arts Commissioner Eric Myer saw the Pink Lady when he was about 10 years old.
“It made an impression on me about the impact that art can have,” he recalled. “But there’s a long history of guerrilla street art and [the Pink Lady] was an act of defiance against the vandalism of the rock walls.”
Seemeyer is now 81 years old. The Malibu Times was able to track down her son, Stephen Seemayer — himself an artist — who wrote, “My mother is still alive but, due to health issues, she is not available for interviews and such.”