Monday, February 14, 2011

Michelle Phillips The Ultimate Hippy Chick

Michelle Phillips is the only surviving member of sixties hippie band, 'The Mamas and the Papas', who exploded onto the scene in 1965 with their hit single 'California Dreamin'.  The mood was changing and The Mamas and The Papas laid back sound and style caught the moment and help define a generation.  Beatle style haircuts were grown out and geometric designs and gogo boots were replaced by a new tune in, drop out, free love, flower powered, psychedelic hippy culture.  Michelle was the perfect poster girl for the new vibe, the embodiment of the beautiful, all American California girl with hippy style.

Michelle met John Phillips when he was touring California with his band 'The Journeymen' he divorced his wife and married Michelle, she was eighteen.  After the Journeymen split up, John Phillips and Denny Doherty formed a new group which also included Michelle and later the charismatic and huge vocal talent Cass Elliot, the band was originally called 'The Magic Cyrcle' which they never really liked.   After seeing some Hells Angels on a chat show and discovering that Hells Angels called their women 'Mamas', the band renamed themselves; 'The Mamas and the Papas'.

Michelle's childhood had not been conventional and she was something of a wild child and no stranger to free love, her marriage to Phillips was tempestuous and she had affairs, including a passionate liason with fellow band member Denny Doherty, Phillips was furious when he found out and kicked her out of the band, she was replaced by their managers (Lou Adler) girlfriend Jill Gibson...

Extracts from the 'California Dreamin' interview with Sheila Weller, From Vanity Fair December 2007

Michelle didn’t take the expulsion lying down. She crashed the “new” Mamas and Papas’ recording session—“They looked at me as if I’d walked in with an AK-47”—and “when Denny refused to stick up for me, I took a swing at him.” That’s when she screamed that she’d “bury” them all. “I sat in my car, shaking and despondent and crying hysterically. I had just been fired by my husband and my best friends. I thought my life was over.” In short order, Michelle was reinstated in the group. She retaliated against Jill the best way she knew how: she marched into Lou and Jill’s hotel room just as they were celebrating with Dom Pérignon and brightly announced that she was in love with Lou. “Lou and Jill sat there with their champagne flutes frozen mid-toast,” Michelle recalls, laughing. “Then Lou walked over to the big silver ice bucket and stuck his head in it!” Adler says he doesn’t remember the head dousing but comments with a flattered smile, “Anything is possible when she’s on a mission to get even.”

Newly re instated in the band and reunited with Phillips, the couple moved into a grand Bel Air  Mansion, they kept peacocks and intrigued the neighbours with their flamboyant outfits and bohemian ways, they entertained the fashionable set including: Ryan O Neil, Marlon Brando, Mia Farrow, Peter Sellers, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Warren Beatty...
“spring and summer 1967, that was the moment,” Michelle recalls fondly. And a brief, shining moment it was, when everything that immediately thereafter would be sale-priced as a silly cliché was suddenly wildly glamorous: beautiful sybarites wafting around in clothes from other centuries; life as a sensual, acid-fuelled private joke.

It was around this time that Michelle and John were asked to perform at a twelve hour music festival that was being organised by a music promoter, they secured the Monterey Fairgrounds and were joined by; Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to name but a few.  Lou Adler recalled, "Michelle who was newly pregnant was at her most beautiful at Monterey".

Soon after their daughter Chynna was born in 1968, Michelle and John split up and the band disbanded.

After 'the Mamas and the Papas', Michelle was trying to make the transition from the music business to the movie business, she started a romance with Jack Nicholson and tried out for the roll of Susan in Mike Nichols 'Carnal Knowledge' but the role was given to Candice Bergen.  Whilst Nicholson was away shooting, she signed up to play the female lead in Dennis Hopper's 'The Last Movie', she flew off to Peru, to start filming with Hopper, she fell deeply in love with him and they married in Taos in late 1970.

  In the days following the wedding Hopper did something dangerous with Michelle whatever Hopper did was "Excruciating" is all Michelle will say.

She got herself back to LA with Chynna and filed for divorce eight days after the wedding.

She picked up her romance with Jack Nicholson and moved into a house adjacent to his they were together as a couple for about a year.

He Said. She was now, along with Carly Simon, that rare thing on the early-70s entertainment scene: the female “catch.” Nicholson, not yet having arrived at his Cheshire-cat-smiling Über-coolness, set out to win her. Around this same time, according to Genevieve, “Mick Jagger also had a big crush on Michelle. He was crazy about her. When she’d visit us in Bel Air, he’d come over.” Genevieve pauses, squints, and waxes puzzled at a memory: “Mick and Bianca had the weirdest marriage. They were never together.”

With Jack Nicholson

With Dennis Hopper

Michelle, now a single Mother supporting Chynna, secured a part as an extra in the new Warren Beatty vehicle 'Shampoo', she popped into his trailer to say hello at the time Beatty was having an on off affair with Julie Christy, he took both Julie and Michelle to the wrap party, Julie moved on and Michelle moved in with Beatty, this caused a bit of friction between him and Jack Nicholson who were working together on the film 'The Fortune'...

Warren was The One. “I was madly in love with him,” Michelle admits. “She had diamonds in her eyes when she was with Warren; I’d never seen Michelle so happy,” says Tamar. Warren was a good stepfather figure to Chynna, Michelle says. “He helped her with her homework; he talked to her, and he is notorious for talking.” But Michelle bumped up against his passive-aggressiveness. “I wanted to have another child, and we talked about marriage a lot, but he was very noncommittal.” She pauses. “Warren is an old-fashioned man,” she allows. Michelle believes Warren would have married her if she’d found herself pregnant. But whatever else Michelle had done, luring a man into marriage through an intentional “accidental” pregnancy was not her style. “I never pressured him to marry me. I waited for him to ask.” He didn’t. And despite his “carrot dangling” talk about their doing a movie together, she says, no movie materialized. 

After a while, she says, “I couldn’t live under the same roof with him; we were fighting all the time.” (Michelle says she “fell off the couch laughing” years later when she watched Beatty tell Barbara Walters words to the effect of “They broke up with me!” “That,” she says, “is what Warren makes his women do!”) According to Michelle, Warren “didn’t want me to act. He wanted me to be with him all the time. When I told him I was going to do Valentino [which would mean six months of filming], he said, ‘Well, that’s probably the end of our relationship.’ ” After she finished the movie, they broke up. On the rebound, Michelle married radio executive Bob Burch, in 1978. “I threw myself at him, as I tend to do,” she says. (Michelle’s last words on Beatty: “I love Annette [Bening] and I pray for her every day! She can manage the guy, and I never could. He drove me nuts!”)

With Warren Beatty

Starring in Ken Russells 'Valentino' as Natacha Rambova opposite Rudolph Nureyev

Michelle was with Bob Burch for two years. Then, 26 years ago, yearning for another child, she got her beau of six months, the handsome, easygoing actor Grainger Hines, “absolutely smashed on martinis,” she recalls, and proposed a deal: if he fathered a baby for her, she would take full responsibility for it. “The minute you tell a guy that he doesn’t have to parent, he becomes the best parent,” she says of the father of her son, Austin Hines, who is 25. “Grainger has been the greatest!” Michelle purchased her house in Cheviot Hills, and in 1986 she was cast as Nicolette Sheridan’s mother on Knot’s Landing, a role that put her back in the public eye through the beginning of the 90s. Sheridan says, of their “deep and caring” friendship, “I admire Michelle’s zest for life and fearless nature, and I feel blessed to be part of her intoxicating world.” During these years Michelle was involved in a serious relationship with singer-songwriter Geoff Tozer.

After the relationship ended, Michelle accepted, in 1999, a dinner date with Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Steven Zax. “The little hippie chick and the surgeon don’t seem like a real match, but we’ve been able to bring each other closer to the center,” she says. They spend weekends together, and they travel frequently.

"Michelle says fondly of the Mamas and the Papas' brief life span, "it was two and half years of total melodrama"

See them in action below and find out how they launched their career, check out Cass Elliots nifty footwork!


  1. Oh Dash, you've made my Valentine's Day! I adore the Mamas and the Papas and have since I was a little girl and my mum used to play their albums and dance around the lounge. Michelle Phillips was/is beautiful but it was always Mama Cass I wanted to be as her wardrobe was so fabulous. xxx

    1. My thoughts exactly, I absolutely loved Mama Cass, what a shame she died so young. Michelle Philips, what a gorgeous lady, I wish I lived in those times!

  2. Dash - you've done it again!
    I love the Mamas and the Papas, and I've always thought Michelle was excruciatingly beautiful. xoxo

  3. Dash - you are amazing! I love the Mama's and Papa's - I grew up listening to them and my two daughters listen to "If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears" and "Greatest Hits" all the time. Michelle has lived a life some can only imagine - thank you for highlighting such an amazing woman!

  4. My mother's favorite band is the Mama & Papas, listening to them always brings back wonderful childhood memories. Great post, loved learning a bit more about Michelle x

  5. Memories of baby sitting, waiting for my life to begin, listening to the mamas and papas are still vivid to me. I had not realised what a beautiful girl she was thanks Dash a great post

  6. What a fabulous post - totally engrossing!! And I learned so many things I didn't know. She was and still is a beautiful woman!!

  7. Oh, this was just wonderful ! I always liked her and had forgotten about her, sadly.
    Wonderful photos ! Thank you !

  8. Oh, I love the Mama's and the Papa's! Wasn't she gorgeous? I love her style and her taste in men, apart from Dennis. I wish I could have been at the Monterey gig, I bet it was amazing! Hope you had a great Valentines xx

  9. A natural beauty, ironic that she ended up with a plastic surgeon.
    I still miss Mama Cass.
    X David

  10. 'California Dreamin' did it for me. It became my dream to relocate from a town in central Illinois to Southern California.

  11. Lurve-Gen U$ Bardot.

    Lawng legs, pert butt, boss bust, prime pipes, fox face filly Phillips - nuff said.

  12. Does anybody think Michelle looked exactly like Thylane Blondeau..?!? I compared the pictures, uncanny, like it's the same person!


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