The dark side of free love:
Mamas and Papas
In 1964, the year after the Annus Mirabilis when "sexual intercourse
began", according to Philip Larkin's poem of that name, I went to
boarding school in England, a convent in the south of the country. I was 12.
Over the next five years that I was to spend at this school, I became
close friends with two girls. One is of particular relevance here.
She was a few months older than me, an orphan who lived with her
older brother, two older sisters and their old nanny. And she had a
boyfriend who was 21 and who had been her eldest sister's boyfriend before.
The man who, in retrospect, seems distinctly creepy, seduced (as in,
had sex with) my friend when she was 13 or 14. She was a tall,
beautiful girl and she was what used be called "well-developed". So
you could say she didn't look much like a little girl. Never mind
ditching the older sister for the younger one, never mind taking
advantage of her newly orphaned status (I myself also had a terrific
crush on this man).
I remember thinking there was something not quite right about the
situation. He and a couple of his friends would come to visit the
school and take us out for ostensibly artistic jaunts (to visit the
grave of the composer Delius, for example).
Once the arty bit of the outing was over, we would find a nice field,
drink some wine and roll around with these guys. They would be
tickling us, feeling us up a bit, maybe even snatching the odd kiss.
All quite harmless. Or was it?
Had we been adults, I don't think we would have given these men a
second look. They weren't Adonises. And had we not been convent
schoolgirls, I don't know that it would have seemed such fun for them
either. It was fashionable then, not just to admire Nabokov's Lolita
(which had only been published in Great Britain less than 10 years
previously) as a work of art but also to embrace it wholeheartedly,
to regard it as exemplary. So we were the Lolitas and they were the
Fast forward to the early 1970s. We were all crazy by then, in a kind
of desperate, anxious, needy way. The drink, the drugs, the sex, the
rock' n' roll, they were all beginning to take their toll. I wasn't
made for the fast life but I was living it nonetheless. There didn't
seem to be any choice. The hippy period is always presented as gentle
and flower- childy but it wasn't like that. It was too frenetic.
The recent revelations by Mackenzie Phillips that she had an
incestuous relationship with her father, Mamas and Papas singer John
Phillips, aren't really so surprising given the hothouse climate of
sexual mores then. It does, however, remind one, if indeed one needed
reminding, that the hippy era was not without casualties. She may
forgive her father. I'm not sure that I would. Of course, he was out
of his mind on drugs for most of the 10 years, but she was still his daughter.
At least she was semi-grown-up, not a young child, but he was 44,
more than 20 years her senior. John Phillips is dead so we can't ask
him what he thought he was doing. The fact that their first encounter
took place the night before she was due to marry Jeff Sessler, a
member of the Rolling Stones entourage, suggested that Daddy was
determined that he would have his little girl before Jeff did, though
history or rather the newspaper cuttings doesn't relate whether
Jeff had already slept with his bride-to-be.
By 1975, I was living in London after a turbulent and promiscuous
spell at Edinburgh University, followed by an equally rackety period
living in Oxford and working as a waitress. I was 23 and my parents
had bought me a flat near Ladbroke Grove. I had a sort of job (which
I was soon to lose) and I had a boyfriend. He was a tall, rangy
Australian called Andrew Fisher, 17 years older than me.
Sadly he is now dead, having succumbed in 2008 to galloping
Alzheimer's. Andrew once told me that his mother said: "Women will
lie down in gutters for you." I don't know whether any ever did, but
the list of his sexual conquests was very long. Andrew had been part
of that quintessential Sixties and Seventies group that included
Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and Germaine Greer. This was in the
days of Oz, the underground magazine that once published a spread of
Greer's vagina and subsequently got into legal trouble under
Britain's obscenity laws for publishing a highly sexualised Rupert
As founder and editor of Oz, Neville was the linchpin of the
underground press and could be said to have shaped the hearts and
minds of at least two generations his own and the one that came
after it. A large part of the responsibility for all the tuning in,
dropping out, freaking out, chilling out, hanging out, getting high,
giving up, giving it away and cooling it, man, that went on, can be
laid at Neville's door. As the poet Hugo Williams put it: "Post-1966
was all long hair and psychedelia."
They were older than me, by some 15 or more years, and Oz had ceased
publication by the time I met Andrew while I was working briefly as a
nanny in the boiling summer of 1976 for Richard's sister, the
novelist Jill Neville, and her then husband, journalist David Leitch
(both now also dead). But its spirit lived on.
Jill and David maintained what could be described politely as a
bohemian household, the former perhaps more than the latter. Jill, a
beautiful, tricky, manipulative woman, had many admirers. David was
fighting a losing battle with alcoholism, but the atmosphere in their
Little Venice house was infused with a kind of dangerous fun. You
could always be sure of meeting interesting people it was there
that I first met Christopher Hitchens and Jeffrey Bernard (Jill was
having a fling with the latter, but he took a liking to me and
offered to make me the fourth or was it fifth Mrs Bernard; Jill
was not pleased).
More than for any pleasure that it might bring him, Andrew, I think,
really believed in sexual freedom as a way of life or a philosophy. I
don't believe he was the only one. After all, Neville in his memoir
of the period, Hippie Hippie Shake, quotes Greer as saying, "The
group fuck is the highest ritual expression of our faith but it
must happen as a special sort of grace."
Andrew used to attend orgies, or group-sex parties, in a house in
Notting Hill Gate, owned by a painter and his actress wife and was
very keen that I should go with him. I would never agree to go,
though I once went and spent the afternoon in bed with a friend of
his, an actor who lived in a flat in Mayfair. I can't remember why I
did this: curiosity, daredevilry, a desire to please or impress
Andrew. I didn't enjoy the experience and I hated the actor, whom I
blamed for the whole sordid business, rather than Andrew. In the
obituary that Neville wrote of Andrew for the Sydney Morning Herald,
he said: "Even amid the sexual extroversion of the 1970s he pushed
the boundaries with his staging of intimate erotic scenarios in
London and Paris." Perhaps he was thinking of these parties.
Andrew was never pushy or predatory he didn't need to be: women
were queuing up, if not actually lying down in gutters but many men
were. The advent of the so-called sexual revolution permitted
predatory men to force themselves on girls too inexperienced, shy,
nervous, or even too ambitious to say "No".
More than once (or even twice), I ended up in bed with men who had
bullied and bored (a lethally effective combination) me there. I
still shudder to remember a night with a well-known art dealer who
wouldn't take "No" for an answer and complained when I wouldn't give
him a blow job.
He snored so loudly that I went to sleep in the other bedroom. I
sometimes think he might be the reason I left London to avoid
bumping into him. Or a man who went on and on till I gave in, then
said "You see, you wanted to all along." No, no, I didn't, but,
having agreed, I thought I might as well try to enjoy it.
The fear of being labelled a prick-teaser played its part too. The
contraceptive pill undoubtedly made some things easier and, in some
ways, better. But it also made many things more difficult. Free love
was never free you just paid in different ways. I don't think any
of my female contemporaries would consider that they had been happy
then, when we were supposedly young and free. There was something
rather frightening about this freedom it meant freedom not to call
(I lost my virginity when I was 17 to a boy whom I was mad about, and
he never telephoned me again; it took me years to recover); freedom
to be unfaithful; freedom to steal your friend's boyfriend (which I
am ashamed to say I did in my gap year).
Men definitely got a better deal from free love. Whatever women said
and did, they were always more vulnerable. At least when women could
say, "We can't. I might get pregnant", it was a reasonable excuse.
With the advent of the Pill, all that went out of the window. There
were no more restraints.
In the past teenagers had always tended to be replicas of their
parents. That all changed to produce a hugely confident and conceited
generation. The next crop was total anarchy. Suddenly you were 17 or
18 and, for the first time, you could decide what to wear, how to do
your hair, when to get up, when to sleep, whatever. There was no one
supervising you. If you had money and looks, you had everything. And
you could sleep with who you wanted.
Except you couldn't. There was just as much anguish and unrequited
love around then as there always was. And sex only made it worse.
John Phillips: a lifetime of debauched and reckless behaviour
As the daughter of the Mamas and the Papas' John Phillips reveals she
had an incestuous relationship with her father, Chris Campion looks
back on the rockstar's wild life.
By Chris Campion
25 Sep 2009
Scandalous claims of rape and incest made this week by Mackenzie
Phillips against her father, 60s music icon John Phillips, have put
the spotlight back on a man whose debauched reputation has long
overshadowed his brilliant contributions to music as the erstwhile
leader of the Mamas and the Papas.
While promoting her new memoir, High On Arrival, on the Oprah Winfrey
show, Mackenzie Phillips alleged that at 19 she was raped by her
musician father and subsequently engaged in a 10-year incestuous yet
consensual sexual relationship. Her sensational allegations have
served to split the only showbiz family who are more dysfunctional
than the Jacksons.
Two of John Phillips' ex-wives, Michelle Phillips and Genevieve
Waite, have denounced the story, but what is undisputable is that
Phillips has one of the worst and wildest reputations in rock.
It was a reputation he himself helped foster and promote, most
notably in his 1986 autobiography, Papa John, during which he
gleefully and unrepentantly relates a catalogue of debauched and
reckless behaviour that includes sexual liaisons, infidelities and
rampant drug use in lurid detail.
Phillips, who died in 2001 of complications relating to a liver
transplant, was married four times and sired five children with three
of his wives. He was an extraordinarily charismatic man, a brilliant
musician with an innate talent for songwriting. He was also an
incorrigible rebel, plagued by a fatalism that threatened to engulf
all those closest to him; a man who delighted in living dangerously,
even carrying on an affair with Mia Farrow under the nose of her
then-husband Frank Sinatra.
Despite their genteel music and image as the family-friendly face of
hippie-dom, the Mamas and the Papas John Phillips, his wife
Michelle, Denny Doherty and Mama Cass Elliot indulged in all the
free love and chemical intoxication that the 60s had to offer. They
were also famously incestuous as a group, splitting up in 1968 when
inter-band relations had made it all-but-impossible for them to
continue recording. While still married to John, Michelle Phillips
had an affair with Denny Doherty an affair that only inflamed the
ire of fellow Cass Elliot, who herself harboured an infatuation
(albeit unrequited) with Doherty.
The phenomenal wealth and fame John Phillips acquired as the group's
chief songwriter he was the author of their biggest hits,
California Dreamin' and Monday Monday gave him access to a
fast-living Hollywood crowd that numbered notorious party hounds such
as Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.
He was also friendly with Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate and
claimed in his autobiography to have narrowly escaped death, having
been invited to the house that Polanski and Tate were renting in the
Hollywood Hills on the same August 1969 night that the Manson family
slaughtered its inhabitants.
Shortly after the Manson murders, a grief-stricken Roman Polanksi
became convinced that Phillips had masterminded the murder of his
wife and her friends in retribution for Polanski's own brief affair
with Michelle Phillips and, at one point, the director grabbed a
kitchen knife and held it to the singer's throat in an attempt to
force a confession out of him. Both Phillips and Mama Cass, like much
of the LA music scene at the time, had peripheral connections to the
Manson family and were later called to testify for the prosecution at
the 1970 trial of Manson and his followers.
Following the dissolution of the Mamas and the Papas, Phillips never
managed to attain the same level of commercial success. His attempts
to launch himself as a solo artist failed and his life began to run
adrift. Professional failures weighed heavily on him and exacerbated
an addiction to drugs that had begun to take a much deeper hold on his life.
By 1976, he and his third wife, the South African model and actress
Genevieve Waite, were hopelessly addicted to cocaine and heroin. They
had been taking the latter while sharing a house in London with
Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards and his then-partner Anita
Pallenberg, both of whom were also at the height of their drug
addictions following the death of their infant child, Tara.
Phillips and Waite carried their habits with them as they jet-setted
around the world, even befriending Princess Margaret while
vacationing at her holiday home on Mustique. "I don't know if John
was ever happy in his own skin," Waite told me last year. "I don't
think he was. He tried to act real happy but I don't know if he was."
A large part of Phillips' discomfort stemmed from his own tumultuous
childhood. He was the youngest of three children born to a retired
Irish-American marine and his Cherokee wife. But his abiding memory
of his own father, an alcoholic manic-depressive, was creeping into
the rank cellar of the family home and seeing him slumped unconscious
in a chair dressed in his military uniform, surrounded by empty
bottles and his pack of snarling American bulldogs. Phillips spent
most of his life trying to escape from that image of his father.
Paradoxically, while doing so, he created a hell of his own that was
far, far worse.
An incorrigible rebel with boundless enthusiasm and an indomitable
humanist streak, he was also plagued by a fatalism that threatened to
engulf all those closest to him. Those most affected by Phillips'
chaotic lifestyle were his children. Mackenzie and Jeffrey (both
children from Phillips' first marriage to Susan Adams, a descendant
of U.S. President John Adams) developed drug addictions of their own,
aged 13 and 14 respectively, while living with their father at his
rented Bel Air mansion in the early 70s. Cocaine was so plentiful
that it was often laid out in bowls around the house like pot pourri.
Around this time, Mackenzie's career as a child star began to take
off. She made her acting debut aged 12 in the George Lucas film,
American Graffiti. By 16, she had outstripped her father's fame as
one of the stars of an immensely popular U.S. sitcom, One Day At A
Time, and was said to be earning somewhere in the region of $47,000 a week.
Phillips eulogized the antics of his streetwise daughter in a song
called She's Just 14, which was recorded in 1977 during notoriously
druggy sessions in New York with Keith Richards, in which the
hard-living duo reputedly spent more time shooting heroin in the
studio bathroom than laying down tracks. The title of Mackenzie
Phillips' new memoir, High on Arrival, is taken from a line in that
song, which also features a lascivious backing vocal from Mick
Jagger, who himself also bedded Mackenzie (when she was 18).
At the height of his addiction, Phillips claimed to be shooting up
every 15 minutes. All that came to an end on July 31, 1980, when
Phillips was arrested. He had been funding his drug habit by trading
books of stolen prescriptions for bottles of pharmaceutical drugs at
a Manhattan pharmacy, then trading those with his drug dealers for cocaine.
Facing a possible 45-year jail term on drug trafficking charges,
Phillips undertook a high-profile publicity tour, visiting schools
and appearing on talk shows accompanied by Mackenzie, who had been
fired from her sitcom role when the extent of her own drug and
alcohol addiction was made public. Although Phillips never took drugs
again, he developed an equally debilitating alcohol addiction.
"He had certain rules. But they were all to be broken. They had no
lasting power, these rules," Phillips' lifelong friend Bill Cleary
told me. "Like, 'everything in moderation, except moderation'. That
was one of his favourites. I mean, he wanted excess. To take it over
Whether Phillips crossed the moral line with his own daughter is
another thing. In a story published in this week's edition of
American gossip magazine U.S. Weekly to promote her upcoming album,
Chynna Phillips (the only child of John and Michelle Phillips) claims
that her sister confessed her sexual relationship with their father
in a 1997 phone call.
But other members of the family disagree. Phillip's third wife
Genevieve Waite maintained her ex-husband was "incapable of having a
sexual relationship with his own child". Even Michelle Phillips, one
of her ex-husband's harshest and most vocal critics, said: "John was
a bad parent, and a drug addict. But doing this to his daughter? Then
why isn't she with a good psychiatrist on a couch?"
'I had sex with Mick Jagger in Jerry Hall's bed,' says daughter of
Mamas and Papas singer John Phillips
By Paul Scott
26th September 2009
The lead singer's daughter, actress Mackenzie Phillips, has accused
her father of forcing her into an incestuous affair. But that was
just the tip of the iceberg for the sex-obsessed Mamas and Papas.
Just ask Mick Jagger...
During the late 1970s, the mink-wearing grand dames of an exquisite
Beaux Arts apartment building overlooking New York's Central Park
often found themselves sharing its magnificent marble lobby with a
variety of beautiful models and groupies.
The destination of the latter contingent was a suite of rooms on one
of the lower floors which had become the Manhattan home of Mick
Jagger and his supermodel lover, Jerry Hall.
When Jerry was away on photo shoots, the most beautiful girls the
city had to offer - hand-picked by Mick, who approached the selection
of female conquests with an almost military zeal - queued up to take
her place in his bed.
The next morning, the Rolling Stones frontman would wrap the girl in
a fluffy white towelling robe, make her tea and toast, and ensure she
was long gone by the time his blonde Texan girlfriend returned home.
One evening in January 1978, when Jerry was working in South America,
Mick attended a party in the building thrown by one of his wealthy neighbours.
A fellow guest was his old friend John Phillips, ex-leader of hippy
pop group The Mamas And The Papas, who had arrived at the soiree with
his teenage daughter, Mackenzie.
As the party wore on, Mick suddenly announced he wanted a tuna salad
sandwich. So Jagger, Phillips and the long-limbed Mackenzie took the
lift down to Mick's apartment in search of food.
But as they prepared the snack in the vast kitchen of his elegant
home, Mick announced he was out of mayonnaise - and dispatched
Phillips back to the party to find some.
With the girl's father gone, he moved quickly. By the time Phillips
returned a few minutes later, the priapic Jagger had bolted the door
and was already in bed with the 18-year-old Mackenzie.
Miss Phillips recalls that night in her controversial memoirs,
published in a blaze of publicity in the U.S. this week.
'We went into Jerry Hall's bedroom and had sex in their bed. My dad
came back and started knocking on the door, yelling: "You've got my
daughter in there!"
All of which might seem to be the perfectly reasonable reaction of a
protective father faced with the nightmare scenario of his
impressionable young daughter in the clutches of a notoriously
lascivious rock star.
But if claims made by self-confessed former drug addict Miss Phillips
in her book are to be believed, this was far from a classic case of
understandable parental concern.
Because in a chilling testimony, Miss Phillips claims her famous
father also had designs on her - and within a year of that night,
they would begin an incestuous relationship.
It is a claim that has shocked a generation of fans who idolised
Phillips - the composer of seminal Sixties anthems such as California
Dreamin' and Monday, Monday - as one of the founding fathers of the
hippy 'Flower Power' movement.
It has also provoked a backlash from two of Phillips' four ex-wives.
His second wife Michelle Gilliam, who was also a member of The Mamas
And The Papas, has branded Mackenzie a fantasist.
Mackenzie has a lot of mental illness,' Michelle said this week.
'She's had a needle stuck up her arm for 35 years. John was a bad
parent and a drug addict. But doing this to his daughter? No.'
But to add to the controversy, Mackenzie's half-sister, singer Chynna
Phillips, has also stepped into the row, saying she believes the claims.
Whatever the truth, Mackenzie's revelations about her father have
overshadowed her painting of Jagger as a sleazy sexual opportunist
with a taste for young girls (though Miss Phillips is quick to point
out that the singer was insistent that he considered making a play
for her only when she had passed the age of consent).
More importantly, her disclosures serve to reveal the squalid
underbelly of drugs and sexual decadence that lurked below the
surface of the Sixties' hippy movement.
Certainly, the chequered story of The Mamas And The Papas, who were
once lauded as 'The American Beatles' and sold 40 million records in
a little over two years in the middle of that decade, can be seen as
parable of the age.
Theirs is a classic tale of drug addiction, wild sexual
experimentation, wasted talent and the untimely deaths of three of
the group's four original members.
The principal player in all this conspicuous excess was John
Phillips, chief songwriter and creative genius behind the group,
whose close harmonies and preaching of love and tolerance made them
huge stars with lavish fortunes to match.
Phillips was the 6ft 4in son of a U.S. Marines officer, who had
himself briefly flirted with a career in the military.
He formed The Mamas And The Papas in 1965 with wife Michelle, a
Californian model, singer Denny Doherty and 22-stone Cass Elliot, 'Mama Cass'.
They found international fame a year later with California Dreamin' -
the song Phillips wrote in New York to soothe his wife's homesickness
- and went on to have 11 consecutive Top Ten singles in the American charts.
The following year, Phillips wrote the ultimate flower power anthem,
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) - a British
No 1 for Scott McKenzie.
But behind the scenes, the group was already riven with feuds caused
by drug-taking, jealousy and their highly complicated personal lives.
Even as they topped the charts, Phillips was already cheating on
Michelle, and soon began a clandestine affair with actress Mia
Farrow, who at the time was married to Frank Sinatra.
When a furious Sinatra, who famously had links to Sam Giancana, the
Chicago Mafia boss, discovered that Phillips had been sleeping with
Farrow in their marital bed while he was away on tour, he sent a
bunch of heavies to warn him off.
Undaunted, Phillips, who was already insisting on being addressed by
his stage name, Papa John, went out and bought a small armoury of
weapons to protect himself from Sinatra's Mob cronies.
He was also rumoured to have become close to Princess Margaret, whom
he visited at the private Caribbean island of Mustique, where she
would play piano and join him in singing bawdy versions of
Chattanooga Choo Choo.
She would also secretly smuggle Phillips into her private quarters at
By way of retaliation, his blonde and angelic-looking wife Michelle
embarked on her own series of adulterous relationships with a string
of Hollywood leading men, including Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and
film director Roman Polanski.
The couple bought a mock Tudor estate on a hilltop in upmarket Bel
Air, where the Rolling Stones and The Beatles were regular guests. At
debauched parties, guests were handed bowls of cocaine and LSD
tablets as they entered the house.
By then, Phillips was already an addict, and his gilded life was fast
unravelling. He was once so out of his head on drugs that he let his
pet golden retriever, Trelawny, munch its way through a bag of the
psychedelic drug mescaline.
The poor creature ran in circles for three days without stopping,
then stared at himself in the mirror for 12 hours.
Later, after being arrested for his part in a pill-pushing ring,
Phillips dyed the dog black as part of a botched plan to go on the run.
But his drug-taking would also inadvertently save his life. In August
1969, he was so stoned that he failed to turn up to a party in Cielo
That night, the inhabitants of the house, including film director
Roman Polanski's pregnant wife Sharon Tate, were murdered by
disciples of the psychotic Charles Manson.
Meanwhile, the sexual carousel continued as Phillips made conquests
of a string of willing women, and Michelle began an affair with the
other male singer in the group, Denny Doherty.
When Phillips discovered what was going on, he sacked his wife,
telling her: 'You can do a lot of things to me Michelle, but you
don't f*** my tenor.'
Meanwhile, the vastly overweight Mama Cass Elliot was secretly in
love with Doherty and later proposed to him.
He turned her down, though he subsequently admitted to being so
drugged up he could not remember her asking.
In 1974, three years after The Mamas And The Papas split up,
32-year-old Cass was found dead at her flat in London's Mayfair after
suffering a heart attack in her sleep. (She did not choke on a ham
sandwich, as urban myth has claimed.)
In the mid-1970s, Phillips, who by now had developed an addiction to
heroin, was reunited with his children Jeffrey and Mackenzie (two of
the five children he'd had by three different women), with whom he
been in intermittent contact since his divorce from their socialite
mother, Susan Adams, his first wife, in 1962.
The teenagers moved into his Los Angeles mansion, but it was no place
for impressionable youngsters.
When she was just ten, Phillips had taught his daughter how to roll a joint.
In her new book, High On Arrival, Mackenzie, now 49, tells how her
father would also leave 'little surprises' hidden around the house
for his daughter to find - tabs of the morphine-like painkiller, Dilaudid.
Not surprisingly, actress Mackenzie, who appeared in the hit movie
American Graffiti at the age of 12 and went on to star in the
long-running U.S. sitcom One Day At A Time, soon developed a habit to
match her father's.
She claims that her father first injected her with drugs when she was 17.
It was the start of a descent into addiction that saw her sacked from
her £30,000-an-episode role in the TV show and would see her check
into rehab on no fewer than nine occasions - the most recent being in
November last year after she was caught with cocaine and heroin at
Los Angeles airport.
But it is her insistence that she had an incestuous relationship with
her father that is most shocking.
Mackenzie claims her father raped her for the first time in 1979, on
the eve of her wedding to first husband Jeff Sessler, who worked for
the Rolling Stones.
For the next several years, Miss Phillips shockingly claims, she and
her father conducted a 'consensual' sexual relationship in the haze
of their joint addictions.
Phillips, who wrote his own tell-all autobiography when his career
had faded in the mid-1980s, is not in a position to defend himself
from her allegations.
He died, aged 65, in 2001 of complications caused by a liver
transplant. Band mate Denny Doherty died two years ago of a heart
attack in his native Canada.
So with her family bitterly divided over the salacious claims, it
seems we may never know the full truth.
What is undoubtedly the case is that these revelations have already
done much to destroy the reputation of one of the true icons of the Sixties.