Inside The LC: Part XIX
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Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation
August 14, 2011
Robalini's Note: It's been nearly two years since we've posted any of Dave McGowan's excellent "Inside the LC" series on The Konformist. We'll play catchup now with the first of three missing parts from the series...
"This is going to break your heart, but much of the music you heard in the `60s and early `70s wasn't recorded by the people you saw on the album covers. It was done by me and the musicians you see on these walls Many of these kids didn't have the chops and were little more than garage bands At concerts, people hear with their eyes. Teens cut groups slack in concert, but not when they bought their records."
Hal Blaine, longtime drummer for the Wrecking Crew, quoted in the Wall Street Journal on March 23, 2011
Before moving ahead with the John Phillips saga, I first need to pose an extremely important question to all my readers: is anyone out there in the market for a slightly used, covert film studio? If so, then all you need do is pull about $6.2 million out of your penny jar (though in today's housing market, you might be able to cut a better deal) and Lookout Mountain Laboratory can be yours! And if you act fast, you might be able to get a package deal on the lab and the Hodel house! (the photos in this post are of the lab as it looks today as a converted residential dwelling).
Another item worth noting: as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on January 28, 2011, "Ron Patterson, the flamboyant, free-spirited creator of the Renaissance and Dickens fairs, died Jan. 15 at a friend's house in Sausalito after an illness. He was 80." As staff writer Carolyn Jones noted, Patterson's creation "was sort of a medieval precursor to Burning Man." And Burning Man is, of course, a rather explicitly occult ritual first performed on the Summer Solstice of 1986 and now performed every summer in Nevada's Black Rock Desert before an audience of 50,000+.
What does any of that though have to do with Laurel Canyon? As we have seen so many times before, all roads on the Conspiracy Superhighway seem to lead to Laurel Canyon: "In the beginning, the Renaissance Faire was an experiment in Mr. Patterson's backyard. In the early 1960s, Mr. Patterson and his wife, Phyllis, who were both interested in theater and art, began hosting children's improvisational theater workshops at their Laurel Canyon (Los Angeles County) home."
One naturally wonders whether aspiring thespian and golden child Godo Paulekas (originally cast, it will be recalled, to play Satan in Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising) was involved in those workshops. In any event, there is certainly nothing creepy about children's workshops being hosted in a small, tight-knit community that was home to more than its fair share of pedophiles, so let's just move along.
One last item of note, this one from, of all places, the pages of Sports Illustrated circa June 29, 1981. The following excerpt is from a short piece written by publisher Philip Howlett to introduce readers to writer Bjarne Rostaing: "Born in Lincoln, N.Y., Rostaing grew up in various places in Connecticut, where he attended what he recalls as an even dozen schools. `I got my B.A. and master's in English from the University of Connecticut,' he says. `Then I did part of a Ph.D. at the University of Washington before going into the Army Intelligence Corps in 1959. We had Paul Rothchild, who later became producer for The Doors and Janis Joplin, to give you some idea of what the unit was like.'"
I'm guessing that it was like countless other intelligence units designed to churn out shapers of public opinion, whether actors, novelists, newsmen, or, in this case, sportswriters and producers of popular music. It is quite shocking, of course, to learn that the handler of two of Laurel Canyon's most influential and groundbreaking bands (Love and the Doors) had an intel background. Apparently the search is still on for anyone of any prominence in the Laurel Canyon scene who didn't have direct connections to the intelligence community.
Anyway during the heyday of the Mamas and the Papas, John and Michelle Phillips knew, and regularly played host to, virtually everyone of importance in the canyons. In addition to all the singers and musicians living in Laurel Canyon, the power couple's circle of friends included Warren Beatty, Peter and Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Terry Melcher and girlfriend Candace Bergen, Marlon Brando, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, soon-to-be-dead gossip columnist Steve Brandt, Larry Hagman, presidential brother-in-law Peter Lawford (fresh from his probable involvement in the murder of Marilyn Monroe), Dennis Hopper, Ryan O'Neal, Mia "Rosemary's Baby" Farrow, ethereal Freemason Peter Sellers, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
And a short, scraggly singer/songwriter by the name of Charlie Manson.
There were, to be sure, numerous ties between John Phillips, the `Wolf King of LA,' and Charles Manson. And ties as well between bandmate Cass Elliott and Manson. And between Philips and Cass and the Cielo Drive victims. John Phillips, for example, had invested $10,000 in Jay Sebring's business venture, Sebring International (rumored to have been a front for various illegal activities, including drug trafficking). Michelle Phillips had a brief affair with Roman Polanski in London while Polanski was married to the soon-to-be-dead Sharon Tate (during that same sojourn to London, Tate was reportedly initiated into the practice of witchcraft).
Mama Cass, as previously noted, lived across the street from the house occupied by Folger and Frykowski at 2774 Woodstock Road. Both homes were frequently visited by known drug dealers. Regulars at Cass's home included Pic Dawson (also a regular at the Frykowski/Folger home and at the Tate/Polanski home), the son of a US State Department official who, according to John Phillips, was suspected by authorities "of using diplomatic pouches to move drugs between countries," and Billy Doyle, a local dealer who was infamously filmed while being flogged at the Tate/Polanski house just three days before the murders (according to Dennis Hopper). Another regular was Bill Mentzer, later convicted of the brutal murder of Cotton Club producer Roy Radin and labeled `Manson II' by journalist Maury Terry. The LAPD once described Mentzer as a member of "some kind of hit squad."
So dark was the scene at the home of the `Lady of the Canyon' that, according to Terry, four of the LAPD's initial prime suspects in the Tate killings were drug dealers associated with Elliott. And yet, curiously enough, all of the canyon's peace-and-love spewing musicians were regulars at Mama Cass's home as well. As Rolling Stone noted in its Fortieth Anniversary Edition, "'Mama' Cass Elliott's cozy canyon house functioned as a sort of rock salon." In a similar vein, Barney Hoskyns wrote in Hotel California that "Cass kept permanent open house."
Also noted in Hoskyn's tome was that the Laurel Canyon scene "all spun around him and Cass," with the "him" in this case being David Van Cortlandt Crosby, who, like Cass, had an insatiable appetite (by his own account) for potent pain killers like Demerol, Dilaudid and Percodan. Crosby was one of many Canyonites who regularly dropped by Cass's place to hang out and engage in impromptu jam sessions, and to mingle with some seriously disreputable characters.
Also a regular at Cass's place, by some reports, was Charlie Manson himself. According to Ed Sanders, it was at Cass's home that Charlie first met her neighbor, coffee heiress Abigail Folger (who helped finance Kenneth Anger's films, like the one that was supposed to star Godo Paulekas but instead starred Mansonite Bobby Beausoleil). According to Terry, the rather notorious group known as The Process: Church of the Final Judgment which evidence suggests had deep ties to the Manson, Son of Sam, and Cotton Club murders actively sought to recruit Mama Cass, as well as John Phillips and Terry Melcher.
A few further bits of Mansonalia: Terry has written that the Family's iconic bus was seen parked at the home of John and Michelle Phillips in the fall of 1968. Reports also hold that Manson attended a New Year's Eve party at the couple's home on December 31, 1968, just months before the murders. So close were the ties between the Mamas and the Papas and the Manson clan that both John Phillips and Mama Cass were slated to appear as witnesses for the defense at the Family's trial, though not surprisingly, neither was ever called.
For a band that sang about being "safe and warm, if I was in LA," the members of the Mamas and the Papas kept some pretty dangerous company in the city of angels which reminds me that, not long after the band hit the charts, Tamar Hodel received a postcard from Michelle Phillips asking her to watch their scheduled performance on the Ed Sullivan Show and then meet the group at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel before a scheduled concert. Tamar showed up with father George at her side, the two apparently still maintaining a close relationship, and Tamar, George, John, Michelle, Denny and Cass embarked on a drug-fueled pre-show odyssey.
By 1970, John and Michelle had divorced. Many years later, Michelle would reveal that their time together had included at least one episode of domestic violence, one that she was still reluctant to discuss: "It was serious. I ended up in the hospital. That's all I'll say about it." The union had yielded John a second daughter, Gilliam Chynna Phillips, born February 12, 1968 in Los Angeles.
On January 31, 1972, John Phillips married for the third time, to actress and Crowley aficionado Genevieve Waite; on the wedding guest list were soon-to-be-governor Jerry Brown and soon-to-be-lieutenant-governor Mike Curb. The couple's time together would be marked by wildly out-of-control drug consumption and the birth of two more offspring: Tamerlane, whose name is presumably in part an homage to Tamar Hodel, and Bijou Lilly, who was taken away and placed in foster care in Bolton Landing, New York after her drug-addled parents were deemed unfit to raise her.
In June 1972, shortly after marrying Waite, Phillips moved into a canyon home at 414 St. Pierre Road that had been built by William Randolph Hearst. The Rolling Stones had just vacated the property, and their trusty sidekick, Gram Parsons, would grow very close to John Phillips. Parsons, of course, would soon turn up dead, while John would head off to London, where he reportedly planned to record a solo album with assistance from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. That project never got off the ground, however, as Phillip's addictions rendered him impossible to work with, even for a world-class drug abuser like Richards.
Cass Elliott turned up in London the very next year, but unlike her former bandmate, her trip abroad was to be one-way; on July 29, 1974, she was found dead in occasional Canyonite Harry Nilsson's London flat. Ms Elliott, it seems safe to say, knew a little too much about the dark side of Laurel Canyon.
Following the dissolution of the Mamas and the Papas, Cass had gone on to a successful solo career and had become a familiar face on American television screens. In addition to hosting two prime-time network specials, she had guest-hosted the Tonight Show and had appeared on such popular early-1970s shows as The Red Skelton Show and Love, American Style.
She had been married twice, first in 1963 to vocalist Jim Hendricks in what was reportedly a platonic arrangement aimed at getting Hendricks a draft deferment. During that first marriage, which was annulled in 1968, Cass had given birth to a daughter, Owen Vanessa Elliott, born on April 26, 1967. Hendricks, however, was reportedly not the father and Cass steadfastly refused to reveal who Owen's true father was. In 1971, following the breakup of the band, Cass married again, this time to Baron Donald von Weidenman, a wealthy Bavarian heir. That marriage collapsed after just a few months though and Cass was single when she died just a few years later. Owen, already fatherless, was just seven.
Denny Doherty, meanwhile, went on to host a popular variety show in Canada, as well as performing in various formations of the New Mamas and the Papas. He passed away on January 19, 2007, reportedly due to kidney failure.
Michelle Phillips released an unsuccessful solo album, but then switched gears and went on to a successful acting career, gracing the small screen in such hit shows as Knot's Landing, Hotel, and Beverly Hills, 90210. She continued to have numerous flings and has married several more times. At sixty-seven, she is the only living member of the original Mamas and the Papas.
Returning now to John Phillips, in 1975 he sobered up enough to put together the soundtrack for the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, a surreal venture featuring the talents of fledgling actor David Bowie and director Nicholas Roeg, who had previously collaborated with Crowleyite Donald Cammell on the heavily occult-influenced Performance. Roeg's film, curiously enough, includes a cameo appearance by Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell. At that same time, Phillips was working on completing a horrifically bad, Andy Warhol-produced musical entitled Man on the Moon, which closed just two days after opening.
As a side note, Phillips at one time had Don "Miami Vice" Johnson in mind to play the lead in his space opera. Like the rest of the Hollywood notables in this story, Johnson was a canyon dweller at the time. His next-door neighbor was a guy by the name of Chuck Wein, an avid occultist and buddy of Warhol who, in addition to managing bizarre nightclub acts, directed the 1972 new age documentary Rainbow Bridge, filmed less than two months before star Jimi Hendrix turned up dead. Wein shared a curious nickname with fellow Canyonite Charlie Manson: `The Wizard.' But I may have drifted a little off-topic here
Some of you may have noticed, by the way, that I am all but cured of my former addiction to the word `digress,' thanks to a twelve-step program I've been working my way through. I can now veer off on wild tangents having little to do with the main topic of discussion like filling you in, for example, on nonexistent twelve-step programs and not feel the slightest compulsion to point out the temporary loss of focus.
Anyway for the remainder of his career, Phillips' musical output consisted primarily of occasionally writing songs for and with others, his most well known contribution being his co-writing duties on the wretchedly awful Kokomo, recorded by the Beach Boys.
In 1981, Phillips found himself facing charges of trafficking large volumes of narcotics. By his own account, he had an arrangement with a pharmacy that allowed him to obtain large amounts of narcotics without prescriptions (daughter Bijou would later say that he had actually purchased the pharmacy, guaranteeing virtually unlimited access). The charges were quite serious; in Phillip's own words, he "was looking at forty-five years and got thirty days." He began serving his sentence, appropriately enough, on April 20, and he was released just three-and-a-half weeks later.
He should have gotten at least ninety days just for Kokomo. It never hurts to have friends in high places.
Phillip's circle of friends, in the post-Mamas and Papas years, included J. Paul Getty, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Jr., and Princess Margaret. Getty and Kennedy, both plagued by demons of their own, were likely being supplied by Phillips. Another name in Phillips' rolodex was Colin Tennant, the wealthy heir of a massive petrochemical conglomerate in the UK. Tennant owned a private island in the British West Indies where wealthy friends like John Phillips and Mick and Bianca Jagger could engage in unknown activities in complete seclusion.
Upon being released from his preposterously short period of confinement, Phillips put together a version of the Mamas and the Papas that included daughter Mackenzie Phillips and original lead vocalist Denny Doherty. Scott McKenzie, who had summoned all the runaways across the country to come to San Francisco with flowers in their hair, later replaced Doherty. Laurie Beebe subsequently replaced Mackenzie Phillips, after which Doherty returned one again to replace John Phillips. The band finally called it quits in 1994.
Phillips had divorced Waite in 1985. In 1992, he received a liver transplant and a new lease on life. Just months later, he was photographed drinking in a bar in Palm Springs. In 1998, Phillips and the other surviving members of the Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Three years later, on March 18, 2001, Phillips died of heart failure. The saga wasn't quite over, however; Phillips' daughters would carry on with the family tradition while spilling some dark family secrets along the way.
Oldest daughter Mackenzie began her acting career at the tender age of twelve when she landed a role in what was to be George Lucas' breakthrough film, American Graffiti. Just a few years before, it will be recalled, Lucas had been an unknown cameraman at the Rolling Stones' notorious Altamont concert. During filming of Graffiti in 1972, John Phillips, who I'm sure had lots of important business to attend to and therefore little time to look after his daughter, signed over legal guardianship of Mackenzie to producer Gary Kurtz.
A few years later, in 1975, Mackenzie landed a role on what would quickly become a hit television series, One Day at a Time. During the third season, however, Mackenzie was arrested for public drunkenness and cocaine possession, after which her substance abuse problems continued to spiral out of control, causing frequent problems and considerable tension on the set of her hit show. Providing a template for Charlie Sheen to later follow, she was fired from the production in 1980.
After two nearly fatal overdoses, she was invited back by producers in 1981. The following year though she collapsed on the set and was once again fired. What had once seemed a very promising acting career was over as quickly as it had begun.
From the late 1980s through the early 1990s, she performed intermittently with the reformed Mamas and Papas. In 1992, she reportedly entered a long-term rehab program that she didn't emerge from for nine months. Following that, she kept a low profile for many years. In August 2008, however, she was arrested at LAX for heroin and cocaine possession and on Halloween day 2008, she entered a guilty plea and was once again sent to rehab.
A year later, in September 2009, Mackenzie released her tell-all memoir, High on Arrival, which painted a dark and disturbing picture of her late father. In addition to introducing her to drugs at the age of eleven by injecting her with cocaine, Mackenzie claimed that Papa John had raped her on the eve of her first marriage, and had engaged in an incestuous affair with her that spanned a decade and ended only when she became pregnant and did not know who the father was a scenario, it should be noted, with remarkable parallels to the ordeal endured by Michelle's surrogate mother, Tamar Hodel.
John Phillips' memoir covering the time period in question makes no mention of the illicit relationship with his daughter. He does claim that Mackenzie was once raped at knifepoint by an unknown assailant. He also notes, shockingly enough, that Mackenzie's "house in Laurel Canyon was destroyed by fire." That, as we all know, hardly ever happens.
The year after dropping her bombshells, Mackenzie appeared on what is arguably the most appalling `reality' show to ever hit the airwaves, Celebrity Rehab, in a role far removed from her glory days on a hit primetime show. That same year, sister Chynna Phillips entered rehab as well, though she was seeking relief from, uhmm, `anxiety.'
Chynna first captured the spotlight in 1990 as 1/3 of the vocal group Wilson Phillips, alongside of Carnie and Wendy Wilson, offspring of the reclusive Brian Wilson (the only Beach Boy, by the way, to not be involved with the aforementioned Kokomo, and arguably the only really talented Beach Boy). That group though proved to be very short-lived, as did Chynna's musical career.
In 1995, Chynna married actor William Baldwin. In 2003, she became what Vanity Faire described as a "fervent born-again Christian. She was baptized in brother-in-law Stephen Baldwin's bathtub." The magazine also quoted Chynna as saying that "being a mom is challenging for me my perspective is warped."
Like her older sisters, Bijou Lilly Phillips born April 1, 1980, just a year before her father was harshly punished for running a major narcotics trafficking operation merged into the fast lane at a very young age. Her mother was addicted to heroin while carrying her and Bijou has candidly described herself as a "crack baby." Raised partially in a foster home, she was reunited with her father by the courts when in the third grade. That wasn't necessarily a good thing.
Described by Index magazine as "a wild child who, through fate and circumstance, was somehow allowed to partake of New York's nebulous nightlife at an age traditionally more suited to playing with dolls," she was a cover model from a very young age. She was also, perhaps not surprisingly, the fourteen-year-old star of a Calvin Klein ad campaign that many people (as well as the US Justice Department) considered to be bordering on child pornography, and that Bijou herself has referred to as "the kiddy porn ads."
Bijou told her interviewer from Index that lurking behind the scenes of that notorious Calvin Klein photo shoot I'm guessing as a technical adviser "was this porn guy." The interviewer identified that "porn guy" as Ron Jeremy, probably the world's most famous, and arguably the world's most inexplicable, porn star.
I should, I suppose, qualify that last statement: Ron Jeremy's fame is inexplicable in the sense that it is hard to imagine that anyone, male or female, really wants to see Ron Jeremy naked. He is not, however, just any ol' porn star. To the contrary, he is a porn star whose mother was an asset of the OSS, precursor to the CIA, and whose physicist father had probable intel connections as well. And he is a porn star who attended high school with none other than future CIA director George Tenet, and a porn star whose uncle had ties to notorious gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel.
He is, in other words, an extremely well hung connected porn star.
Bijou has alluded to the fact that Mackenzie was not the only Phillips daughter to receive unwanted attention from Papa John. In her music can be found lyrics such as "he touched me wrong." Asked directly about such references, she told an interviewer that she had "made this decision not to talk to the press about anything that's gone on in my life, but just to write music about it. They can interpret it themselves," though she then quickly added, "It's blatantly obvious."
The youngest of the Phillips clan also acknowledged that she has a "Daddy" tattoo on her rear. "That was [done] during a time," she said, "when I was a pretty sick puppy."
Bijou made her film debut in 1999 and has had a number of low-profile film and television roles since then. Most recently, she had a recurring role on the freshman season of Raising Hope as, of all things, a serial killer. She is currently an avid Scientologist. Many of the problems she has faced, she ultimately realized, stem from the fact that she'd "never been shown respect by [her] parents. [She'd] always been treated like an object, not like a human."