If you are over 30, you’ve probably heard of the 1960s band ironically titled The Mamas and the Papas. You are probably too young to have heard them live when they were in their glory days. It seems to me you weren’t missing much. John Phillips, one of the Papas in the band, was anything but a good daddy. He singled out his daughter, MacKenzie Phillips, equally famous in the 1970s, and forced her into an incestuous relationship. But I get ahead of myself.
The Mamas and the Papas
John Phillips was a member of the infamous 1960s band. The Mamas and the Papas consisted of four singers and musicians: the massive Cass Elliot, the incestuous John Phillips, the druggie Denny Doherty, and the gorgeous Michelle Phillips whose only flaw was terrible taste in men. Mama Cass, as she was known, died in 1974 at the age of 43, of heart failure, no surprise considering her massive weight. At one point after the break-up of the band, she asked Doherty to marry her but he declined. Doherty died during surgery for his second abdominal aortic aneurysm after his first. His last place of residence was with his wife and three children in his Mississauga Ontario home (about 20 minutes from where I grew up).
The band indulged in all the free love and chemical intoxication of the 60s. They were also famously incestuous as a group, splitting up in 1968 when inter-band relations had made it difficult to continue recording. While still married to John, Michelle had an affair with Doherty, This in turn inflamed the ire of fellow Cass, who herself harboured an infatuation with Doherty. Certainly makes it easy to believe in the Phillips family incest. Speaking of family, shortly after the Manson murders of his wife Sharon Polanski and friends the LaBiancas, a grief-stricken Roman Polanksi became convinced that Phillips was part of the murder of his wife in retribution for Polanski’s own brief affair with Michelle Phillips. Phillips did claim to have been at the Polanski home on the night of the Manson family’s carnage but he left early enough to avoid the killings. At one point, Polanski grabbed a kitchen knife and held it to the singer’s throat in an attempt to force a confession out of him. None was forthcoming.
Phillips own childhood was tumultuous. 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. Nasty, for sure. Phillips spent most of his life trying to escape that image of his father by becoming a drug addict. Ultimately he created a hell of his own that was far, far worse and not just for himself.
Phillips developed a bad reputation that he himself fostered and promoted, most notably in his 1986 autobiography, Papa John. 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, 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. In his memoir he related debauched behaviour that included sexual liaisons, infidelities and rampant drug use in lurid detail. He carefully excluded his worst debauchery, the incest he committed against his daughter.
When MacKenzie was an 11-year-old child, Papa Phillips started injecting her with cocaine and heroin. By the time she was 13 she was an addict. Nice. He divorced MacKenzie’s real mother to marry the gorgeous Michelle Phillips (nee Gilliam). Michelle then became MacKenzie’s stepmother. MacKenzie was first a child star then a teenage star on the hit sitcom One Day at a Time, with Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin. The show ran for nine seasons, until MacKenzie’s drug addiction resulted in the studio firing her, ending the series. Of course the producers had no way of knowing that MacKenzie had been addicted since childhood because of Papa Phillips.
High On Arrival
While promoting her new memoir, High On Arrival, on the Oprah Winfrey show, Mackenzie alleged that at 19 she was raped by her musician father and subsequently engaged in a 10-year incestuous yet consensual sexual relationship. The use of the word consensual has been challenged by therapists, incest victims and the general public. There is never such a thing as consensual sex in an incestuous relationship. MacKenzie herself stated her feeling of a consensual relationship probably resulted from the Stockholm Sydrome, where she bonded with her captor to save her own sanity. Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not require a hostage scenario, but defines a “strong emotional tie that develops between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
Families with incest perpetuators and victims always react with denial and anger. The abuser is usually protected and the victim is rejected, sometimes for years or even for good. These families cannot and will not accept the allegations of abuse as true. Unless a person has a distorted personality, such as that of pathological liar, why would anyone, and especially a child, claim to be an incest victim when she or he is not? When children tell family about incest and sexual abuse they talk about the abuser as if they are discussin Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Rarely does the child state outright that daddy (or mommy or brother) has been touching him or her. They often couch their admission in terms of a “monster” or a “boogeyman” or some such thing. Since children rarely understand the act of sex, sometimes they use expressions such as “he laid on top of me and hurt me.” Pictures children draw show them with sad faces, bleeding and an angry, dark figure hurting them. MacKenzie’s admission happened well beyond her childhood when she was in her thirties and her family members were also grown. Perhaps because her father forced her to keep her silence for so long her family found it difficult to believe her.
More typically, the Phillips cannot believe MacKenzie’s story or it will upset the apple cart, topple the image of John Phillips as a good father and husband. Phillips is dead and the family doesn’t want any skeletons being aired out of the closet. It is too difficult and quite inconvenient. Chynna Phillips admitted that MacKenzie’s book release came at a time when she and Wilson-Phillips were going on tour. Michelle Phillips urged her not to go in light of the recent publicity about John Phillips since it might reflect poorly on her.
Michelle Phillips, no longer the slim, beautiful girl of the Mamas and the Papas, was John’s worst critic after their divorce yet even she defended him against MacKenzie’s incest allegations. As a young teenager, Michelle’s mentor had been an older girl, Tamar Hodel, who at age 16 had been raped by her father, a prominent (and extraordinarily decadent) doctor. Tamar had become pregnant, had an abortion, and testified at a notorious, headline-making, noir-era-L.A. incest trial, but somehow she was the one who was blamed. In meeting the beautiful young Michelle on the heels of her trauma and disgrace, Tamar wanted “to rewrite her own hideous youth by guiding a protégée to a better one.” It was through Tamar that Michelle met John Phillips.
Michelle Phillips stated “I’m so embarrassed—and mad,” she said. “At Oprah, at the publisher, and at Mackenzie, who should be on a psychiatrist’s couch, not on TV.” Michelle will not concede that her former husband and the father of her daughter, Chynna Phillips, could have committed such heinous acts. “Is this all true? We’ll never know, because she waited until John was dead,” she said. “If you’re going to make these accusations and they don’t hurt anyone living, that’s one thing. But Mackenzie has affected the lives of all her nieces and nephews, who are not going to school today and are staying home sobbing.” I don’t see how a person could come forth with incest allegations and not hurt anyone living. It’s one reason why incest victims don’t speak out until years have passed; they worry about others’ well-being more than their own.
One member of the inner circle of the original Mamas and Papas stated “If I could pull John out of his crypt and beat the crap out of him I would. What a tragic, disgusting, and disturbing piece of news.” Tamar Hodel who now lives in Hawaii, said, “I believe Mackenzie, and I agree with what she has said on TV: that there is much more incest out there than people are aware of. It’s hidden and it destroys lives. I look at Mackenzie and realize I was fortunate: I was raped only one time by my father.” Tamar recalled seeing Mackenzie in Hawaii a few years ago, when Mackenzie was performing in The Vagina Monologues. “She was onstage, talking about incest, and there was no doubt she was talking about herself.” It is ironic that Michelle refuses to believe her stepdaughter’s allegations against Phillips considering her former mentor was herself a victim of incest. Where incest is concerned, nothing makes sense.
A year and a half after MacKenzie released a memoir revealing she was the victim of incest at the hands of her singer father, Mackenzie Phillips is still dealing with the fallout; a decided chill from family members, a psyche still bruised over criticism about her confession. “I think I was very naïve,” Phillips said. “I expected, certainly, people to go, ‘Oh, that is so crazy.’ What I didn’t expect was the deeply cruel things that were said … ‘Mackenzie Phillips banged her dad,’ or the blogs that I read.” Perhaps less surprising was the family reaction to Phillips’ public airing of her incest story. While Phillips told stated she has received waves of support from other incest victims and has unwavering support from her mother Susan Adams, other parts of her extended family are now lost to her. Her own brother Jeff and celebrity stepsisters Chynna and Bijou Phillips no longer speak to her. Surprising, since Chynna originally claimed she believed MacKenzie’s story. The pain of incest was traumatic enough. Now MacKenzie Phillips struggles with becoming a pariah in her own family, most of whom refuse to believe her (typical of families of incest).
However Chynna herself entered rehab for her drug addiction due to – ahem – anxiety. Yes I can understand her anxiety: ridiculously beautiful, married to Billy Baldwin and starring on the Gossip Girls, member of a successful girl band, Wilson Phillips. Lots to be anxious about there. You’d almost think she was the object of “daddy’s” affection. Chynna admitted that “Hold On“, one of their greatest hits, was written by her and band mates Carnie and Wendy Wilson about her recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Prehaps she should dedicate it to her stepsister, MacKenzie, about her struggle with incest. Her family doesn’t believe her. I do.