Who, exactly, is the super-talented Michelle Phillips?

Jun 04, 2014 | 3:59 PM

Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas


I’ll confess: when I first heard that today was Michelle Phillips’ 70th birthday, my reaction was, “Who is Michelle Phillips?”


I turned to Wikipedia (how did we live without it?) and discovered that she was the fresh flower child from The Mama’s & the Papas, those folksters from the 60s who made such a lasting impression on the world despite the fact that they only sang together between 1965 and 1968.



The Mama’s & the Papas in 1967


Of course, the group helped define some of the groovier sounds of the late sixties. They really were some of the first voices of the hippy movement, with Mama Cass’ full, sultry alto voice and caftans leading the way.


While Michelle may have seemed like just the quiet beauty of the band, she actually co-founded it with her then-husband, songwriter and arranger John Phillips.




Just about everyone can hum, whistle, or sing the chorus of “California Dreamin’.” And along with The Bangles’ tune “Manic Monday,” “Monday Monday” is one of those catchy melodies that gets stuck in my head on the first day of the week. (It also so happens that it won a Grammy in 1966!)


As I was looking up some details about Michelle Phillips, I realized just how much I didn’t know about her. Here are a few of my favorite facts:


She co-wrote two of The Mama’s & the Papas’ biggest hits.





She was the voice of “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and co-wrote hits “California Dreamin’” and “Creeque Alley.”


California Dreamin


While the music for “California Dreamin’” was written collaboratively, the lyrics were all Michelle. She was living in New York City during a particularly chilly winter and feeling homesick for California. The song is an homage to her love of mild and sunny Los Angeles weather.



A dreamy Michelle Phillips in the late ’60s


She’s a real romantic!




Phillips has been married four times so far. John Phillips was her first husband. They met when she was just 17 and married on New Year’s Eve, 1962. They stayed together until 1970.


Michelle and John Phillips

Michelle and John, happy in 1967


She met and fell in love with Dennis Hopper on the set of the film The Last Movie (1971).



Dennis Hopper in The Last Movie



Their whirlwind marriage lasted eight days, but she has said, “It was the happiest week of my life.”



Michelle and Dennis in 1970



In the 1970s and 1980s, she was also linked to mega stars

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.






She’s been a hard-working actress for over four decades.



Michelle shining in 1980


Michelle started acting right after The Mama’s & the Papas disbanded in 1971. Her very first role was as a banker’s daughter in The Last Movie. But her greatest acting successes came from the regular appearances she made on ultra-glam nighttime soaps like Hotel, Knots Landing, The Love Boat, and even Beverly Hills 90210.



Ms. Phillips as ’80s Drama Queen Anne Matheson


This sweet-faced gal also won a Soap Opera Digest Award in 1991 for her work as deliciously-conniving villainess Anne Matheson on Knots Landing. She played this role for six years in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and even reprised it several times for reunion specials and made-for-TV movies.


And who could forget her as a mermaid on Fantasy Island?



Ricardo Montelban and Phillips luxuriate on Fantasy Island


She’s the matriarch of a musical family.



Michelle and Chynna in the 1970s


Phillips is mother to singer/actress Chynna Phillips (whose father was John Phillips). Chynna grew up playing music with Carnie and Wendy Wilson, talented daughters of close family friend Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. Following in their parents’ footsteps, those three girls grew up to become the powerhouse ‘90s vocal trio Wilson Phillips.



A mother-daughter duet in 2012


Michelle is an in-demand backing vocalist.




She’s backed Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Carole King, and Leonard Cohen. She also provided backing vocals for Go Go Beinda Carlisle’s Heaven on Earth album in the 1980s and accompanied her on tour.




Still stunning today, this multi-talented lady has a lot more going on than I knew! And I suspect there will be more to come.




Do you have any more fun facts, photos or memories to share? I always enjoy hearing from you!




6 thoughts on “Who, exactly, is the super-talented Michelle Phillips?”

  1. Lanark     Reply

    Michelle Phillips will always be for me the face of real chilled hippydom – talented, ultra cool and never really working at looking great. Michelle just seemed to be … Michelle… a face, a voice and this something else … I cannot put words to it… but something really honest, beautiful and eternal looks out of her photos. I have seen her in lots of TV interviews over the years and she seems a happy person. She looks as beautiful today as ever – in fact even more so – as the shades of Autumn add delicious tones to the sparkle in her eyes.
    Keep rockin’ Michelle Phillips… come over to Scotland sometime will ya. While I still have breath.

    • Isabel Rose     Reply

      Thanks for writing in! Welcome to my blog. xo

  2. Vin     Reply

    I enjoyed your synopsis of Michelle. She is too often portrayed as weakest singer in the Mamas & Papas, yet her vocals were vital to the sound of the group. Her solo album, and the collection of songs she made prior to the album (with John Phillips) are a testament to her singing abilities as well as her songwriting. I love her solo work .(It’s very unfortunate and criminal that the only documented live performance we have of her singing with the group is the Monterey Pop festival. There were technical issues with her mike so her voice is barely heard.
    She’s beautiful, smart, and has a great spirit. She’s lived an amazing, rich life

    • Isabel Rose     Reply

      AND she was a really good song writer!

  3. Kev F     Reply

    She is a godess.

  4. jj     Reply

    The M+P’s were mostly a studio band. They rarely performed live. They used too many layered vocal tracks to be live. (today, bands just bring more musicians, and a bunch of backup singers). They never (?) sang live on TV. Maybe singing with a backup tape.
    I compare her with another beauty of that time – Peggy Lipton. Wow, I loved that look as a teen!!! They both started as teen models. Peggy liked older, married men (she was abused by an uncle, as a child), and Michelle found John, 9 years her senior. He was very controlling, and a creep (and a genius with words!). Peggy started acting, and later cut 3 albums. Michelle started singing, then went on to acting. Peggy married another controlling man – Quincy Jones. He wanted her to stay home, so she raised the kids. Privilege has it’s price… She went back to acting at 45, stunning everyone as Norma Jennings, in Twin Peaks.
    Thanks for your page on Michelle.

Leave a Comment