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Mama Cass

"Mama" Cass Elliot, Baroness von Wiedenman (19 September 1941 – 29 July 1974), born Ellen Naomi Cohen, was a noted American singer who performed with The Mamas & the Papas. She then went onto a successful solo career, releasing nine albums. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, she spent most of her childhood both in Baltimore and Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Elliot was widely considered the most charismatic member of the Mamas & the Papas due to her sense of humor and optimism, in part because of her large size and weight. She was one of the most beloved members of the group, and her warm, distinctive voice was a large factor in their success. She is best remembered for her vocals on the group's Billboard hits "California Dreamin", "Monday, Monday", and "Words of Love", as well as her first hit as an independent act, "Dream a Little Dream Of Me".

Cass was in love with fellow Mamas & Papas band member Denny Doherty. His affair with another married band member, Michelle Phillips, was one of the causes of the break-up of the band. Elliot resented Michelle's perceived betrayal of their friendship and helped to support the band's decision to fire Michelle in June 1966, when it became clear that John Phillips could no longer work with her. The band quickly replaced Michelle with Jill Gibson, girlfriend to their producer Lou Adler. However, by late August of 1966, Michelle was let back into the group, while Jill received a lump sum for her efforts. Gibson would later admit to feeling betrayed by the band.

Cass gave birth to a daughter named Owen Vanessa Elliot, on 26 April 1967, without naming the father.

Elliot guest-starred three times on Julie Andrews's 1973 television series, The Julie Andrews Hour. Cass's voice blended surprisingly well with that of Andrews, given their stylistic differences, and they created a pleasing onscreen chemistry. Cass also made guest appearances on The Carol Burnett Show.

Elliot was a close friend and neighbor of coffee heiress Abigail Folger, who was a victim of the Charles Manson murders. She was also close to actress Sharon Tate, writer Wojciech Frykowski, and international hairdresser Jay Sebring, all victims of the Manson madness in the summer of 1969. Singer and performer Sammy Davis, Jr. was also a good friend of Elliot and this group, and Davis has been quoted as saying that they had all been together days before the tragedy, and were it not for he and Cass each flying off to other gigs that week, they too could have been victims of the Manson Family.

After the breakup of The Mamas & the Papas in July 1968, Elliot went on to have a successful solo career, even headlining briefly in Las Vegas, for the whopping contract at that time of USD$40,000 per week. Though her Vegas gig ended badly, she was a regular on TV talk shows and variety shows in the 1970s. Her most successful recording during this period was Dream a Little Dream of Me from her solo album of the same name, released by Dunhill Records. At the height of her career in 1974, having just finished performing at the London Palladium theatre, she died of a heart attack. The coroner surmised her heart had weakened to the point of failure due to Elliot's weight and the effects of several crash diets over the years.

Elliot was married twice. In 1963 she wed James Hendricks; they divorced in 1968 (Hendricks had been a member of "Cass Elliot and the Big Three," later named "The Mugwumps"). In 1971 she married Baron Donald von Wiedenman, a journalist.

It should be noted, that Mama Cass died in the exact same bed, in the exact same room, (although a few years prior), as manic drummer of The Who, Keith Moon, in an apartment owned by singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.

An urban legend holds that Elliot died while choking on a sandwich, sometimes specified as a "ham" sandwich. Shortly after her death, but before her autopsy, The Times published an article that quoted her doctor as speculating that she "probably... died as a result of choking on a sandwich while lying in bed". However, the coroner found no food in her trachea, and reported the cause of death as heart failure. Nevertheless, the rumor spread, with the popular imagination adding that the sandwich contained ham (it possibly originated as an unkind remark about Elliot's weight). Another version of the story holds that the doctor found a sandwich or partially eaten sandwich in her room, causing him to speculate about the cause of death. Apparently, that version of the story has no corroboration either.

Another popular myth circulated about Elliot. While the Mamas & the Papas were touring as The Magic Circle (their name before changing it to The Mamas & the Papas), Elliot begged friend Denny Doherty to let her join the band. Though she had a great voice, the band's leader, John Phillips, didn't feel her voice blended well with the band's other female vocalist, his wife Michelle Phillips. But Elliot followed the band wherever they appeared, even to an engagement in the Virgin Islands. Here, she was finally accepted into the band. The myth purports that while in VI, a piece of copper tubing fell on her head and miraculously changed her voice. Though untrue, the myth has been repeated by such music professionals as Casey Kasem. Elliot was hit on the head with a copper pipe during a nightclub renovation, but it had no effect on her voice. The myth was apparently started by band member John Phillips as a justification for letting her into the band after initially refusing to allow her to join. He tells the story himself on the PBS special California Dreamin': The Songs of the Mamas and the Papas, insisting it's true.

Both rumors were mentioned in the Filmfour-produced film Beautiful Thing, of which Mama Cass' music is a big feature.

The E! True Hollywood Story biography about Elliot reports (and revives) the completely unfounded and baseless rumor that singer/songwriter John Lennon of The Beatles may have been the father of Elliot's daughter, Owen. This rumor most likely originated from Cass's fantasies due to her obsession with the Beatle -- demonstrated in the Mamas and the Papas rendition of the song "I Call Your Name," written by Lennon/McCartney, in which Cass literally calls out John's (Lennon) name. Many, many years later after the death of Mama Cass, bandmate Michelle Phillips helped Owen find her real biological father.

The song "Make Your Own Kind of Music" was featured in the ABC television show LOST, during the opening of season 2. It was played by Desmond to distract the survivors entering the Hatch. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.