Ten Things You May Not Know About Mama Cass

1. She was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941. Per bandmate Denny Doherty, she may have chosen the new first name Cass after actress Peggy Cass. She later assumed the surname Elliot in memory of a deceased friend. In 1965 she became Mama Cass after joining The Mamas & the Papas. In 1971 she became Baroness von Wiedenman, when she married Baron Donald von Wiedenman. The marriage lasted just six months.

2. Prior to marrying the baron, Cass married James Hendricks, a bandmate of her pre-Mamas and the Papas groups The Big Three and The Mugwumps, to help him avoid being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. The marriage wasn’t consummated and later was annulled.

3. Cass dropped out of high school her senior year. She moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. She toured with a production of The Music Man. In 1962 she went for the part of Miss Marmelstein in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, but lost out to Barbra Streisand.

4. She reportedly had an IQ of 165.

5. The Mamas and Papas’ John Phillips was reluctant to let Cass join the group, because of her size and because she couldn’t hit the high notes. While walking past a construction site, a metal pipe fell and conked Cass on the head, knocking her to the ground. She spent three days in the hospital with a concussion. After being released, she joined the group at one of their rehearsals and amazingly, was able to hit the high notes. Phillips then made her a member of the group.

6. Per writer Julia Phillips, Mama Cass owed the IRS $10,000, which she paid via a truckload of pennies. The government cited her for contempt.

7. She was attributed with the following quote: “I would say the world’s in terrible shape, but I’m afraid the world would say, ‘Look who’s talking.’”

8. In 1967 Cass posed nude for Cheetah magazine.

9. On July 29, 1974, following two sold-out concerts at The London Palladium, Cass retired to her hotel room. That night she died in her sleep of heart failure.

10. She died in room no. 12 at 9 Curzon Place in London. Four years later, The Who’s drummer Keith Moon died in the same room.

Tunes du Jour remembers Mama Cass Elliott on her birthday with this twenty-track playlist.


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