The Honeymoon Was Over for Mackenzie Phillips and Hubby Jeff Sessler Before It Ended

UPDATED 10/29/1979 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 10/29/1979 at 01:00 AM EST

In one way at least, it's kind of a good thing, I guess. Jeff and I are starting over—a brand-new life on a brand-new slate." The brave words from 19-year-old newlywed Mackenzie Phillips, the big sis of CBS's One Day at a Time, make a virtue of calamity. On the last day of her honeymoon last month, a flash fire in L.A.'s chic Laurel Canyon reduced her three-bedroom redwood home to cinders. Her rock group manager husband, Jeffrey Sessler, 25, agrees: "Yeah, honey, that's the way to look at it. Let's get so busy it won't bother us."

That means developing a new singing career for Mackenzie and restoring the house "as soon as the insurance money comes through," she says. In the meantime they have rented a place nearby with a painful view of the rubble that once represented Phillips' declaration of adult independence: She bought it with her own TV money and moved in at 18. "It still hurts me to talk about it," says Mackenzie. "I loved that house, and everything went." That included her cat, Brains (who had been outside); her English garden; brand-new furniture and rugs; that famous Warhol silk screen of Marilyn Monroe; recordings of her own first struggling poems and songs; a video-cassette library of all four seasons of One Day; some 300 pairs of shoes (her passion); a closet of designer clothes (Scott Barrie, Marcia Trinder); and such irreplaceable gifts from her dad (Mamas and Papas founder John Phillips) as a cape worn by Theda Bara and a first edition of Trollope's Miss Mackenzie.

So to put the disaster behind her, Mackenzie threw herself back in One Day shooting and weekly rehearsals afterward with Jeff's friends in the Racer Band. "She's a better singer than she is an actress, and she's a great actress," says Jeff, lately assistant manager of the J. Geils Band. "We plan to have a single out by the end of the year and an LP soon after."

Her initial encouragement to follow her folks' footsteps (her ex-stepmother and closest pal is actress-singer Michelle Phillips) came shortly after her impetuous marriage to Sessler. When they met, MacKenzie was on the second year of a relationship with Peter Asher, 33, the record producer of Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. After knowing each other only three weeks, she and Jeff eloped and married at a wedding chapel near the L.A. airport. The bride wore red satin tennis shoes, a sweater and jeans. "It was time, and we were in love," sighs Mackenzie. Then, on a quick trip to Palm Springs, they stopped at a small club and she sang two impromptu numbers with the band. "The audience was whistling and screaming," she beams. "I couldn't believe it."

The response seemed an auspicious send-off for their Hawaiian honeymoon, and all went well until the end. Jeff flipped on the TV while they were packing to leave. A news report mentioned that a brushfire was raging a few miles from Mackenzie's pad. "Hey, guess what—our house is burning down!" Jeff shouted to her in the bedroom as a joke. When Mackenzie's aunt met them at the airport, they discovered the truth.

Mackenzie says she's doing well now, thank you: "I did not become hysterical and have to be sedated as some wild report said." But five weeks later she can still grieve like the teenager she barely ever was in her super-sophisticated 19 years. "If anyone sees a kind of streaked and brown and gray cat with a yellow spot on her head, let me know," she blurts. "That's her."

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