In the Latest Mamas and Papas' Saga, Michelle Phillips Says Her Ex, John, Stole His Own Son
Even given the notorious vagaries of showbiz family life, what thus unfolded was an extraordinary child custody battle—involving, ironically, the founders of the '60s folk-rock group, the Mamas and the Papas. Tamerlane is, in fact, not Michelle's child at all, but John and Genevieve's. As to why she doesn't think John, 44, and Genevieve, 31, should bring up their own son, Michelle is cautiously vague. "I want the child back," she insists. "Obviously if I'm going to these lengths, there is a reason, but I can't talk about it."
The rest of the story comes from John, who explains that Michelle "thought I was moving with a fast crowd." Indeed there have been rumors involving him and his current wife with hard drugs. "Genevieve and I dabbled with heroin," he admits, "but it was a very temporary thing. It scared the hell out of us. It hasn't been in our lives for the better part of two years."
It has been roughly the same length of time that Michelle, 35, has been out of their lives. Her seven-year marriage to John ended in 1969, but they remained close even after his marriage to Genevieve. In addition to raising their daughter, Chynna, Michelle had been stepmother to John's other daughter, Mackenzie (by a 1950s marriage), and nurtured her through troubled early years of TV stardom on One Day at a Time. Then as Michelle's career revived with films like Valentino and the miniseries Aspen, she fell out with her ex-husband.
"Our arguments have been mostly artistic differences," claims John, who worked on her 1977 album, Victim of Romance. It was not a triumph. He adds that Michelle's animosity toward him warps her view of Tamerlane's best interest. "From Tarn's point of view and ours, it would be impossible to send him back," says John, now living with his wife and son in an undisclosed location on the East Coast. "He was miserable being torn between two camps."
The wrench began two years ago. After relocating to Europe with Genevieve in December 1977, John granted custody of Tarn to his older sister in California, Rosemary Throckmorton. As part of the agreement, says Phillips, Tarn was to live during the week with Michelle and Chynna (who is now 11) and attend school in Beverly Hills. "We were traveling and wanted Tam to have continuous schooling," says John. But when he tried to take Tam back, he says, "Michelle just kept delaying." When he and Genevieve visited, he complains, they were allowed to see Tam only infrequently. "Last year," John contends, "Michelle wouldn't even let us see him on Christmas Day." He says his own sister supported Michelle only because "she never got along with Genevieve."
Why would natural parents resort to kidnapping rather than the courts? "It cost $15,000 just to retain a lawyer, with no limit on where it went from there," says John (whose best-known hits still date back to California Dreamin' and Monday, Monday). "We explained the whole situation to Tam, and he wanted to come with us." Further, John charges that Michelle—who has a new husband, radio executive Robert Burch—has selfish reasons for wanting Tam: "She's often on location, and it's convenient for her to have him there as a playmate for Chynna."
John claims his only interest is the boy's well-being. "He is happy as a clam," the father maintains. "If Michelle cared about him, she wouldn't be doing this." Michelle, of course, says the same thing about John. Only the victim of their dispute—Tam—knows which is closer to the truth.
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