The old hippie spirit never dies, we mused as Michelle Phillips, Marsia Holzer and I popped open a bottle of Brunello. It just parties on. I was happily nestled among the living proof.
Michelle was the tall, lithe, longhaired beauty in the Mamas and the Papas, whose husband (John Phillips) co-produced the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival that defined the “Summer of Love.”
Marsia was the small, lithe beauty who created on stage wardrobes for Michelle, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd, and many more. They are lifetime besties. When Michelle comes to New York, she stays at Marsia’s — and beckons. So, here I was again, partying with these forever-young, girls of summer.
They met in Mexico, Michelle told me: “She had a boyfriend named Yippi.” “I thought we met in LA,” said Marsia. (Ah yes, they remember it well.) Yippi was the lead in Hair in Acapulco. Marsia had done the costume designs for the production (as well as for the West End run). They were quite the couple out dancing in Acapulco nightly.
Michelle has had her own share of hot boyfriends; significant relationships with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s longtime paramour Anjelica Huston shows up at Michele’s parties to this day. There were insignificant relationships as well: Want to know about the rock star who embodied raw sex, but was bad in bed? Sorry, there will be no tell all.
But, Michelle will talk about herself. And everyone is interested. She’s featured in the documentaries Echo in the Canyon, Laurel Canyon, many PBS specials and pretty much any look back at those halcyon hippie days.
She recreated herself as an actress, in such films as Ken Russell’s Valentino opposite Rudolf Nureyev, Bloodline with Audrey Hepburn and Omar Shariff, and as Ann Mathewson for six seasons on Knots Landing.
This weekend, a filmmaker looking to do a documentary on Michelle had flown her to New York. There’s been serious interest in a movie treatment she wrote with Robin Aiello about the Mamas and the Papas, the shooting rocket to stardom that burnt so brightly, it destructed.
We met when she was doing a star turn on “Search for Tomorrow” and I was the NBC publicist who got to wine and dine her. Many LA parties at Michelle’s home, dinners at Elaine’s and bottles of red later, we were hugging and laughing in Marsia’s grand Central Park West apartment. Overlooking the park, it’s filled with Warhols, furniture Marsia designed, antiques and curios, pulled together with an unerring eye.
Every picture tells a story: Marsia’s horses, English countryside, rock star designs, her wedding day to Lenny in Connecticut. “I made my own wedding dress,” Marsia recounted. “Carly Simon was my matron of honor. Dr. John played four hours as a gift. Libby Titus performed too. It was all so much fun. I think weddings today are often over produced.” Hey, all you need is a room filled with legends.
Marsia walked me around her many Warhols. They were friends. “I worked with him on an event called Fashion as Fantasy that included a lot of prominent designers,” she told me. “Andy decided classic clothing could be interchangeable. So we cut up seven different designer pieces and reconstructed them: an Hermes bodice with Valentino sleeves, for example. I wore a dress I made out of dried apricot rolled up leather, then, changed and put it on a silver tray to sell. By the time the buyer came to claim it, it had been eaten. He was furious. Andy said it was conceptual art and he wasn’t giving the money back. The guy went back to Texas and invented edible panties!”
These days, Marsia works big: furniture inspired by organic forms, oversized tables of wood sourced from fallen trees, chairs and lamps cast from branches, and wooden chainsaw animal sculptures. Marsia pointed to the Warhol of Annie Oakley that bears an uncanny resemblance. She feels an affinity. “She’s a gun totin’ mama and I’m working with a chainsaw.”
Then, she pointed to Warhol’s Last Supper. “Eerily, it was his last period of work. This one is unusual because it’s a collage.” A Warhol cow was a birthday present. It’s part of her collection of his Western series. A big wooden peace sign that Marsia made as part of her Christmas decor one year remains above a fireplace.
One night, back in the Hamptons, she made me dinner in her ocean-front compound. Like New York, it remains true to its surroundings. Here, the interior is open, aerie and sand colored.
Again, her creations are everywhere. Holzer’s chainsaw sculpted wolf heads line the driveway like gargoyles, to keep deer from her vegetable gardens. There’s a bronze driftwood horse by the pool. “I put it all together.” she tells me. “Then I took it all apart, and had the pieces cast in bronze. Then I had to put the bronze pieces back again, which was somewhat of a nightmare.” Inside, there’s another signature wood table, seating twenty.
In the guest house is the chicken lamp. “I took a welding course in 1998 and I loved it,” she recounted. “I decided I should give up my rock star costumes and just do the welding. But, I had a thriving business with a big workroom full of people. I’m a money-loving Capricorn and didn’t want to let go. So, I did this sculpture and wrote ‘You Big Chicken’ on the base. That completely freed me. I got rid of my whole workroom, gave myself a year to just weld and created an entirely new business.”
Today, Marsia produces functional sculpture home furnishings out of a 1,500 square foot TriBeCa studio, selling to the trade. Lola and I like to walk over. One day, there was a huge oxidized walnut slab hanging on the wall “like a painting.” Next visit it was a finished ten foot table.
There’s always a philanthropic element. Sales from her arctic melt wall sconces are attached to an arctic charity; a dining room console that references a dog (including its pink tongue), to shelters.
There’s blown glass industrial sconces, Mongolian lamb stools, Hedgerow bird side tables, leaf chairs cast in bronze and the chainsaw windy series, as if a wind machine had been turned onto its subjects. It’s sold by appointment only, mainly to the trade, and actually affordable. (marsiaholzer.com)
There’s a recycled series in the works. Because rust never sleeps; nor does Marsia Holzer.