Cass Elliot was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941, in Baltimore, Maryland. She grew up in the Washington D.C. environs and in her senior year of high school, performed in a summer stock production of "The Boyfriend" at the Owings Mills Playhouse, where she played the French nurse who sings "It's Nicer, Much Nicer in Nice." After this experience, even though her family anticipated her seeking a college education in pursuit of a career, Cass forged ahead in the performing arts. She made a splash in New York and began an acting career, competing with Barbra Streisand for the Miss Marmelstein part in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" in 1962.
She toured in a production of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man." Elliot also produced a play at Cafe La Mama in New York. However, by early 1963 she had met up with Tim Rose and John Brown and formed a folk trio initially dubbed The Triumvirate, but later known as The Big 3 when Brown was replaced by James Hendricks. The Big 3 were a progressive and innovative folk trio who recorded two albums and made appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), Hootenanny (1963) and The Danny Kaye Show (1963). In 1964 the group had begun to fall apart and it metamorphosized into a foursome called "Cass Elliot and The Big Three" which included Canadians Denny Doherty and Zal Yanovsky (Rose had left at this point). Soon this foursome became The Mugwumps who operated out of The Shadows nightclub in Washington. They released a single for Warner Brothers and stayed together through the end of 1964, until they, too, began to disintegrate. Cass began to work as a solo single in Washington, D.C.
At this point Doherty had joined John Phillips and Michelle Phillips and the three were performing as The New Journeymen. Soon they left for the Virgin Islands, where Cass subsequently joined them, and the four began to sing together in mid-1965--thus, the superstar group The Mamas and The Papas was born. From 1965 to 1968 the Mamas and Papas recorded a series of top-ten hits including "Monday, Monday," "California Dreamin'," "I Saw Her Again," and "Dedicated to the One I Love."
The group's last hit was a launching number for Cass Elliot. "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" became her theme song and, beginning in 1968, she embarked on her own short-lived but solid solo career. Her distinct voice had always emerged from the groups in which she sang. In 1969 she scored big with "It's Getting Better" and 1970 yielded the hits "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and "New World Coming." In 1970, Elliot also appeared in the film Pufnstuf (1970) and recorded an album with rock singer Dave Mason. Recently, the issue of the soundtrack of Monte Walsh (1970) turned up four different versions of her theme song, "The Good Times Are Coming", composed by John Barry and Hal David.
Elliot had two prime-time television specials of her own in 1969 and 1973, but most people remember her scores of television appearances throughout the early 1970s with Mike Douglas, Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Tom Jones, Carol Burnett and others. She guest-hosted "The Tonight Show", had successful stints in Las Vegas and continued to record for RCA during these years, too. Cass had one daughter, Owen Vanessa, in April 1967 and she was married twice, first (1963-68) to fellow Big Three and Mugwumps member Jim Hendricks and second to Baron Donald von Wiedenman (1971). In 1974, she traveled to London where she had a two-week engagement at the London Palladium. After performing to sellout crowds and basking in repeated ovations, Cass tragically succumbed to a heart attack on July 29, 1974 in London, following this successful concert tour (and NOT, as is commonly believed, from choking on a sandwich).
In 1998, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Cass Elliot and her fellow band-mates from The Mamas and The Papas into that institution. Her daughter Owen represented her mother and accepted her award.