A Graphic Bio of Cass Elliot Traces the Singer’s Complicated Rise to Fame

A new graphic bio (comic-book biography? graphic nonfiction history?) of The Mamas & the Papas singer Cass Elliot (neé Ellen Naomi Cohen) should bring the late star a lot of new fans. Written by French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu and translated by Nanette McGuinness, California Dreamin’ focuses on Cass’s youth, starting in her infancy and ending just before the band’s breakup. It’s funny, sad, Jewy … and a little troubling.

One of the book’s quirks is that every chapter has a different narrator, and it’s not entirely clear which anecdotes and quotes are fabricated and which aren’t.

Chapter 1 opens with the Cohen family—baby Ellen, parents Bess and Philip, grandparents Chaya and Joseph—gathered around a radio, listening to a news report about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “Grandpa Joseph is afraid there will be no more work, because in our family, we are left-wingers, or Jews, or union members, or I don’t know what,” says this chapter’s narrator, Ellen’s still-unborn sister Leah. The family owns a kosher deli, which Leah feels is foolish, “seeing as there weren’t any other Jews in Baltimore besides us.” (Already we’ve been set up to see that truth in this memoir depends on the teller, and memory is perhaps malleable.) Philip, we learn, is a dreamer, a man in fragile health, a fellow who loves opera and his children and is a little frightened of his powerful wife.

A chubby girl since childhood, Ellen is determined to become a star. A chapter narrated by her high school pal Ken Waissman conveys her feistiness, humor, and energy. The popular girls shun her, but Ken notes that even when left out, “she was left out with panache.” (Wearing heart-shaped glasses and carrying a lace parasol, Ellen invites the queen bees to her own party, airily telling them, “The theme is cheese and nudity! I’m counting on you!”) In a very funny succession of panels, we see Ellen wearing a full-body rabbit costume and a deadpan expression at the back of a classroom; cheerleading with pom-poms in the lunchroom—Bagieu draws her with huge boobs and belly, ironic eyebrows, and tiny elegantly pointed feet; slumped over a chemistry table, bug-eyed, clutching a beaker, while her prissy partner raises her hand and calls “MA’AM!! Can I change partners? Ellen’s pretending she poisoned herself AGAIN!”

A chubby girl since childhood, Ellen is determined to become a star. A chapter narrated by her high school pal Ken Waissman conveys her feistiness, humor, and energy. The popular girls shun her, but Ken notes that even when left out, “she was left out with panache.” (Wearing heart-shaped glasses and carrying a lace parasol, Ellen invites the queen bees to her own party, airily telling them, “The theme is cheese and nudity! I’m counting on you!”) In a very funny succession of panels, we see Ellen wearing a full-body rabbit costume and a deadpan expression at the back of a classroom; cheerleading with pom-poms in the lunchroom—Bagieu draws her with huge boobs and belly, ironic eyebrows, and tiny elegantly pointed feet; slumped over a chemistry table, bug-eyed, clutching a beaker, while her prissy partner raises her hand and calls “MA’AM!! Can I change partners? Ellen’s pretending she poisoned herself AGAIN!”

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About OyiaBrown

Please send me, as a comment to this page, any old material you have for inclusion in The Daily Joke Alert - to help enable us all to have our fancy tickled regularly! Never mind the state it's in as I tidy everything up prior to publication. Don't let good material go to waste - and so much does. In the interests of the environment we should always try to re-cycle everything, especially jokes. You know that makes sense! You may find some historical stuff here, but this does not really matter as humor is fairly timeless.

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