I could see life as tragic or comic depending on my blood sugar level but always saw it as meaningless. I felt I was a tragedian locked in the body of a stand-up comic. A mute, inglorious Milton. But only if you meant Milton Berle.
— Woody Allen, Apropos of Nothing
It beggars belief, I know, but there was once a good living to be made out of selling newspapers and magazines. It was a long time ago.
There’s a scene in the 1971 movie Bananas in which Woody Allen’s (quelle surprise) neurotic character, Fielding Mellish, walks into just such a magazine store on a grimly determined hunt for pornography.
Mimicking the legendary nebbish gaze to a jaunty score by the young Marvin Hamlisch, the camera pans the mostly bare-breasted covers of such esteemed publications as Fling, Climax, 382634, Sir, Rogues 1970: Calendar for Swingers, Casual Nudist, Stormy, Screw, National Review — the placement of William F. Buckley’s conservative bible is the funniest bit in the whole set piece —Yes and Courtesan.
Mellish sneaks some peeks inside a couple of the skin mags he is dying to procure, but is cowed by the presence of a couple of women, one young and attractive, one older and seemingly dressed for a gathering of the Temperance League of Sheboygan.
After some casual yawning, stretching and leafing interruptus, our hero decides to pick up “a copy of Time magazine. I’ll take Commentary, Saturday Review and let’s see, Newsweek … I’ll, uh, grab one of these.”
He takes his copies to the checkout, where a gruff male clerk tallies the total until getting to the object of Mellish’s pulpy affection, which is lacking a price sticker (the object, not the affection).
“Hey, Ralph!” the clerk yells to a fellow employee at the back of the store, “how much is a copy of Orgasm?”
“Put it in a bag, will you,” Mellish quietly implores.
Ralph’s entire show business career now unfolds: “What?”
The checkout clerk: “Orgasm. This man wants to buy a copy. How much is it?”
Mellish blanches, grabs the bag without appearing to pay anything, smirks and sputters: “I’m doing a sociological study on perversion, up to advanced child molesting.”
As he leaves the store, he puts his hand just above the breast of the Temperance League prude, who is looking on in shock and disgust.
We never do learn the price of the copy of Orgasm, which soon winds up in the hands of a more appreciative old lady on the New York subway as Mellish flees a couple of leather-adorned thugs, one of whom (look closely) was on the cusp of becoming Rambo and Rocky.
But back to the child-molestation crack. That scene was considered a scream in 1971 and, honestly, I still find the lead-up to it a guilty pleasure.
I remember going halves with a buddy on a Playboy or a Penthouse in high school and waiting in clammy anticipation outside the drugstore where it was sold, only to hear an outraged teenage teller exclaim to my friend, whom he hadn’t spotted until it was too late: “Why, Monty Wood! Shame on you! I’m going to tell your sister!”
She did, too. Sis told Mom. Mom told Dad.
I got off, as it were, scot-free. (Monty Wood was actually a different nudnik from my school. The names have been changed to protect the not so innocent.)
(Also, while we’re all safely girded in parentheses, any idea why schmoes of the gentile persuasion — take me, for example — feel an almost guttural obligation to sprinkle their inane fumfering with meshuga Yiddish imprecations when writing about the man born Allan Stewart Konigsberg at a hospital in the Bronx in 1935, then famously raised in Brooklyn by perpetually quarrelling eltern? I don’t know from drop-dead punims or zaftig tomatoes — neyn, bubkes — but it takes some kind of chutzpah to futz around like this. The compulsion almost feels, you’ll forgive me for saying, like a bit of a mitzvah. And I ain’t no shiksa, sister.)
The magazine scene, of course, went from being amusing to nauseating after wide publication of the allegation that Allen had sexually abused his adopted daughter, Dylan, when she was seven.
Never mind that the once almost universally adored comedian, writer, actor and auteur has consistently denied the allegation, and has never been charged or prosecuted.
Never mind that both the Yale-New Haven Child Sexual Abuse Clinic, hired by the Connecticut Police, and New York State Child Welfare authorities both concluded after extensive investigations that there was no credible evidence that Allen had abused or maltreated Dylan in any way.
Never mind that he easily passed a police lie detector test. Never mind that Mia Farrow, Dylan’s adoptive mom, refused to take one.
Whatever happened (or not) with Dylan, the fact that Allen was in his mid-fifties when he began having sex with her big sister, Soon-Yi Previn — abruptly ending a 13-year personal and professional relationship with Farrow — seemed loathsome and repulsive enough.
Thirty-five years Allen’s junior, Previn was born about the time Bananas was being made; Farrow learned what was going on in 1992, when she stumbled upon nude photos of the young woman carelessly left on the mantel at Allen’s home. He was 56 and Soon-Yi was 21. Talk about an unforgivable betrayal.
And yet. Not so unforgivable after all, if you believe what Allen says in Apropos of Nothing, the alternately hilarious and pugnacious memoir he had a hell of time getting published a couple of years ago after Hachette Books, the original publisher, caved to public and internal pressure and bailed.
If you’re going to give this chronicle any kind of chance, you have to first rid your mind of the muddled public perception that’s out there about what went down in the Allen-Farrow scandal.
My purpose in writing this (we’ll get to that later), for the 20 or 30 people who might see it and to clarify my own understanding, is not to serve as Allen’s advocate, though I admit to finding the case he makes in the book surprisingly persuasive. It’s certainly at odds with the impression l had been left with by sensational media coverage, the one-sided 2021 HBO documentary Allen v. Farrow, and the mugient #MeToo mania that saw much of Hollywood turn its back on him.
Allen v. Farrow was a hatchet job, omitting facts, evidence and witnesses to present Allen in the poorest possible light. Naturally, it was a hit in the ratings, with more than one million viewers tuning in for the first of four episodes.
“There’s so much misinformation, it doesn’t matter what’s true,” Mia Farrow says at one point in the television doc miniseries. “What matters is what’s believed.”
Voilà. Eureka. Ba da boom, ba da bingo.
That’s the ultimate nugget of truthiness in modern American infotainment, and that’s the main reason an iniquitous grifter will be re-elected as the world’s most dangerous sociopath in 2024.
It all comes down to this: I could mount a PR campaign tomorrow claiming that you assaulted or robbed or raped me 60 years ago without making it so. You could deny it, but that and seven dollars would get you a mango dragonfruit lemonade refresher at Starbucks. What matters is what’s believed.
This is so obvious that it shouldn’t bear repeating, but here’s another inconvenient (and ineffectual) truth for you: The facile slogan “I believe survivors” wouldn’t come off so much as a form of woke McCarthyism if people never lied and children weren’t so easy to brainwash. But they do and they are.
How do you know who the survivors are? Because they say so?
“There are still loonies,” Allen laments in his memoir, “who think I married my daughter, who think Soon-Yi was my child, who think Mia was my wife, who think I adopted Soon-Yi, who think Obama wasn’t American.”
Here, for the record, are some of his claims and contentions in Apropos of Nothing:
By 1987, when Farrow was pregnant with Ronan (aka Satchel), the purple rose of pizzazz had gone out of the actress-director relationship. Allen says he believes Ronan to be his biological son, though he has had his doubts since Farrow suggested a decade ago that Ronan might have been sired by her first husband, Frank Sinatra. Farrow told Vanity Fair in 2013 that she and Sinatra, who died in 1998 at 82, had “never really split up.”
Nancy Sinatra walked all over that bombshell by claiming that Old Blue Eyes had undergone a vasectomy years before Ronan was born.
But as someone once observed, the very rich are different from you and me. So you might want to grab a slide rule, some graph paper and a barf bag at this point. Bottom line: What Allen refers to as a “dating relationship” with Farrow (they never married) had veered into shadows and fog by the mid-Eighties:
My relationship with Mia, as I said, had mellowed into a pleasant one, less passionate but still carnal on those occasions when the planets formed a syzygy. And then suddenly it took a rather ominous turn.
Here’s my theory — and mind you, it’s only my take on matters. See what you think. Very early on, as I had described, Mia turned to me when we went to the movies and said, “I want to have your child.”
Now it was years later, and she had finally struck pay dirt, impregnated as she was by yours truly. From the moment this natal Mega Ball was hit, she turned off me. … Mia turned to me and said that she would not be sleeping at my house ever again, that I should not get too close to the upcoming baby, as she had questions about our relationship continuing. …
Now she wanted the key to her apartment back, and when I did come up (to Farrow’s place in Connecticut on) weekends, she had become cooler and indifferent. My theory, which I’ve longwindedly come around to, is that I served my purpose knocking her up and had become irrelevant. I had once written a sketch where Louise (former Allen wife Louise Lasser) and I play spiders. She is a black widow and I impregnate her and, as in nature, she then kills and eats me. Gee, I thought, reacting to Mia’s behaviour, you don’t think —?
(Time for another parenthetical tangent, this time with nothing to do with Allen or his book. As one reads of Farrow’s childhood, one is left pondering whether the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi wasn’t ill treated by the Beatles when they left his Rishikesh ashram in a huff in 1967 after it was alleged that he’d made sexual advances toward her. George Harrison issued a public apology in 1992, saying: “It’s probably in the history books that Maharishi ‘tried to attack Mia Farrow’ — but it’s bullshit, total bullshit.”)
Back to the memoir by the man once identified by an haute couture saleswoman in a high-end Manhattan store as “Mr. Woodpecker”:
Another rumour that I heard early on was that Mia’s brothers had been sexually aggressive with the beautiful Farrow sisters growing up. The Farrow brother who is now serving years in prison for child molestation has said that their father had molested him and quite possibly his siblings. Moses (an adopted son of Mia and Woody who is now a family therapist and takes Woody’s side in all of this, though you don’t hear nearly as much about him as you do of Dylan and Ronan) says that Mia told him she had been the victim of attempted molestation within her own family.
Mia’s father (Australian director John Farrow, who had seven children with Maureen O’Sullivan, aka Jane to Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan back when swingers ruled the jungle) had a reputation as an unfaithful husband. Mia herself told me she caught him in the act with a famous movie actress.
Mia had three beautiful sisters and three brothers. One brother died behind the controls of a plane. Another brother committed suicide with a gun. The third brother was convicted of molesting boys and sentenced to prison.
So now we get to the 14 is enough part. As in children. We’ll let Wikipedia do the heavy lifting here. If you can’t remember how to work a slide rule, an abacus will do:
Farrow and former husband André Previn have three biological sons: twins Matthew and Sascha (born February 26, 1970), and Fletcher (born March 14, 1974). … Farrow and Previn adopted Vietnamese infants Lark Song Previn and Summer (Daisy) Song Previn, in 1973 and 1976, respectively, followed by the adoption of Soon-Yi from Korea in 1977. Soon-Yi's precise birth date is not known, but a bone scan estimated her age as from five to seven, at the time of her adoption. The Seoul Family Court established a Family Census Register (legal birth document) on her behalf on December 28, 1976, with a presumptive birth date of October 8, 1970.
In 1980, following her divorce from Previn, Farrow adopted Moses Farrow, a two-year-old Korean orphan with cerebral palsy. In 1985, Farrow adopted Dylan Farrow (born July 1985, adopted at two weeks old). Dylan was known as “Eliza” for some time and also as “Malone.” In December 1991, a New York City court allowed Woody Allen to co-adopt Dylan and Moses.
With Allen, Farrow gave birth to her fourth and final biological child, son Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow (later known simply as Ronan Farrow), on December 19, 1987. …
Between 1992 and 1995, Farrow adopted five more children: Tam Farrow; Kaeli-Shea Farrow, later known as Quincy Maureen Farrow; Frankie-Minh; Isaiah Justus; and Gabriel Wilk Farrow, later known as Thaddeus Wilk Farrow and named after Elliott Wilk, the judge who oversaw Farrow's 1993 legal battle with Allen.
Tam Farrow died of heart failure in 2000 at the age of 21. In May 2018, Moses Farrow made claims on his personal blog that Tam had actually died from a prescription medication overdose following a lifelong battle with depression. In 2021, Mia Farrow confirmed Moses’s claim that Tam had died after an overdose of a prescription medication.
On December 25, 2008, Lark Previn died at the age of 35 from complications of HIV/AIDS. On September 21, 2016, Thaddeus Farrow was found dead at the age of 27 after an apparent car crash in Connecticut, though it was subsequently ruled he had committed suicide by shooting himself in the torso while inside his car.
Even for a terrific celebrity supermom, as Farrow was made out to be in the press, 14 kids would be an armful. Madonna, in case you’re keeping score, has six — four of whom were adopted from Malawi. Angelina Jolie also drew the line at six, three of whom were adopted internationally.
Joan Crawford adopted five, one of whom was reclaimed by his birth mother, and was accused of serious emotional and physical abuse by daughter Christina in her 1978 bestseller Mommie Dearest. But if Moses Farrow’s blog is anything to go by, Crawford was Mother Teresa compared with the woman who adopted him:
I witnessed siblings, some blind or physically disabled, dragged down a flight of stairs to be thrown into a bedroom or a closet, then having the door locked from the outside. She even shut my brother Thaddeus, paraplegic from polio, in an outdoor shed overnight as punishment for a minor transgression.
According to Allen, Mia Farrow favoured her biological children and was indifferent to the needs of the adopted kids, treating the wilful Soon-Yi in particular as “retarded” and not worth educating, never taking her to a movie, a show, a museum, or even a walk in Central Park:
Soon-Yi was the one adopted child who stood up to Mia and incurred her wrath. Consequently she was hit — hit with a hairbrush, hit with a phone — and once Mia hurled a ceramic rabbit at her, barely missing her head.
In a 2018 article on New York magazine’s Vulture website, Soon-Yi alleged that Farrow invented stories about her origins, asking her to make a fanciful tape detailing how she’d been the daughter of a prostitute who beat her. Soon-Yi had no such memory. But she says she does remember this:
Mia used to write words on my arm, which was humiliating, so I’d always wear long-sleeved shirts. She would also tip me upside down, holding me by my feet, to get the blood to drain to my head. Because she thought — or she read it, God knows where she came up with the notion — that blood going to my head would make me smarter or something.
Coming down from the mountain of dysfunction, the chair yields to Moses:
Most media sources claimed my sister Tam died of ‘heart failure’ at the age of 21. In fact, Tam struggled with depression for much of her life, a situation exacerbated by my mother refusing to get her help, insisting that Tam was just “moody.” One afternoon in 2000, after one fight with Mia, which ended with my mother leaving the house, Tam committed suicide by overdosing on pills. My mother would tell others that the drug overdose was accidental.
Concludes Allen, who never lived with the Farrow clan:
As Soon-Yi pointed out, Mia enjoyed adopting, loved the excitement, like one buys a new toy; she liked the saintly reputation, the admiring publicity, but she didn’t like raising the kids and didn’t really look after them. I felt peculiar when it was designated to me to go before the press to try and downplay the embarrassment when some of her kids were busted for stealing. It is no wonder that two adopted children (Tam and Thaddeus) would be suicides. A third would contemplate it, and one lovely daughter (Lark) who struggled with being HIV-positive into her thirties was left by Mia to die alone of AIDS in a hospital on Christmas morning.
Thaddeus, Allen says, referencing an account given by Moses and corroborated by two former Farrow employees, was made to “wear heavy iron braces for public appearances rather than lighter plastic ones because the lighter ones were worn under trousers and would not be seen by press photographers, and Mia wanted it publicized that she adopted the disabled.”
Thaddeus was the one she locked in the outdoor shed overnight. Is it surprising he committed suicide with a gun ten minutes from his mother’s house? Mia acted surprised at Thaddeus’s suicide, but the truth is he had attempted suicide six or seven years earlier by overdosing on medicines and had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.
There’s plenty more about how the adopted kids, particularly Soon-Yi, were neglected, abused and treated as domestic help — but enough. You get the idea. Farrow’s relationship with her biological children, according to Allen, went way over the top in the opposite direction — especially when it came to Satchel (Ronan), who displaced less than brilliant Fletcher as her favourite:
From his birth, Mia expropriated Satchel. She took him into her bedroom, her bed, and insisted on breast-feeding him. She kept telling me she intended to do it for years, and that anthropological studies have shown positive results from tribes where breast-feeding goes on much longer than on the Upper West Side.
Years later, two very professional and perceptive women who worked in Mia’s house, Sandy Boluch and Judy Hollister, the first as a babysitter and the second as a housekeeper, described numerous incidents. Sandy reports seeing Mia sometimes sleeping in the nude with Satchel (now Ronan) a number of times till he was eleven years old. I don’t know what anthropologists would say about that, but I can imagine what the guys in the poolroom would say.
If that’s true, Ronan must have started out life with a bit of backspin on the old balls. He’s solidly in his mom’s camp, though, regardless of the truth or falsity of Moses’s claim that she arranged for a cosmetic surgeon to break Ronan’s legs to add a few inches to his height, with an eye to a possible career in politics.
He might never run for office, but Ronan — who would grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar and respected reporter known for his investigations of sex and/or physical abuse allegations against the likes of film czar Harvey Weinstein, former New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman and U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh — has cut a pretty wide swath in journalism.
Ronan’s take on his paternity is pretty funny. “Listen,” he once tweeted, “we’re all ‘possibly’ Frank Sinatra’s son.” More to the point: Woody Allen is “my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.”
Well, when you put it that way, it does sound pretty warped, in an I’m-my-own-grandpa sort of way. But let’s hold off on condemning the happy and productive 25-year Woody-Soon-Yi marriage for a moment, which even Allen has to acknowledge as something of a departure from Robert’s Rules of Order.
Allen’s major contention in the book is that after discovering the Polaroids “heard ’round the world,” Farrow set out to wreak revenge by cutting him off from the children and publicly denouncing him as a rapist (of college student Soon-Yi, then 21) and a pedophile who had sexually abused Dylan, then seven. Ronan was four when it all went down. Deranged death threats were flying.
“It was around that time that Mia made that infamous, chilling call to my sister,” Allan writes. She told her, ‘He took my daughter, now I’ll take his.’ ”
What she seemed to mean was that knowing how much I loved Dylan, she was embarking on a plan to see to it I would not be able to see her anymore. Dylan’s feelings wouldn’t matter. She would be used to exact revenge. …
Another vituperative call, this time to me, ended with “I have something planned for you.” I joked that placing a bomb under my car was not a proportionate response. She said, “It’s worse.”
To make an already way too long story just a titch shorter, Allen now runs into a matrimonial court judge whom he accuses of being biased in Farrow’s favour throughout the high-profile custody case.
Allen mentions other people’s suspicions, without offering any evidence, that there might have been some “canoodling” going on between Farrow and the judge — Elliot Wilk— or perhaps between Farrow and the Frank Maco, the former Connecticut state attorney in charge of investigating the case.
Maco told the Allen v. Farrow filmmakers that he regrets halting the investigation over fears of further traumatizing Dylan, but it’s difficult to see what more he could have done after the Yale-New Haven Child Sexual Abuse Clinic experts concluded that the molestation claim was bogus and possibly a frame-up.
Writes Allen with unusual rancour:
The truth was, Maco was a sad schlemiel who I believed would have given his right arm and both of Dylan’s to prosecute had he the slightest chance of a win. Of course, when the very investigating experts you yourself hire come back and conclude nothing ever happened, that the girl was very inconsistent, told the investigators at one point she was not molested and not in the attic (where the abuse was alleged to have happened) with her father, and appeared to be perhaps coached by her mother, the chances of conviction lose a certain gale force.
Here’s the written conclusion of the Yale-New Haven Child Sexual Abuse Clinic:
It is our expert opinion that Dylan was not sexually abused by Mr. Allen. Further, we believe Dylan’s statements on videotape and her statements to us during our evaluation do not refer to actual events that occurred to her on August 4, 1992. …
In developing our opinion, we considered three hypotheses to explain Dylan’s statements. First, that Dylan’s statements were true and that Mr. Allen had sexually abused her; second, that Dylan’s statements were not true but were made up by an emotionally vulnerable child who was caught up in a disturbed family and who was responding to the stresses in the family; and third, that Dylan was coached or influenced by her mother, Ms. Farrow.
While we can conclude that Dylan was not sexually abused, we cannot be definitive about whether the second formulation by itself or the third formulation by itself is true. We believe that it is more likely that a combination of these two formulations best explain Dylan’s allegations of sexual abuse.
The videotape of a nude Dylan to which the clinic was referring was made by Farrow and somehow its way — magically, Allen writes — to a salivating Fox News desk in a “self-serving though not very maternal exploitation of her naked seven-year-old.”
Writes Moses, who was a teenager while the tape was being made:
It was (the nanny) Monica who later testified that she saw Mia taping Dylan describe how Woody had supposedly touched her in the attic, saying it took Mia two or three days to make the recording.
In (Monica’s) testimony she said, “I recall Ms. Farrow saying to Dylan at the time, “Dylan, what did Daddy do … and what did he do next?” Dylan appeared not to be interested, and Ms. Farrow would stop taping for a while and then continue.”
I can vouch for this, having witnessed some of the process myself. When another one of Dylan’s therapists, Dr. Nancy Schultz, criticized the making of the video, and questioned the legitimacy of the content, she too was immediately fired by Mia.
Back to Judge Wilk, who concluded “the evidence suggests that it is unlikely that (Allen) could be successfully prosecuted for sexual abuse,” but also decided there was no evidence that Farrow had coached Dylan. He denied Allen any contact with Dylan and lay down such restrictive conditions for supervised visits with Ronan that Allen says he gave up trying “after a year of this nonsense.”
So after months of Mia poisoning the (now) five-year-old, the brainwashing takes. … Naturally, as time passes, the kid enters my apartment with the supervisor, carsick, belligerent, raging with ambivalence, having been taught I’m Moloch in Ralph Lauren corduroys. …
This is what is out there in matrimonial court, Guys like Judge Wilk. Capricious men with the power to regulate families.
Allen doesn’t make anything of it, but it does give one pause that Farrow would stick ill-starred Thaddeus with “Wilk” as his second name in honour of the judge, who died of a brain tumour shortly after the hearing. The celebrated director isn’t above relating this damning anecdote, which he says was told to him by photographer Lynn Goldsmith:
She had been before Judge Wilk in a case where he ruled in her favour. A day later he showed up at her apartment unannounced and tried to sleep with her. When she resisted and pointed out he was married, it did not matter. Talk about exploiting one’s status.
Was Allen exploiting his own when he became romantically involved with Soon-Yi? His version is that he hardly got to know the girl on his visits with the Farrow clan while she was growing up, finding her distant and rather boring. Soon-Yi, for her part, couldn’t stand him and “had me down for an unperceptive Ignatz (he means the short-tempered mouse from the Krazy Kat cartoons of his childhood, not the Fire Emblem character of today) who served Mia as a high-profile significant other and kept her career moving.”
When we discussed it years later, I explained in my defence that whenever I came over to the (Farrow New York) apartment or visited the country house I saw no signs of turmoil or tyranny. Soon-Yi said it was a totally different ball game when I was not around, and that I was foolish to think Mia ever loved me, as she always had great romantic interest in her friend and neighbour, Mike Nichols.
According to Allen, it was while working on his 1992 comedy-drama Husbands and Wives — he doesn’t seem to see any irony there, given the movie’s title and assorted love triangles — “that things started to warm up between Soon-Yi and me.”
Earlier, I had taken her to a basketball game as I had season tickets. Once or twice I remarked to Mia how reclusive Soon-Yi seemed and maybe she needed to see a shrink. Mia said, “Why don’t you go for a walk with her or take her to a basketball game? You’re always looking for someone to go with.”
So now it’s tipoff time. Time goes by. More basketball games. More dribbling. Then a technical foul:
I’m shooting Husbands and Wives, and on a Saturday when I’m off, Soon-Yi comes in from college and I screen The Seventh Seal (the fluffy Ingmar Bergman chick flick about plague, death and the emptiness of life in medieval Scandinavia). Bergman’s film ends, and we’re alone in the screening room and I’m giving my pedantic lecture on Kierkegaard and the Knight of Reason and she’s listening dutifully, trying to keep her eyes open, and quite smoothly if I do say so myself, I lean in and kiss her without knocking anything over.
I brace myself for a bolo punch, the specialty of Kid Gavilán, the immortal ex-welterweight champion. But it doesn’t come. Instead she is complicit in the osculation and, to the point as always, says, “I was wondering when you were going to make a move.”
The affair really comes off — like Soon-Yi’s clothing — on her next visit from college (not sure what she was majoring in, but there couldn’t have been a ton of homework). A Polaroid camera given to Allen is lying around. Erotic photos are taken and the vertically challenged director absentmindedly puts some on the mantel of his fireplace as the Kodak squeezes them out.
(For some reason, I am reminded of some immortal words from Kodak founder George Eastman: “You push the button, we do the rest.”)
Allen hid some of the damning snapshots in a drawer but wasn’t tall enough to see the others … unlike Farrow, who wandered into his living room shortly after, as Ronan was seeing a child psychologist in a private session at Allen’s pad.
Well, the rest is his and herstory.
Feeling betrayed and outraged, as anyone would, Farrow locked Soon-Yi in her bedroom, allegedly whacked her with a phone, and was ultimately frustrated in her efforts to keep the May-to-December (October, at a minimum) lovebirds apart.
Allen and Soon-Yi would wind up marrying in 1997 and adopting two lovely girls who are now young adults, Bechet Dumaine Allen and Manzie Tio Allen. As of the publication of Apropos of Nothing in 2020, at least, Soon-Yi and Allen hadn’t spent a night apart since their wedding.
Dylan and Ronan grew up believing that Allen molested her, as did the five children Farrow adopted after the split. Moses was 14 and loyal to his adoptive mom when his adoptive father was written out of the script, but he became increasingly ill at ease with the orthodox narrative.
Writes Allen: “When Moses, at thirty, told his mother he wanted to reach out to me, there was hell to pay and he was banished from the family.”
“My brother is dead to me,” said Dylan, and one is reminded of Mia going around her house in a frenzy with scissors cutting Soon-Yi’s head out of every wall-hung family photo so they looked weirdly surreal. Fortunately, Moses defied the bullying and Mia’s insistence that even though I was his father and he had feelings for me, he must forever shun me.
Mia made it clear that any contact would constitute betrayal. Her intransigence caused Moses to experience encroaching thoughts of being yet another adopted child suicide; finally, on the advice of his therapist, he called me to reconnect. Predictably, he instantly became a nonperson in his mother’s eyes, and of course the blacklisting became required family policy.
Hence, “My brother is dead to me.” This will give you some idea of the cult-like obedience demanded of the children.”
Now — spoiler alert— this might also beggar belief. But cult-like behaviour in a fake-news era in which belief trumps fact —with a focus on how this knee-jerk tribalism affects our perception of art — is what I really set out to explore before being distracted by all the dirt and dishing.
After the New York tabloids had milked the Allen-Farrow scandal dry and the initial shockwave had dissipated on the rocky shores of public outrage, a who’s who of A-List celebrities enthusiastically queued to appear in the 27 films Allen has directed since making the 13 in which Farrow starred (he has nothing but praise for her performances as an actor, by the way).
But as the #MeToo and Times Up movements were revving up with every sickening accusation against Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, and as a now grown-up Dylan tapped into the zeitgeist with interviews and an open letter to the New York Times reviving her claims of victimhood, there was a star-spangled exodus to see who could be quickest to express their regret for ever having worked with Allen.
The ghosting, scurrilous blacklisting and impassioned denunciations reached a fever pitch after Dylan wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times in 2017, asking: “Why has the #MeToo movement spared Woody Allen?”
Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Griffin Newman, Evan Rachel Wood, David Krumholtz, Mira Sorvino, Rebecca Hall, Timothée Chalamet, Kate Winslet, Rachel Brosnahan, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, Hayley Atwell and Freida Pinto were among the actors who issued statements expressing regret at having worked with Allen. Newman, Hall, Chalamet and Elle Fanning all said they would donate their earnings from Allen’s 2018 film, A Rainy Day in New York, to various charities.
As Allen wryly notes:
This is not as heroic a gesture as it seems, as we can only afford to pay the union minimum, and my guess is if we paid more usual movie money, which often runs quite high, the actors would have righteously declared they’d never work with me but would possibly leave out the part about donating their salary.
The fact these actors and actresses never looked into the details of the case (they couldn’t have and come to the conclusion with such certainty) did not stop them from speaking out publicly with dogged conviction. Some said it was now their policy to always believe the woman.
I would hope most thinking people reject such simple-mindedness. I mean, tell it to the Scottsboro Boys.
To refresh your memory, another quick hit from Wikipedia:
The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 20, accused in Alabama of raping two white women in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs.
Celebs who either expressed support for Allen or admitted they didn’t know what happened and so were keeping an open mind — such as Barbara Walters, Diane Keaton, Larry David, Javier Bardem, Jude Law, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin and Bill Maher — were the targets of wrathful censure and attacks, periodically whipped up by Dylan and Ronan’s interviews and tweets.
After saying Allen was a friend and a great filmmaker, Spike Lee faced such an incensed backlash that he quickly issued the following statement: “I deeply apologize. My words were wrong. I do not and will not tolerate sexual harassment, assault or violence. Such treatment causes real damage that can’t be minimized.”
Gosh, what moral courage, and he’s not afraid to say it.
Numer eyns: Why is it that well-meaning people — famous movie stars or not — are only too happy to nobly take a stand on an issue of which they have next to no knowledge? Brimming with moral indignation, the editor of a movie magazine for which I used to freelance told me with disgust that she would never again allow Allen’s name to appear in it. I doubt whether that hurt him as much as Amazon breaching his contract, distributors refusing to show A Rainy Day in New York anywhere in the U.S. or universities cancelling once-popular courses on his films. But still.
“For all these crusaders knew, I could be a victim on par with Alfred Dreyfus or a serial killer,” Allen writes. “They wouldn’t know the difference.”
Numer tsvey: Suppose Woody Allen really is a monstrous pedophile who sexually abused a seven-year-old daughter, betrayed his beautiful and talented wife and married his daughter. A belief that this is so has triggered the standard cancel-culture umbrage, tortured breast-beating and humbuggery. But does it make a lick of sense?
Here’s another shocker: Lots of great artists were not so great people.
Pablo Picasso was a sadistic misogynist and serial torturer of the women who loved him — “machines for suffering,” he called them.
Lord of the Flies author William Golding, a Nobel Prize winner, tried to rape a 15-year-old girl, according to the damning memoir he wrote for his wife.
Salvador Dalí was a sadistic con man and scammer who supported Francisco Franco and once said he “often dreamed about Hitler as other men dreamed about women.” He was cruel to animals and a necrophiliac, which raises disturbing questions about his moustache wax.
How many admirers of Paul Gaugin’s idyllic paintings of French Polynesia know that he took three child brides while there and gave them all syphilis, along with women he was seeing on the side? How many know the selfish bastard abandoned his Danish wife and five children to get there in the first place? More importantly, does such knowledge make the slightest difference when contemplating Femmes de Tahiti? Should it?
I could go with many more examples of beloved artists who were thoroughgoing shits, but the point is: Why is it so easy to separate the creation from the creator in cases like Gaugin’s (or those of other bad actors like Caravaggio or Anne Perry or Roald Dahl), while not being able to make the equally evident distinction between Woody Allen the director and Woody Allen the person?
I moaned in an earlier jeremiad on this blog that I wanted Joni Mitchell to be as personally endearing and copacetic as her music, but what a fatuous thing to say. They’re two different animals.
Jed Perl, who was a longtime art critic for The New Republic magazine, makes an incisive point in his new book Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts:
The idea of the work of art as an imaginative achievement to which the audience freely responds is now too often replaced by the assumption that a work of art should promote a particular idea or ideology, or perform some clearly defined civic or community service.
His argument is essentially a restatement of the “art for art’s sake” ethos Oscar Wilde laid out more than 130 years ago in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Art shall have no other aim than being art and it should be protected from subordination to any moral, didactic, social or political purpose.”
Auden put it even more succinctly in a poem honouring Yeats: “Poetry,” he declaimed, “makes nothing happen.”
Nor should it. Social edification is not the purpose of the arts, though it seems to me that all ringing declarations can be taken to pur et dur extremes. In his essay on Perl’s book for The New York Review, Irish novelist John Banville writes:
Art must have its autonomy, must be relevant to itself first and foremost. Even works of art created with other than purely artistic aims, such as Gulliver’s Travels, or the sermons of John Donne, only achieve their true stature, their full autonomy, when they float free from the political or religious impulses that were present at their creation. Guernica would be a greater work of art than it is if Picasso had not given it the title Guernica.
That sounds like an overreach. Guernica is what it is, regardless of its title. And though self-described “second rater” Woody Allen is a much harsher critic of his own corpus than I would be in his place, the same goes for Bananas or Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters or Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine or any of the movies in his astonishing filmography.
You can like them or hate them, admire some and take a pass on others — at 86, he feels the same way — but the choleric, continuing campaign to erase him from the screen and blot him off the stage and out of the bookstore is nasty, cultish and fanatical. Not to mention dangerous. In a Trumpian world, superficial, anonymous memes, hashtags and tweets inevitably devolve into death threats.
Allen is reluctant to accuse any of his woke accusers of the taint of anti-Semitism.
But since we’ve already established that I’m just a goy who can’t say no, I can’t help wondering if there isn’t just a hint of it — or maybe a tad more — in all this righteous, quasi-religious fervour.
(Cut to that Easter dinner scene in Annie Hall — “It’s a nice ham this year, Mum” — where Grammy Hall stink-eyes Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, as she perceives him in her hateful mind’s eye in a long beard and traditional Hasidic garb.)
One of the first things Farrow did when everything blew apart was to re-baptize the kids. Scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing away the crimes and misdemeanours of the covetous Shylock in his single-minded pursuit of 50 pounds of flesh, perhaps. Not sure how it would play in Buffalo, but it had a good opening in matrimonial court.
For sure, there is some anachronistic content in Apropos of Nothing, including Allen’s self-destructive penchant (forever playing to the guys at the pool hall) for describing women by their looks. At some level, he really is Fielding Mellish, hesitating before a rack of skin mags. Do I dare buy a peach? His writing is uneven — sometimes brilliant, sometimes lazy and hackneyed.
Above all, it’s impossible to take seriously his frequent protestations that he doesn’t care about his reputation or how posterity will remember him:
At my age, I’m playing with house money. Not believing in a hereafter, I really can’t see any practical difference if people remember me as a film director or a pedophile or at all. All that I ask is my ashes be scattered close to a pharmacy.
Funny, but then why write the book?
Maybe because at bottom, Allen too believes that it’s not what happened that really matters. It’s what the audience believes. Cue Gloria Swanson’s unravelled Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard:
You see, this is my life. And it always will be. There’s nothing else. Just us. And the cameras. And those wonderful people out there in the dark.
Remember the searing opening scene of Stardust Memories? The two trains going in the opposite directions in a winners-and-losers homage to Fellini’s surrealist Otto e mezzo? Allen’s character suddenly realizes he’s on the wrong one, heading in the wrong direction, and frantically tries to switch tracks. But next thing you know, both sets of passengers have wound up at a dump, gulls circling overhead.
That’s life. That’s death. That’s art. But that’s not quite all, folks.
Stardust Memories is also about the love-hate relationship the public has with celebrities. Says Allen: “One moment they want your autograph, the next they’re ready to shoot you.”
I saw Stardust Memories a few weeks after its release in late September 1980 and was absolutely blown away.
Two months later, so was John Lennon.