Separating Woody Allen’s Life From His Art


In 1992 I was living in London, right out of college.  I was a young woman with little knowledge of what having kids was like, nor was it anything I had ever really given much thought to.  I worked during the day and spent my evenings and weekends gallivanting around town seeing plays, hearing bands, drinking in pubs. After a lifetime of loving Woody Allen, I was drawn to the scandal that erupted around his name and image when the Vanity Fair story broke reporting his fully emerged family scandal. I picked up every publication covering it and read it in disbelief.  How could the director of all my favorite films pull a real life stunt as heart breaking as leaving his partner of many years, Mia Farrow, with his own stepdaughter?  Then there were reports of possible inappropriate behavior with another adopted daughter, Dylan.  Those reports were never substantiated and it was left to our own interpretation of what to believe.  But the stories lingered.

Allen continued to make a film a year ever since, and I’ve seen each and every one, on the first night of release typically (pre-kids when I had more freedom than I do now). Not every film has been of the caliber he once had, but every film is notably and historically marked with his footprints, with his direction, with his masterful storytelling, with his view of life in NYC and growing up Jewish that is so familiar. Of course, none of his movies over the last 20 years have starred Farrow, his longtime protégé and partner from whom he became eternally estranged. Yet somehow the films he made with her stand out in my memory, particularly Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo and I’ve managed to separate my image of him as a filmmaker and as a father/husband for many years.

My obsession with him never waned, despite the reports.  Everyone knows he’s a bit anti-social.  He makes his films, which have fluctuated from European city to city in recent years until one returned to the U.S. in San Francisco this past year, Blue Jasmine.  Last year on Valentine’s Day, my husband took me to the Carlyle Hotel where he plays the clarinet every week and has for many years in NYC.  It was the most expensive night of both our lives, but when the filmmaker walked into the room, I felt like I was witnessing inspiration.  He is the one person who has brought so much happiness into my life in the way of movies. Annie Hall, Manhattan, Stardust Memories – films I have watched again and again. As a film minor in college, I studied each film closely and wrote a paper comparing their imagery and his style of filmmaking.  Even my professor acknowledged my fascination with the director.

But like a lot of people, I re-read the original article in Vanity Fair that brought the scandal to light this week, after a new storm broke with news of an updated article by the same author of the original, Maureen Orth.  This time it was much harder to read than in 1992.  This time I have children, a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, two people I protect and put first before everything else in my life and have since their birth.

Orth has reconnected with Farrow to discuss her human-rights work, her relationship with Frank Sinatra, the home she created for her 14 adopted and biological children, and the sordid scandal that broke 20 years ago.  The issue isn’t out yet, but the magazine hints that the article has new accusations about Allen and his relationship to her family including the following:

Farrow discusses her relationship with Frank Sinatra, telling Orth that Sinatra was the great love of her life, and says, “We never really split up.” When asked point-blank if her biological son with Woody Allen, Ronan Farrow, may actually be the son of Frank Sinatra, Farrow answers, “Possibly.” No DNA tests have been done. When Orth asks Nancy Sinatra Jr. about Ronan’s being treated as if he were a member of her family, Sinatra answers in an e-mail, “He is a big part of us, and we are blessed to have him in our lives.”

Orth speaks to Farrow’s children, including Dylan, who now has another name and who discusses what she remembers about Allen and how his behavior has tormented her. She refuses ever to say his name. She calls her fears “crippling” and says, “I’m scared of him, his image.” Dylan tells Orth, “I have never been asked to testify. If I could talk to the seven-year-old Dylan, I would tell her to be brave, to testify.”

The reaction to Ronan’s paternity has been interesting.  Of course, Allen calls it fabricated.  Nancy Sinatra calls it a blatant life. Ronan himself  tweeted “Listen, we’re all ‘possibly’ Frank Sinatra’s son.” It was the classiest way I could imagine the rumors being handled (but after all, he is a diplomat and scholar). It’s been kind of amusing to watch reporters position photos of Sinatra and Allen next to Ronan’s, attempting to guess his paternity and it’s very easy to think that he is the greatest singer of all time’s son with those dazzling eyes.

I haven’t really heard a reaction to his now adult daughter’s claims that Allen did have an unusual interest in her, but the story speaks for itself and the details in 1992 that were revealed about the relationship were devastating. Had I read them as a mother then, I wonder what my reaction would have been but I do think that I would have continued to love and revel in his films, as they are a huge part of my DNA and have always been.

I look up to Farrow now just as much as did when I watched her in films.  On Twitter she informs and educates, as she has since the story broke on refuges in Rwanda, Syria, the poor and hungry. She works hard to help as many people she can, using her name to leverage the causes she is most passionate about. Since the new scandal broke, she hasn’t touched on it on Twitter and I am sure it takes willpower.

Will I buy the new issue of Vanity Fair when it comes out? I actually have a subscription, but, yes, I’ll read it in dismay.  I hate to think of my hero committing anything less than godly, but I have to accept the truth.

And as a mother, it will be harder.

But I’ll keep seeing his films.  After all, at age 78, there won’t be that many more, and I’ll watch them while making an attempt to block out what I may soon know more about…whether I want to or not.



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  1. This post touched a nerve with me because I too am a HUGE WOODY ALLEN fan. I have watched his early films over and over again to the point where my husband tells me I have a PROBLEM. I think these days with our culture being so saturated with celebrity it is virtually impossible to separate our celebrities from their personal lives- regardless of how artful and legendary their body of work is. All that being said I still crave Woody Allen’s films- and especially his earlier ones- I feel like they speak directly to me on many levels. Can I possibly justify his indiscretions- HELL TO THE NO. Does adoring his work make me equally guilty- I really can’t answer that.

  2. Admittedly, I am not a follower of Woody Allen- although I have seen several of his films and appreciated them-but never got wrapped up in the scandal or rumors. I would be intrigued to read the new article but as with anything in Hollywood – tend to take these things with a grain of salt.

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