Monday, January 20, 2014

King Neurotic vs. the Ex From Hell: the never-ending saga of Woody and Mia (part 2 of two)

As I noted in the first part of this piece, there are a number of people who have a major antipathy for Woody Allen concerning the way he has lived his life. Some of these people still see his movies, others have sworn off his work for good. What I find interesting is that even the loudest of them rarely seem to take the side of Mia Farrow and add to their “what a degenerate pedophile!” tirades any mention of “that poor woman whose heart he broke.”

I believe this is because there are two Mia Farrows in the public view (besides the many characters she played over the years, the best of which were in Rosemary's Baby and films directed by Allen). The first Mia is an incredible humanitarian, a woman who has traveled throughout Africa and has focused her attention on starving children.

Her work in this regard is invaluable and admirable. She is a liberal of the old school, who literally has put her money and time where her mouth is, and has supported the victims of hunger in Darfur, Chad, Haiti, and many other countries.

In this regard in her personal life, she became “Momma Mia,” a woman who has adopted children from difficult situations, some with disabling conditions, other from impoverished circumstances. She is to be lauded for all these accomplishments, as she is an actress who has done something truly important with her life.

Here is a sympathetic and positive documentary about her accomplishments from the Intimate Portrait series:

And then there's the other Mia. A woman who has let her angry feelings about a relationship that went horribly wrong become her distinguishing characteristic. She trumpets the injustices doled out to her and her children by her ex, alleging absolutely heinous things, while undercutting her own position as an example of moral rectitude with new “revelations.”

Farrow first came to public attention as one of the stars of the nighttime soap Peyton Place in 1964. Her next major show business “coup” (in the eyes of the media) was becoming the third wife of Frank Sinatra. He was 50, she was 21, and they were the very definition of a May-December romance (Ava Gardner's purported crack about the marriage was “I always knew that Frank would marry a boy”).

Farrow achieved major fame starring in Rosemary's Baby (and no, I'm not going to discuss Polanski in this piece, because that is a very different case with a very different artist). Two years after the film, she began an affair with Andre Previn, who divorced his wife, singer-songwriter Dory Previn (aged 45), to be with her.

Dory's response was the lacerating tune “Beware of Young Girls.” Here is a performance of the song by the singer Kate Dimbleby, who does a monologue as Dory (seen right, with Andre Previn) about Mia. The lyrics of the song are rather amazing:

“She was my friend, my friend/My friend/I thought her motives were sincere/Oh yes, I did/Ah, but this lass/It came to pass/Had a dark and different plan/She admired my own sweet man/She admired my own sweet man/We were friends, oh yes, we were/And she just took him from my life/Oh yes, she did, so young and vain/She brought me pain/But I'm wise enough to say/She will leave him, one thoughtless day/She'll just leave him and go away.”

Here is the original version by Dory:

During the period of the custody trial, Allen decided to discuss a campaign of harassment Farrow had begun against him (probably the oddest note was the “valentine with skewers” shown in the 60 Minutes interview, above). Of course, the most damning aspect of the story was the charge that Woody had sexually abused his daughter Dylan. One of the most incriminating pieces of evidence was a videotape that Mia shot of her daughter talking about the abuse.

While being the single most damning evidence against Allen, the tape was in and of itself a problem – it had been shot by the little girl's mother, and as such was “muddied” evidence. A New York Times piece from May 4, 1993 noted that “The doctor who headed the Connecticut investigation into whether Woody Allen molested his 7-year-old daughter, Dylan, theorized that the child either invented the story under the stress of living in a volatile and unhealthy home or that it was planted in her mind by her mother, Mia Farrow, a sworn statement released yesterday says.

“Dr. John M. Leventhal, who interviewed Dylan nine times, said that one reason he doubted her story was that she changed important points from one interview to another, like whether Mr. Allen touched her vagina. Another reason, he said, was that the child's accounts had "a rehearsed quality." At one point, he said she told him, "I like to cheat on my stories."

“Dr. Leventhal said: "We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements that were made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination"....

Dr. Leventhal said it was "very striking" that each time Dylan spoke of the abuse, she coupled it with "one, her father's relationship with Soon-Yi, and two, the fact that it was her poor mother, her poor mother," who had lost a career in Mr. Allen's films.”

The interesting thing here again is the public perception of the performer. While Woody Allen has made his overriding neuroses and his “perversions” part of his act since he began as a standup in the Sixties, Farrow is generally in the public mind for this scene from the end of Rosemary's Baby. She is, in effect, the perennial victim – the people whom she thought were friends and loved ones ultimately betray her.

In November 1992 a very long Vanity Fair article appeared that summed up all of Mia's allegations against Woody. It's a fascinating piece, in that the writer, Maureen Orth, titled it “Mia's Story,” but every so often includes the opinions of Allen's colleagues and friends tangentially, effectively dismissing them. She identifies the skewers in the valenine as “toothpicks” and lays out Farrow's case against Allen in nearly excruciating detail.

Anytime there is a possible objection to something being said, Orth quotes it and passes over it, while supplying ample space to Farrow's friends to praise Mia and curse Woody– as in one interestingly damning parenthetical note (“You can’t say his own therapy failed,” quips Mia’s lawyer Eleanor Alter. “He might have become a serial killer without it.”).

If the items cited in Orth's long, long article are indeed true, their relationship was a nightmare and Woody is a monster; if it isn't true, the article was a stunningly horrifying piece of character assassination. I link to it here so that you can read it if you like.

I noticed that Farrow's most important interview after the custody trial is somehow curiously missing from the YouTube deep trove of Howard Stern clips. Yes, Mia appeared on the Stern show (the radio show and its E! Channel video airing of its contents) in May 1997 to discuss her life and memoir with Howard.

Stern, he of the fart/burp/big-tit/dick joke, took the high moral ground when the Woody/Mia split occurred and publicly condemned Allen. Thus he was a sympathetic ear for Mia's complaints about her ex and also was able to ask his usual questions about dick size and “things you hate about your ex” (hoping the ex will call in and fight with the in-studio guest – nothing more fun on the Stern show than having family members battle for the listeners' entertainment).

Perhaps “liberated” by Stern's juvenilia, Farrow turned back into her teeny bopper persona – read, the “girl who snagged Sinatra” – and began to discuss various things. Among them were:

– the fact that Allen has a small penis

– Sinatra had a bigger penis

– Sinatra offered to break Woody's legs (“Frank is so sweet,” one listener remembers her saying)

– of the four Beatles, she most wanted to have sex with John, but it never happened, sadly

When I saw this interview on E! (which I have somewhere preserved on VHS), I remember thinking that she'd completely devolved into the Sixties mod-chick who called Frank her “Charlie Brown” (because of his big round head – no joke here, look it up) and had later became the subject of that Dory Previn song. Her condemnation of Allen for stealing her older daughter and molesting her younger one was tied up in a package that also contained gleeful revelations about his genitals and a reflection on which Beatle was the most shaggable.

In the decade and a half after that, Mia became deeply involved in her humanitarian efforts and was indeed wiping away the memories of her relationship with Woody and any of the related public appearances and statements.

And then Allen's films became surprisingly popular at the box-office in the last few years. Midnight in Paris was his highest-grossing film ever, taking in $56 million in North America. To Rome With Love made $73 million dollars worldwide; Sony Pictures Classics said it was the seventh highest-grossing picture in the two-decade history of that distribution arm of Sony. Blue Jasmine has earned $94 million worldwide to date and is still playing in many parts of the country. 

Thus, the return to the national stage of Farrow – in a new Vanity Fair profile in the November 2013 issue, again by Maureen Orth. The writer decided to begin the piece with the charge of sexual abuse against Allen and to include his side of the story as a one-line parenthetical denial in what is otherwise a characteristically long VF profile.

The only “new” information about the sexual abuse charge comes in the middle of the article (pages 5 and 6 online), where Orth interviews Dylan, who claims that the interactions with Allen in her childhood have haunted her adult life, that she gets sick when she hears the jazz Allen liked or sees his picture on a t-shirt in the street. It's heartbreaking stuff, truly.

One wonders why Orth was disinclined to include any of the information that was reported in the New York Times, The L.A. Times, and People magazine that I have included in this piece. In Orth's account of events, there is no mention of the possibility that Farrow's video recording of her daughter was problematic, that the girl's story changed often from telling to telling, and that at least one psychologist believed Farrow might've prompted the recovered memories.

Instead, Orth begins her very long piece with the abuse charge and a bizarre story about Mia begin counseled by Sinatra's mob connections. Then, and only then, do we learn about her very important work with UNICEF. Priorities, priorities!

More than once, one does feel while reading this new Orth piece that the relationship between Mia and the temper-prone Woody (as he is depicted here) was an absolute nightmare and Allen was indeed a monster. Here there is no question of even considering the possibility (slight or major, however you choose to view it) that the claims were manipulated by an angry ex. I don't have the answers myself, but perhaps in the interests of journalism, it is necessary to air them and cite the articles that mentioned them two decades ago.

What was rather dazzling about the media coverage of Orth's new piece was that the gossip columns and supermarket rags went on at length NOT about the sexual abuse charges concerning Mia and Woody's daughter Dylan. Instead most mentions of it concerned the fact that Mia is now declaring that Ronan (formerly Satchel) may be the son of Frank Sinatra, since Mia now wants us all to know that she was still regularly seeing – and having sex with? – Old Blue Eyes in the late Eighties while involved with Allen.

It's a rather unique and admittedly odd situation: a person who wants her claims of her ex's moral depravity to be taken seriously, meanwhile augmenting those claims with a counter-argument that the ex isn't the father of the child he thought he was – because she was cheating on him.

The media seized on this questionable “revelation” and continually noted how much Ronan looks like Sinatra because he has blue eyes. Forgetting that Mia has blue eyes and Ronan's fairer-than-fair complexion does make him look a lot like his mother when she was young.

The one-two punch of that Vanity Fair piece and the recent Tweet from Ronan mentioning the story of his sister's sexual abuse at the moment when the Golden Globes was presenting his father with a Lifetime Achievement Award has resurrected the molestation charge against Allen and has led the producers of his new Broadway show (a musical version of Bullets Over Broadway) to speculate on whether the Farrow clan will attempt to protest the show in some fashion.

It's not clear what would “end” this storyline: it appears that Farrow wants it known by every viewer of Allen's film work that he sexually abused his young daughter. Allen proclaimed his innocence in a handful of interviews during the custody trial two decades ago and has remained silent about the matter since then.

There is almost no way for the matter to be settled, nigh short of the case being opened up again in court, which would be detrimental to Dylan's state of mind (as surely everything that's happened up to now has been – whether she was molested by her father or “programmed” by her mother). She has been the definite victim in this whole affair, and the question is whether Farrow's new quest for justice, conducted through Orth and VF, is ultimately helping or hurting her daughter.

In considering this long-stemmed narrative and how much the media has been gobbling it up and spitting it out yet again over the past week since the Golden Globes Tweet business, I came to one conclusion. I figured out the one thing that both exes, both Allen and Farrow, would agree on – namely, the fact that they never should've started dating in the first place.

The above fantasy-option would have denied movie lovers a few really terrific movies they collaborated on (and would've also spared us misfires like Shadows and Fog), so it could easily be amended to their relationship ending after Hannah and Her Sisters (or, for some, Crimes and Misdemeanors, which I think is a more uneven film than Hannah).

In any case, the early '90s were a nightmare era for the Allen-Farrow relationship, and what's odd is that we are still living with the aftermath of their blighted, odd love story a full two decades later.

Note: the epilogue to this piece can be found here.

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