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- August 31, 1992
- Vol. 38
- No. 9
A Family Affair
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow End their Relationship with a Startling Admission—and Hair-Raising Charges
THROUGH FOUR DECADES AS STANDup comic, movie star and director, Woody Allen has been called many things. Funny, of course. Brilliant. Neurotic. Charming. Intense. And, if you hated Interiors as much as the critics did, pretentious and derivative. Evil, though—that's a new one.
But that was the word used last week as his personal life with Mia Farrow, 47, his wan leading lady off-screen and on for more than a dozen years, turned out to have very little of the winsome prettiness of the 13 movies they made together. "Evil and desperate" was how Farrow's mother, veteran actress Maureen O'Sullivan, characterized Allen in a statement faxed to the media. And Mia's sister Tisa called him "an evil, evil man."
The bitterness of the Allen-Farrow denouement burst into public view on Aug. 13, when Allen, 56, filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan for custody of his and Farrow's son, Satchel, 4, and two children they adopted together, Moses, a 14-year-old Korean with cerebral palsy, and daughter Dylan, 7. "It has been tragic to watch what Mia has gone through," said O'Sullivan when the suit was filed. "The truth of this story will soon be made public."
Part of the larger story she referred to so darkly, it turns out, is that Allen has fallen head over heels for another of Farrow's seven adopted children, 21-year-old Soon-Yi, a sophomore at Drew University in Madison, N.J. With photos of his long, weary face illustrating lurid headlines on the front pages of New York City's tabloids, the normally reclusive Allen felt obliged to do the unthinkable: talk about his private life to the press. He confessed to the new relationship—which Farrow reportedly discovered seven months ago when she came across nude photos of Soon-Yi taken in Allen's East Side duplex—with a statement that was an unabashed valentine. "Regarding my love for Soon-Yi: It's real and happily all true. She's a lovely, intelligent, sensitive woman who has and continues to turn my life around in a positive way."
For Farrow, discovery of the affair was devastating, says her friend Maria Roach, 56, daughter of director Hal Roach and godmother to Farrow's daughter Lark, 18. When she coincidentally called Mia shortly after the pictures of Soon-Yi had surfaced, "I thought someone had died," says Roach. Then Farrow wrote her a letter full of heartbreak. My vision has been unclear," the letter reads, "and I have spent more than a dozen years with a man who would destroy me and corrupt in my daughter, leading her into a betrayal of her mother and her principles, leaving her morally bankrupt with the bond between us demolished. I can think of no cruder way to lose a child or a lover."
But Farrow and Allen have now given each other, and their children, additional searing lessons in cruelty, as the war between them has seemed to escalate almost daily. One source friendly to Allen described Farrow as "a very jealous and manipulative woman, very desperate." Roach said that after Farrow uncovered the affair, the family ended up in psychotherapy for months. And, according to Roach, Allen first wanted Farrow to deny publicly that she knew of his relationship with Soon-Yi, promising that the affair would end and their movie collaborations could continue. Then he threatened that by the time the custody battle lands in court, on Aug. 25, "there would be nothing left of her standing."
Farrow, for her part, signaled that she would defend herself aggressively by hiring celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose client list has included Leona Helmsley. Clans von Bülow and, currently, Mike Tyson. The Farrow camp also began saying that Soon-Yi may still be a teenager. She was adopted as a street child in Seoul, and there was little documentation of her origin. Thus, while she is officially 21, Soon-Yi could be several years younger. Dershowitz says Mia regards her as 19, "but Woody has made her 21 for his purposes."
The most damaging aspect is that police in Connecticut (Farrow has a home in Bridgewater) are conducting an investigation of child abuse involving Allen and Dylan. A New York City television station reported that one of its correspondents had seen a videotape that shows a nervous and shaken Dylan and seemed to support allegations of abuse.
That disturbing issue arose, says Dershowitz, because "one, a baby-sitter made a comment to Mia. Second, Dylan herself told Mia about it. Third, there was a physical piece of evidence." Farrow is always video-taping the children, Roach explains, and one day Dylan said something startling—"It was not something that was set up." And, according to the Boston Herald, the abuse incident happened this past Aug. 4 in the attic of the Connecticut house. Mia's son Moses told the Herald that Farrow burst into tears when Dylan told her. "I'm angry that he is even trying to get custody of us," Moses said. "For him to do what he did hurts [Dylan] very much because she's very emotional child."
Woody's response to the suggestion of abuse was an immediate, categorical and outraged denial. He charged, during an unprecedented press conference, that "this, my lawyers tell me, is a currently popular though heinous card played in all too many...child-custody fights." And an Allen source claims that, contrary to Dershowilz's account, Dylan's physical exam turned up no physical evidence of abuse. Allen also claimed that Farrow's attorneys had demanded a $7 million settlement not to pursue the allegations. Leaving the podium—he would take no questions—Allen delivered a mournful ad lib. "My one public appearance in years," he said, "and all straight lines."
Dershowitz denied that any settlement had been brought up. (Farrow refused alimony from her two husbands, Frank Sinatra and composer-conductor Andre Previn.)
Allen's custody gambit was puzzling. Who would suggest that any child didn't belong with Farrow, photographed time after time looking borderline dowdy as she blissfully cradled a baby or held a kid's hand? "Mia's really a terrific person—not a Betty Crocker kind of mom," says Roach. "But she has a gift." Allen himself has observed, "Mia has a talent for mothering the way some people have a green thumb for gardening or an ear for music or a talent for medicine."
Farrow, who grew up in a family of seven, now has 11 children: four biologically her own (one of them—Satchel—by Allen, and three—twins Matthew and Sascha, 21, and Fletcher, 17—by Previn) and seven adopted. They are Daisy, 17, and Lark, who are Vietnamese; Soon-Yi; Moses; Dylan; and, in the past year, Tain, 12, who is blind, and Isaiah. 8 months, who is black. "Being a mother is Mia's mission," said sister Tisa.
Yet according to Roach, Allen has accused Farrow of being an unfit mother, partly because she lakes antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist. One source close to Allen describes the Farrow household as "chaotic," with some of the kids sneaking out to party after their mother goes to bed. Moreover, says this source, there have been unpublicized problems in addition to the arrest of Lark and Daisy last summer for shoplifting lingerie from a mall in Danbury, Conn. Even as she pursues a "manic need" to adopt, says the source, "Mia doesn't know what's going on. She's reclusive."
Allen's sister, Letty Aronson, 48, claims that Farrow is emotionally removed from her adopted daughters. Aronson remembers the first time she took her own daughter, Erika, to visit Mia after the birth of Satchel. "Afterward," says Aronson, "my daughter kept talking about how the maid did this, the maid did that. I said, 'What maid?' She meant Lark.' Says a source close to Allen: "We always joked that Lark would be the one to get out of the house and Write the Mommnie Dearest book."
That source also claims that, furious over the affair, Farrow on separate occasions struck Soon-Yi with a chair, shredded her clothes and persuaded the other children not to talk to her. "Not true," says Dershowitz about the violence, although he says that Farrow admits to "a gentle, motherly slap." (Soon-Yi no longer lives in her mother's three-bedroom home on Central Park West and, according to a source, is no longer welcome there; most of the older children have already moved out to be on their own.)
The case with Allen is just the opposite, say supporters, who maintain that—although he has never had an image that could be called paternal—he is indeed close to the three children named in his custody suit and wants to extricate them from a chaotic home. "His whole life turned around when Dylan entered his life and when Satchel was born," says a colleague. "And then he got very, very close to Moses as well."
Allen has stressed that he had brought the custody case only reluctantly. "The last thing I wanted to do was go to court," he said. "I have tried agonizingly to work out the details privately." As for his passion for Soon-Yi, which seems certain to cloud his chances of obtaining custody of the other children, it began on his 56th birthday, last Dec. 1. That, in any event, is the date that Dershowitz cites as the first time that Allen and Soon-Yi had sex. ("How do we know that?" Dershowitz asks. "Soon-Yi eventually had a long talk with her mother about it.") Two weeks later, he adds, Allen filed to adopt Dylan and Moses, "never telling the court that he was sleeping with their sister and never telling Mia. I think he has perpetrated a fraud—on the court and Mia and die children themselves."
The betrayal, in Farrow's eyes, was all the more painful because of the lengths she had gone to to adopt Soon-Yi in 1977. Federal law then prevented U.S. families from adopting more than two foreign children. Farrow already had Lark and Daisy, but she was finally able to bring Soon-Yi after launching an effort lobbying Congress to repeal the law. "To me, that's the ultimate irony," says Farrow's biographer, Sam Rubin. "A child that she went to extreme lengths to bring to the United States ultimately turns out to be the child who breaks her heart."
Author Rubin finds the affair between Allen and Soon-Yi bizarre. "[Allen] made no effort to distinguish between [now and] all those intervening years when he was actively involved in raising her," says the writer. "And he would have known her from approximately the time she was 10." Observes a source close to Allen: "I'm sure Woody had reservations, but you don't choose the people you fall in love with." Besides, says the source, before his kids Dylan, Moses and Satchel were added to the family, he avoided being involved with Mia's brood. He wasn't around surrogate-parenting Soon-Yi and the others, says the source. Previn remained their father figure.
Anyone hoping for a last look at Allen and Farrow together will have to be content with the release next month of Woody's new picture, Husbands and Wives, which, ironically, is about a college professor (Allen) who falls in love with a student played by Juliette Lewis. Farrow plays Allen's Life.
The couple never pretended to try to live up to that movie title. They always maintained separate residences. Her apartment is half a mile across Central Park from his East Side duplex. "I like the arrangement," Farrow said two years ago. "We have a good life." They shared the moviemaking, of course, plus shepherding the kids around New York, occasional weekends at her country home (although Allen hales the country and often chose to stay in town) and suppers at his favorite hangout, Elaine's. (Mia was always willing to say hello to people who would stop by their table there; Woody would stare at his feet.)
Both had been married twice already—Farrow to Sinatra and Previn; Allen to Harlene Rosen, a high school sweetheart he married at 19 (and later referred to in his comedy act as Quasimodo until she sued and required him to stop), and to actress Louise Lasser (Mary Hartrnan, Mary Hartman). Allen also had a long-running affair with Diane Keaton, his leading lady in the '70s and the inspiration for Annie Hall.
Romance began in 1979, when Michael Caine brought Farrow over to Allen's table at celebrity-crowded Elaine's. Mutual attraction was quietly nudged into love during a series of lunches and dinners arranged by Allen's secretary. But Farrow already had something of a crush, she said, since she had been struck by Allen's photo on the cover of The New York Times Magazine that same year. "He had such an interesting face," she said. Allen had a bit more to say about Farrow's translucent skin and delicate cheekbones. "It's impossible," he said, "to photograph her when Mia is not being beautiful."
Allen, a highly disciplined workaholic, managed to dovetail his rigorous moviemaking schedule with Farrow's overflowing domestic scene. Since the birth of his son, he would get up at 5 A.M. to be at Farrow's place when Satchel, Dylan and Moses awoke; by 10, he would be at work directing his latest movie and producing the next. At night he would return to her place to see the kids to bed, then head out with her for a bite to eat. (And, of course, he managed to maintain his strict regimen of psychotherapy, which goes back 25 years.) "She does all the work," he joked, "and I skim off the cream, since I only see the kids at their best."
He always seemed especially close to Dylan, says a friend who has regularly watched them during Allen's Monday-night jazz gigs at Michael's Pub in Manhattan, where he has played clarinet for 21 years. "Woody really adores her," he says. "She would sit on his lap while he was playing, many times," says the friend. "When they adopted Dylan, I noticed that he started to wear a tie, and I said, 'What's going on? You never wear a tie.' And he said, 'Well, Dylan likes to play with it, so I wear a lie.' "
Last Monday, as usual, Allen played at Michael's. He stepped onstage and removed his trademark fishing hat just as the sextet's gig was beginning. When not playing, he sat with his hand resting on his chin, like Rodin's Thinker.
While Allen was at Michael's, Farrow was sequestered at Frog follow, her Connecticut hideaway, reportedly too distraught to eat. She still loves Soon-Yi, says Maureen O'Sullivan: "A mother always loves her child." Mia was to have starred in Allen's next film, Manhattan Murder Mystery, but has since been fired. He has made it quite clear that he no longer considers Farrow his leading lady. "In the end," he told reporters, "the one thing I have been guilty of is falling in love with Mia Farrow's adult daughter at the end of our years together."
The new star of the film, by the way, will be Diane Keaton.
SUE CARSWELL, MARY HUZINEC, JIM JEROME, ALLISON LYNN in New York, KRISTINA JOHNSON, NANCY MATSUMOTO in Los Angeles
- Sue Carswell,
- Mary Huzinec,
- Jim Jerome,
- Allison Lynn,
- Kristina Johnson,
- Nancy Matsumoto.
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