Love in Venice
01/12/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
Elaine Kaufman suspected something was in the air. For years, she had watched as Woody Allen, a regular at Elaine's, her Manhattan restaurant, was transformed by his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. "He's much more relaxed now—much easier and freer with people," she says. And when the pair headed off to Europe for Allen's annual Yuletide vacation, she had a hunch it might turn into something more than a sightseeing jaunt. "I knew if he was going to do it," she says, "he would do it then."
Indeed he did. On a chilly afternoon two days before Christmas, Allen, 62, and Previn, 27, stepped out of a motor-boat on Venice's Grand Canal, slipped into a side entrance of the Palazzo Cavalli, a municipal building, and—in a ceremony not much longer than a credit sequence in one of Allen's films—tied the knot. "They are both extremely happy," said Allen's spokeswoman. The press-shy director told an Italian journalist that Venice "is full of significance for us. We've had many marvelous experiences here."
On this trip the couple got VIP treatment, with Mayor Massimo Cacciari himself performing the nuptials. "It was a sober ceremony," said Cacciari, who has been friendly with Allen for almost two years. "I did it with pleasure, and everything developed in the most perfect privacy." Allen, who was nursing a cold, wore no tie and, said Cacciari, Previn "wore her hair down, with no special style." They exchanged rings, vows and a kiss, signed the city's marriage register and then toasted with the Italian wine Prosecco. The mayor presented them with a glass vase with a design depicting Venice's two-century-old La Fenice opera house, which was razed by fire in January 1996.
Considering the-family dynamics, the couple can hardly be faulted for having the ceremony far from home. Soon-Yi was an orphan when Mia Farrow and conductor Andre Previn, then her husband, adopted her during a 1977 trip to Korea. Allen and Farrow were subsequently romantically linked for 12 years (they never married) and produced a biological son, Satchel, 10. After the couple famously split up, Farrow accused Allen of molesting their adopted daughter Dylan, 12, and later changed her name to Eliza and Satchel's to Seamus. The Allen-Previn marriage means that two of Soon-Yi's siblings are now technically her stepchildren, and Farrow becomes Allen's mother-in-law.
Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi fed the tabloids for weeks when the couple went public in 1992. "It's real and happily all true," Allen said at the time. "She's a lovely, intelligent, sensitive woman who has and continues to turn my life around in a positive way." During Allen and Farrow's bitter 1993 court battle for custody of Satchel and Dylan, Farrow revealed that the year before, she had found nude pictures of Soon-Yi, then 21, in Allen's apartment. She wrote in her 1997 book What Falls Away that she had not seen or spoken to Soon-Yi since a confrontation that followed the discovery. "I no longer want to see her," Farrow wrote. "But for the rest of my life I will miss her."
If the feeling is mutual, Soon-Yi has never said so publicly. Those who know Allen and his bride say that despite the complexities of their family and the age disparity, they are a down-to-earth couple. "They are both very funny," says filmmaker Barbara Kopple, who spent three weeks with them last year producing a documentary about Allen. "She teases him constantly about who he is and what he's about." Soon-Yi, who will earn a master's in education from Columbia University in May, takes Allen to fashion shows and other outings. "She really keeps him young," Kopple adds.
The morning after the nuptials, the pair took a romantic gondola ride, then flew to Paris, where they stayed at the Ritz Hotel and dined with friends on Christmas Eve at the pricey restaurant La Tour d'Argent overlooking Notre Dame cathedral. Back in New York City, restaurateur Kaufman says Allen won't miss the incessant speculation about his relationship with Soon-Yi from the media and friends. "He can relax because everyone will be off his back," she says. "Now they will wait for a baby."
TOULA VLAHOU in Athens, CATHY NOLAN in Paris and ERIC FRANCIS in New York City