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crimes and misdemeanors

A Brief History of Woody Allen Being Creepy About Young Girls

Woody Allen Films "Fading Gigolo" Written & Directed by John Turturro on the Streets of Brooklyn on November 12, 2012 in New York City.

In light of Sunday’s open letter from Dylan Farrow, which resurfaced allegations that her adoptive father Woody Allen sexually assaulted her at age 7, the Internet continues to dig up disturbing stories about the celebrated writer and director’s relationship with children. Farrow coming forward follows a campaign by her mother, Mia, and brother, Ronan, to shine a brighter light on the accusations against Allen in the early nineties, around the time he left Mia for another of her adoptive daughters, Soon-Yi Previn, resulting in a hideous custody battle. Once considered tabloid scripture, the upsetting specifics had been largely forgotten, or overlooked, but no longer.

It’s all resurfacing now.

The details of the allegations against Allen, which never resulted in criminal charges, are reported in the 1992 Vanity Fair article “Mia’s Story,” by Maureen Orth, which begins, “There was an unwritten rule in Mia Farrow’s house that Woody Allen was never supposed to be left alone with their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan.” A similar New York story from the same period, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Woody and Mia (But Were Afraid to Ask),” by Phoebe Hoban, includes additional background and back-and-forth from the pair’s friends and attorneys:

From the start, Farrow’s friends say, Allen seemed “obsessed” by the little girl. He would arrive at Mia’s house at six in the morning and sit on the end of Dylan’s bed, staring at her until she woke up. He insisted that she be kept up until he got home in the evening to tuck her in. He was reluctant to leave her alone at school. His behavior struck several parents of other children as odd.

A follow-up in Vanity Fair late last year, “Momma Mia!,” repeats the allegations. (A defense of Allen, by the filmmaker behind Woody Allen: A Documentary is here.)

But a deeper look into the archives has turned up additional interviews and anecdotes suddenly deemed relevant. For instance, in the October 4, 1976 issue of People magazine, a 40-year-old Woody Allen, pre-Annie Hall, is profiled. It concludes on an upsetting-in-retrospect note about his sexuality (and disinterest in fatherhood):

"I try to have sex only with women I like a lot," Woody explains solemnly. "Otherwise I find it fairly mechanical." (He has little interest in family life: "It's no accomplishment to have or raise kids. Any fool can do it.")

He goes on: "I'm open-minded about sex. I'm not above reproach; if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him." Allen pauses. "Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone," he ventures helplessly. "I admit to it all."

Also of note is a personal essay, published in May of 1993, by the writer Nancy Jo Sales, formerly of New York and now at Vanity Fair, titled “Woody Allen, My Pen Pal,” about her running correspondence with Allen, then 42, when she was a 13-year-old girl. “I don't know how he found the time to respond to that first letter I wrote,” she recalls.

A few weeks later I received his reply:

Dear Nancy,

Hard to believe you're 13! When I was 13 I couldn't dress myself, and here you write about one of life's deepest philosophical problems, i.e., existential boredom. I guess it's hard for me to imagine a 13-year-old quoting anything but Batman -- but T. Mann? Anyway, there's too much wrong with the world to ever get too relaxed and happy. The more natural state, and the better one, I think, is one of some anxiety and tension over man`s plight in this mysterious universe ...

Next time you write, if you ever do, please list some of the books you've enjoyed and movies, and which music you've liked, and also the things you dislike and have no patience with. And tell me what kind of place Coral Gables is. What school do you go to? What hobbies do you have? How old are your parents and what do they do? What are your moods like? Are you energetic? Are you an early riser? Are you "into clothes" ... At the moment, I am re- filming some parts of my next film, which have not come out so good.

Best, Woody.

Sales, 25 years later, writes that in light of the Previn scandal and Allen’s “alleged yen for underage girls, I have listened to all the Woody jokes with discomfort and outrage — because I wonder if they are also, somehow, on me. I prefer to think they aren’t.” But Sales also wonders if she left a mark on him:

I was born during a hurricane. Water had rushed down the halls of the hospital, and nurses had screamed. At 13 I took this to be a cosmic warning to the world of my arrival — or perhaps a warning to me of the hostile nature of the universe. I'm not sure if I told Woody this in any of the many letters I sent. ("Two letters from you in one day!"  he once cheerfully exclaimed.) But the young writing student Rain (Juliette Lewis) in Woody’s film Husbands and Wives was born during a hurricane too.

Watching Woody’s movies I sometimes experience a little jolt of recognition that makes me wonder if I could possibly have had some lasting effect on him, as he so affected me.

The two met once at Allen’s Manhattan penthouse; Sales brought “two older companions”:

I couldn’t say a word, and my companions filled in the silence with aimless chatter while Woody, wearing his very same clothes from Annie Hall, sat Indian-style in an armchair, nodding politely and trying to catch my eye.

Often discounted in the recent hysteria surrounding adult/child relations are the very real romantic fancies entertained by developing girls. Perhaps sometimes girls make too much of them; I think Woody saw that in me the day we met.

Our visit was brief, and when it was time to go I looked into his eyes. “Goodbye,” they said sadly.

The New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum also dug up a child-molestation joke, uncomfortably similar to the details alleged by Dylan Farrow, from the Allen play Honeymoon Hotel, in which an older man runs off with his son’s bride:

According to a recent review, “the comedy is so clever that only in the final moments one realizes what a muddled character the philandering husband really is. Could Allen have borrowed the idea from his own reality?” Esquire has also collected the “newly chilling themes that you can see throughout his movies.”

None of which, of course, is evidence. But Allen’s art, as well as his public persona and pen-pal relationships, are being closely examined with new eyes, as they were when the pre-Internet allegations were first made public. “It’s as if, like the picture of Dorian Grey, Allen’s films served as his conscience, leaving him free to misbehave in three dimensions,” wrote Phoebe Hoban in New York almost 22 years ago. “All those elbow-nudging jokes about child molestation (the subject pops up in at least four of his films) and the permutations of sex with 16-year-old twins don’t seem quite so funny anymore.”

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Photo: Aby Baker/Getty Images