It is “really not so,” Woody Allen remarks defensively, halfway through his new memoir Apropos of Nothing, that “I gravitated toward young girls.”
Certainly, Allen allows, “I have used the May-December ploy as a comic and romantic theme a few times.” And yes, okay, there was that thing with Stacey Nelkin, whom he dated when she was 17 and he was 42. And yes, he did ask teenage Mariel Hemingway to go to Paris with him after they finished shooting Manhattan. (Allen does not mention Christina Engelhardt, who says she began an eight-year relationship with Allen when she was 16 and he was 41.)
And yes, there is indeed a 35-year age gap between Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi Previn. Yes, Allen met Soon-Yi for the first time when she was 10 years old — she is the daughter of Mia Farrow, who at the time was Allen’s girlfriend. (Farrow and Allen would go on to adopt two children and have another biological child together.) Yes, Soon-Yi and Allen did begin their relationship when Soon-Yi was 21 and Allen was 56 and still dating her mother.
But a thing for young girls? Certainly not, Allen writes. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.
And so it goes throughout Apropos of Nothing, which came out in a surprise drop on Monday after Allen’s last publisher canceled the book due to staff protests: Allen sticks to his story. Specifically, he sticks to his story about what happened between him, Mia Farrow, and their adopted daughter Dylan Farrow.
Apropos of Nothing is dedicated as follows: “For Soon-Yi, the best. I had her eating out of my hand and then I noticed my arm was missing.”
Allen’s adopted daughter Dylan says he molested her. He says he didn’t. Her story gets fact-checked a lot. His doesn’t.
For a full overview of the accusations Dylan Farrow has made against Allen, you can turn to the explainer Alissa Wilkinson wrote for Vox. But here’s a summary: In 1992, when Allen and Mia Farrow were in the midst of an acrimonious split following Farrow’s discovery of Allen’s relationship with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi, 7-year-old Dylan Farrow accused Allen of molesting her on a visit to Mia Farrow’s country house in Connecticut. (Although Allen had adopted two of Farrow’s 11 children and was the biological father of another, all the children lived with Farrow. Allen never lived with them.) Since then, Allen has denied that accusation.
Over the next six months, a team of medical experts investigated the case and concluded that Dylan showed no sign of abuse. Meanwhile, the state’s attorney investigating the case told the public that he had probable cause to charge Allen, but that he was going to refrain from doing so to avoid traumatizing Dylan further. The judge in the custody hearing between Allen and Mia Farrow said that he found Dylan’s accusations compelling, and he awarded custody of her to Mia Farrow.
Since then, the Farrow camp — including the now-adult Dylan, Mia, and Mia and Woody’s son Ronan — have been consistent in their accounts of what happened. And Allen, when he has addressed the story, has been consistent in his. What’s been inconsistent is the level of fact-checking and investigation brought to each party’s story.
In a long 1992 article for Vanity Fair, reporter Maureen Orth wrote that Allen was in therapy for two years over a fixation on Dylan, and that multiple people saw him touch her in inappropriate ways prior to the alleged sexual assault. According to both Mia and Dylan Farrow, Dylan told Mia that Allen brought her up into an attic and sexually assaulted her. Mia videotaped a statement from Dylan and went first to her lawyer and then to her pediatrician, who was a mandated responder and reported the accusation to police. That account has been the basis of the Farrow story for the past 30 years.
Allen’s response, repeated in various press outlets and once again in Apropos of Nothing, and currently supported by his adopted son Moses Farrow, is that Mia Farrow concocted the whole story about what happened to Dylan in a twisted quest for revenge after Allen left her for Soon-Yi. Farrow, he says, was abusive and vindictive and obsessive, and on this point he waxes long and eloquent throughout the pages of his memoir.
Farrow, Allen claims, was abused by a member of her family as a child. He says she physically abused her adopted children and favored her biological children. He says she was unhealthily obsessed with Ronan — who, Allen writes darkly, seemed to replace Allen in Farrow’s affections as soon as he was born. He says she drank and took pills, and in the end, Allen concludes, it was “no wonder” that two of her adopted children died by suicide and that a third died of HIV-related pneumonia.
“Now I know what you’re thinking: What kind of boob am I?” Allen writes, as he turns to the question of how he managed to stay in a relationship with this supposed monster for 11 years. He had no choice, he says: He was but a hapless schmo, blinded by Farrow’s immense beauty and charisma.
As for the whole Soon-Yi thing: “Of course I understand [Farrow’s] shock, her dismay, her rage, everything,” he writes of the moment when she learned of the affair by finding explicit photographs Allen had taken of Soon-Yi. “It was the correct reaction.” But Farrow, he claims, beat Soon-Yi with a phone after she found out they were involved (in other versions of this story, he’s said it was a chair). When he brought both Farrow and Soon-Yi to a psychoanalyst to try to sort everything out, “the doctor only needed one session with Mia to see what an unhinged and dangerous woman she was.”
And thus, Allen concludes, Farrow came up with her master plan: She brainwashed not just 7-year-old Dylan but also 4-year-old Ronan into believing that Allen had molested Dylan. To this day, he writes, they know no better than to believe what their mother has always told them.
But anyone could tell, he writes, that Farrow’s account of the alleged abuse was false, because it defies common sense. Although Allen maintains that he was stupid enough to stay with Mia Farrow through years of horror without figuring her out, he likewise maintains he was nowhere near stupid enough to have tried to molest Dylan in the midst of an acrimonious breakup, surrounded by people who disliked him.
Here’s the big difference between Allen’s story and the Farrow camp’s: As both Dylan and Ronan Farrow have pointed out, theirs has gone through fact-checking in multiple journalistic outlets, which always corroborate their claims with multiple sources. Allen’s generally has not, and Apropos of Nothing, like most books of nonfiction, was not fact-checked either. (A spokesperson for Arcade Publishing, Allen’s publisher, told Vox the book was “legally vetted.”)
The only big new addition Allen makes to his account in Apropos of Nothing is to address the long line of actors who have denounced him in the wake of the Me Too movement. He bears none of them any ill will, he says, and moreover, he doesn’t think most of them bear him any either: Timothée Chalamet, Allen says, promised Allen’s sister that he only apologized publicly for working with Allen (on the 2019 film A Rainy Day in New York) because he was campaigning for an Oscar at the time.
As for his own behavior, Allen writes, he has only one regret: that he’s never made a film he considers truly great. The rest, he thinks, was all worth it.
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