‘Allen v. Farrow’ Lead Investigator Amy Herdy Hits Back at Woody Allen Defenders
The investigative journalist who did all the research and reporting for the HBO docuseries opens up about criticisms of bias, the Yale New Haven report, and much more.
The third episode of Allen v. Farrow, the four-part HBO docuseries from filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering examining then 7-year-old Dylan Farrow’s child sexual abuse allegation against her adoptive father Woody Allen (and the media firestorm that ensued), contained a number of revelations. We heard more recordings of phone calls between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, with Farrow desperately pleading with Allen to explain where he was that fateful day of August 4, 1992, when Dylan claims he took her up to the attic and molested her. (Allen denies it and claims Mia brainwashed Dylan.)
We learn that Allen weaponized the media against Mia (and by extension, Dylan), conducting cover interviews with TIME, Newsweek and People, and sitting down with 60 Minutes, while Mia remained largely invisible, she says, to keep the matter private in order to protect her children. Allen further hired private investigators to probe not only Mia and their kids, but also the Connecticut State Police detectives assigned to his case.
Then there is the Yale New Haven report, which asserted that there were “inconsistencies” in Dylan’s story, that she had “difficulties distinguishing fantasy from reality,” and that the abuse accusation was “likely reinforced and encouraged” by her mother Mia. Allen v. Farrow contends that there were a number of glaring issues with the Yale New Haven report, including that it went far beyond its purview in its recommendations, and that Dylan was both believable and consistent in the “core elements” of her allegation against Allen. Allen v. Farrow’s third episode also finds fault with the New York City Child Welfare Administration’s investigation into Allen, whose lead case worker Paul Williams (along with his supervisor) cried cover-up after it was dropped. The episode culminates in the child custody trial between Allen and Farrow, where all available evidence and witnesses (e.g. the Yale New Haven report, and its author Dr. John Leventhal) were introduced. Judge Wilk ultimately ruled in favor of Mia Farrow, concluding: “We will probably never know what occurred on August 4, 1992. The credible testimony of Ms. Farrow, Dr. Coates, Dr. Leventhal, and Mr. Allen does, however, prove that Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.”
Now, if you ask Allen v. Farrow directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering who their secret weapon was, they’ll tell you none other than Amy Herdy, the investigative journalist who helped them secure all their subjects, as well as court and case documents. She’s been reporting on this case for three straight years and knows it inside and out.
Here, Herdy breaks down the arguments made by Allen defenders—including Hadley Freeman of The Guardian—regarding the Yale New Haven report (among other things), Dylan’s credibility, the child custody trial, and the Soon-Yi relationship.
Before we get into Allen v. Farrow—you have a journalism background, right?
I do. I worked at the St. Petersburg Times, The Denver Post, and NBC in Tampa and NBC in Denver. I did investigative work at both television stations, and I did criminal justice at The Denver Post and I covered crime at the St. Petersburg Times.
And I read that your series about rape in the military, “Betrayal in the Ranks,” was the inspiration for Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary The Invisible War.
Kirby was pretty generous with saying it inspired him and he used some of the research we had found in The Invisible War. I was interviewed as a subject for it and also assisted behind the scenes, giving some help with research, doing FOIAs, and finding subjects. But I wouldn’t let him pay me. I said, “No, no, no. You interviewed me; you can’t pay me.”
Do you consider Kirby and Amy to be journalists? Or how do you see them?
They’re filmmakers. They’re fantastic investigative filmmakers. I don’t want to take away from the way that they operate as filmmakers, because they truly are investigative filmmakers, ask very probing questions, and have amazing analytical brains. Kirby especially, I joke that he could have been an excellent city editor at any newspaper. With Allen v. Farrow, I brought them the research, and the facts, and the records, and the subjects, and they wove it all together.
Allen v. Farrow nods to a trove of records you unearthed that were related to the Connecticut State Police investigation of Allen.
Yes, there were a trove of Connecticut State Police records related to the investigation. It was books and books of documents of the investigation. And the recorded phone conversations were exhibits at the [child custody] trial.
So, you must have had to listen to hours and hours of recorded phone conversations between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. What did you take away from those conversations? And were there any interesting omissions from Allen v. Farrow?
I think Kirby and Amy chose the best parts of those phone conversations. They were the most illustrative of major points that were being touched on in that particular episode, in that particular point in the episode. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think the tapes of those phone conversations are worth 10,000, because they’re so revelatory of these two people—how they were operating at the time, what they were thinking, and what they were feeling. You can hear the emotion, or the lack thereof.
A trio of vocal Woody Allen defenders have emerged—Allen’s friend Robert B. Weide, Hadley Freeman of The Guardian, and Roger Friedman of Showbiz411. And one of the things defenders of Allen hang their hat on is the Yale New Haven report, which I’ve always found strange since it was one of several things introduced as evidence in the child custody trial, which was a far broader examination of Woody and Mia’s behavior.
It was dissected and dismissed at trial. Read Judge Wilk’s verdict about it. He did not find it compelling. But how long do you have when it comes to the Yale New Haven report? They destroyed their notes. The lead author of the report [Dr. John Leventhal] did not interview the main subject, which is Dylan. They went way beyond their purview of what they were asked to do, which was to see if a child was emotionally able to withstand trial, and they recommended visitation, who should have therapy, on and on. They made big mistakes, such as accusing Dylan of having distorted thinking or hallucinations when she described the “dead heads” in the attic, which were the wigs [kept on Styrofoam blocks] from Mia’s movies. They described her as being incredibly inconsistent, when if you read it she was incredibly consistent. And interviewing Dylan nine times, even back in 1992, was a horrific practice. On a micro level, they got basic facts wrong in that report. They said that Dylan lived with four siblings; she lived with nine.
The Yale New Haven team also I believe recommended treatment for Satchel [now Ronan] without even interviewing him, right?
Yes, they did. Absolutely. It was one of those things that struck me the most. What’s interesting to me is, Woody Allen has proclaimed this report as being evidence of innocence while never releasing the entire report, which I thought was interesting. Let me dig through my filing cabinet for a second… [long pause] OK, their last recommendation in the report is to put Soon-Yi back in Dylan’s life. That was very interesting to me. What in the world does that have to do with determining whether this child was able to withstand trial? To recommend an estranged sibling who’s now in a relationship with the other party being evaluated in the report, that she be inserted back into Dylan’s life? That seems really self-serving to me.
Were you able to find any evidence that Allen meddled in the Yale New Haven report?
I was not able to find evidence that he meddled in this report. I was able to find in the documentation that one of the [Yale New Haven] evaluators told the social worker investigator in New York [Paul Williams] that she believed Dylan and found her credible. Another one of the social workers in the records that we have, and I don’t believe we put this in the film, she told the social worker in New York that “careers were at stake.” So, she was concerned about that.
Just to clarify, the first woman you refer to from the Yale New Haven report who told Paul Williams she found Dylan credible was Jennifer Sawyer, and the other was Julia Hamilton.
Yes, and Julia Hamilton has since passed away. She told Paul Williams that “careers were at stake,” and that was in Paul Williams’ notes. None of them cooperated to testify in the custody trial. John Leventhal was deposed for the custody trial, and we didn’t include this in the film, but in his deposition, he disclosed that he met with Woody Allen’s attorneys the night before his deposition. So, take from that what you will.
One person that Woody Allen’s defenders bring up is Monica Thompson, Dylan’s nanny. She initially said that Mia was a good mother, and then claimed she was pressured into saying it by Mia and retracted the statement, and then issued a statement—through Allen’s agent—saying that Allen was the superior parent. And then, upon cross examination in the child custody trial, she confessed to telling multiple other people that Mia was a good parent.
There’s more to it than that, and we didn’t have the time and the space to put everything in. You have to understand, this story was so sprawling that we tried to stay focused on the most pertinent facts. I know that we thoroughly investigated Monica Thompson’s account and did not use it because of what’s represented in the record, which are contradictions. She contradicted herself in the record, and it was reflected in the custody trial transcripts and the police report that she was not truthful with police. She told police that she was on vacation when she was actually meeting with Woody Allen’s attorneys. From my experience, when you lie to police it’s a really bad thing, and they pretty much don’t believe anything you have to say after that. And then, who paid her? It was Woody. And also, as she discloses in the custody trial, Woody had loaned her money.
People have also brought up Dr. Nancy Schultz (The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman misspelled her name, strangely) and Dr. Susan Coates. Dr. Schultz was one of Dylan’s therapists, who claimed that Dylan “lived in her own fantasy world.”
I can go on and on about that. Let’s start with the Yale New Haven report, where she described Mia’s wigs as “dead heads,” and referred to “the magic hour,” because she knew about filmmaking and had been on film sets, and “the magic hour” is certain times of day where you have the best light for shooting a scene, so they were dismissing her based on things that, in Dr. Leventhal’s deposition, he even admitted that those wigs in the attic were a good explanation and that it didn’t necessarily reflect fantasy-like thinking. As far as Schultz and Coates, what is reflected in their notes—because I have their notes—is concern for a young girl who was becoming increasingly shy, withdrawn, and sad, and that was looked at through the lens of therapists back in the early ‘90s.
In Maureen Orth’s Vanity Fair story, which has been corroborated elsewhere, she reports, “Several times last summer, while Woody was visiting in Connecticut, Dylan locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out for hours. Once, one of the babysitters had to use a coat hanger to pick the lock. Dylan often complained of stomachaches and headaches when Woody visited: she would have to lie down. When he left, the symptoms would disappear. At times Dylan became so withdrawn when her father was around that she would not speak normally, but would pretend to be an animal.”
She would lay on the floor, she would bark like a dog, she would run around saying, “Hide me, hide me.” They would only coincide with Woody visits, which is what I learned from talking to Dylan and numerous other sources close to this.
Was Dylan’s aversion to Woody mentioned in the child psychologists’ notes [Schultz and Coates]?
This is reflected in the child custody transcripts, and in the New York City social worker’s notes, is that Dylan disclosed to her therapist that she had been abused, and her therapist was a mandatory reporter and did not report it. That was Dr. Nancy Schultz. And she admitted to that at trial. In the series, we feature excerpts from the therapist’s notes about Dylan disclosing that she had “a secret.” So again, a 5-year-old girl tells her therapist twice that she has “a secret,” and in the rest of those notes, which we didn’t include in the series, after she does this Dylan lays on the ground and is unreachable. What does that sound like to you? It does sound like trauma, doesn’t it? It sounds like a child trying to relay a trauma.
And this was around the time Mia had Woody seek counseling for his treatment of Dylan, when she was 5.
One thing that Allen v. Farrow doesn’t really delve into, because I suppose it’s a whole other can of worms, is Allen’s treatment of Satchel. What did you discover about Allen’s treatment of him? According to Orth’s report, Allen’s nickname for Satchel was “the little bastard,” and he would administer corporal punishment. Once, Allen allegedly twisted Satchel’s leg so hard he screamed, and then Allen threatened to break his legs.
And that quote is actually in Judge Wilk’s custody decision, and it’s presented in the finding of fact. When a judge releases a verdict, they give what’s called the “finding of fact.” They say, I believe this testimony. I’m not repeating it as someone taking an allegation; I’m repeating it as a finding of fact. And Wilk put that exact quote, about Woody Allen saying, “I’m going to break your fucking leg,” in his finding of fact.
There’s also the Soon-Yi of it all. One bone of contention has always been when this relationship actually started between Soon-Yi and Woody Allen. What did your investigating find along those lines? From what I understand, in the last six months of high school, Soon-Yi had allegedly expressed a desire to become an actress, and Allen began taking modeling photos of her, and was supposedly helping her along those lines.
Are you putting the word “modeling” in quotation marks? We found the transcripts of the maid and the doorman who testified that Soon-Yi was visiting Woody Allen’s apartment when she was still in high school, in her high school uniform. I think that showed evidence of a relationship that could have started much sooner than they’ve maintained. And there was testimony from the maid who said that after Soon-Yi’s visits, she would change the beds and the sheets were stained from someone having sex, and that there were condom wrappers and used condoms in the trash can. So, everything pointed to them having a sexual relationship sooner than both allege.
Allen’s defenders also constantly bring up how two of Mia Farrow’s adopted children died under tragic circumstances. Was there any evidence that you found to suggest that Mia Farrow was abusive to any of her children?
No, and we asked many, many people—more than a dozen—about the allegations of Mia being abusive, and nobody corroborated it. In fact, it was just the opposite.
Mia Farrow also, according to reports, tried to get Dylan to take the allegation back.
She gave her every opportunity to say, “Well, I made this up,” because Mia didn’t want it to be true. She went to Dylan and said, “If this isn’t true, it’s OK, you can say that and nobody is going to be angry with you,” because Mia desperately didn’t want to believe that it was true, and Dylan said, “No, it is true.” If you think about it, Dylan was transported to Yale New Haven for these grueling interviews on nine separate occasions. This was a young girl. And on one of the occasions, when she was getting ready to leave [the house], she wanted to stay home and watch cartoons, so she said, “I don’t want to go. I made it up.” And Mia immediately called them and said, “She said she doesn’t want to go, and full disclosure, she said she made it up,” and then Dylan said that it wasn’t true—that it actually did happen, and that she just wanted to stay home and watch cartoons and have people leave her alone. Mia didn’t want it to be true. What mother would?
So, this seems to run contrary to allegations Allen has made that Mia cooked this up and coached Dylan.
People just need to look at the timeline. You have a nanny [Allison Stickland] who walked in on Woody Allen with his face in Dylan’s naked lap. She disclosed that to her employer, who was Casey Pascal, that night. Then, Casey told Mia, and Mia immediately brought it up with Dylan the next morning. So, that’s a lot of short-term intensive coaching, if you want to go the coaching route and explore that as a plausible allegation. That’s a short amount of time to do an enormous amount of coaching in a young child.
And other Allen defenders point to the video interview of Dylan discussing being abused by Allen having edits in it as evidence that Mia was coaching Dylan in between those cuts.
No. And what was revealed in the custody court transcripts was that the video tape was cut because Dylan was in the bathtub when she was talking about some of what she said happened to her, and Mia had the camera hanging around her neck, and it got what Mia felt were some very inappropriate shots of her naked daughter, and that’s what she had cut. And that is what’s reflected in the record.
Read more from Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy on Moses Farrow and the train set after next week’s episode of Allen v. Farrow.