The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast
Twenty-one years after the first allegations that Woody Allen abused his adopted daughter, that incident is back in the news.
As anyone with access to a computer knows, Woody Allen has been pilloried of late across the internet, over allegations that 21 years ago, he molested the daughter he and Mia Farrow adopted in 1985. Countless people have weighed in on this, many of them without the slightest idea of what the facts are in this matter. I consider myself allergic to gossip and tabloids, and go out of my way to avoid them. So when a celebrity is being devoured by the two-headed piranha of gossip and innuendo, I usually have minimal understanding of what they did, or were alleged to have done. Woody Allen is an exception.
I produced and directed the two-part PBS special, Woody Allen: A Documentary, that premiered in the U.S. on the “American Masters” series. I also supervised and consulted on the brief clip montage that aired as part of the recent Golden Globes telecast, when Allen received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement.
When I went online the morning after the Globes broadcast, I found more than one email asking if I had seen the previous night’s tweets from Mia Farrow and her son, Ronan. A quick search led me not only to the accusatory tweets, but to the explosion of internet chatter that followed in their wake. The more benevolent comments suggested Woody should rot in jail. Others were demanding his head on a pike.
Last fall, Vanity Fair magazine ran an article about Mia and her family, which included an interview with the 28-year-old Malone (née Dylan), who, at the age of seven, was at the center of Mia’s allegations that made headlines during the brutal custody battle between her and Woody. In the recent interview, Malone stands behind her mother’s accusation. It was the one-two punch of the Vanity Fair piece and the Farrow tweets that stirred up the hornet’s nest that had remained somewhat dormant over the past 20 years.
My documentary covered Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn (Mia’s adopted daughter and Woody’s wife of 16 years) and the ensuing fall-out, but I chose not to go down the rabbit hole detailing the custody case, as my film was primarily about his work, and I had no interest in allowing it to turn into a courtroom drama. I did, however, thoroughly research the entire episode in order to reach my own conclusions about what did or didn’t take place.
My association with Woody is primarily a professional one, though we’ve remained friendly since the documentary and still occasionally correspond by email via his assistant (since Woody still types on a 60-year old manual typewriter). When I wrote him the day after the ceremony, he was vaguely aware that Mia and Ronan had badmouthed him (again), but he wasn’t certain what Twitter was. (He’s heard of blogging and always confuses the two.) Because he doesn’t go online, he was blissfully unaware of how much ink (sorry, bandwidth) the story was getting. If he had known, he still wouldn’t have cared. Mia’s accusations were old business, and the fact that Ronan was publicly chiming in meant nothing to Woody, who hadn’t even seen his (alleged) son for 20 years. I also knew Woody would never publicly respond to any of this. His indifference to the gossip has always struck me not as a decision so much as an involuntary and organic reaction. In fact, during a written exchange that day in which I mentioned the tweet attack, he was more focused on giving me advice about a stye I had on my eyelid that I joked was probably a brain tumor: “I agree, you probably do have a brain tumor. You should get your affairs in order quickly as those things can move rather rapidly. You’ll probably start to have some problems with your balance—don’t panic—it’s quite natural for a brain tumor.” He then counseled me not to use up my “remaining days” fretting over Mia.
As the day progressed, it seemed the misinformation on the internet was growing exponentially spurious by the minute. The more even-keeled bloggers and pundits were asking, “Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?” or “Is America ready to forgive Woody Allen?” The very phrasing of these questions presumed that Woody had done something terrible, and we had to decide how much we would let it bother us. My wife suggested that in absence of a response by Woody, he was being swiftboated. His silence created a vacuum that everybody with a keyboard was going to fill with whatever they believed or thought they believed or heard from someone else who heard from someone who linked to the Vanity Fair article.
I considered whether to enter the fray, since my credentials were in order, so to speak. I had researched these events, I knew Woody—was friendly with him, but we weren’t so close that anyone could rightfully accuse me of being in his pocket. Quite the opposite in fact, as Woody had already advised me not to get involved. But as I came across more and more articles and blogs filled with misinformation, my wife said something to me that struck a chord: “You have just as much right to weigh in on this as anyone else, regardless of what Woody thinks.”
So here I go—contributing to the very noise I’ve been complaining about.
There are basically two issues at play here. One is Woody’s starting a romantic/sexual relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, in 1991. The other is Mia’s accusation—used during their custody battle for their three shared children—that Woody molested their 7-year-old adopted daughter Dylan. People tend to confuse these two issues, so let’s examine them separately.
First, the Soon-Yi situation:
Every time I stumble upon this topic on the internet, it seems the people who are most outraged are also the most ignorant of the facts. Following are the top ten misconceptions, followed by my response in italics:
#1: Soon-Yi was Woody’s daughter. False.
#2: Soon-Yi was Woody’s step-daughter. False.
#3: Soon-Yi was Woody and Mia’s adopted daughter. False. Soon-Yi was the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and André Previn. Her full name was Soon-Yi Farrow Previn.
#4: Woody and Mia were married. False.
#5: Woody and Mia lived together. False. Woody lived in his apartment on Fifth Ave. Mia and her kids lived on Central Park West. In fact, Woody never once stayed over night at Mia’s apartment in 12 years.
#6: Woody and Mia had a common-law marriage. False. New York State does not recognize common law marriage. Even in states that do, a couple has to cohabitate for a certain number of years.
#7: Soon-Yi viewed Woody as a father figure. False. Soon-Yi saw Woody as her mother’s boyfriend. Her father figure was her adoptive father, André Previn.
#8: Soon-Yi was underage when she and Woody started having relations. False. She was either 19 or 21. (Her year of birth in Korea was undocumented, but believed to be either 1970 or ’72.)
#9: Soon-Yi was borderline retarded. Ha! She’s smart as a whip, has a degree from Columbia University and speaks more languages than you.
#10: Woody was grooming Soon-Yi from an early age to be his child bride. Oh, come on! According to court documents and Mia’s own memoir, until 1990 (when Soon-Yi was 18 or 20), Woody “had little to do with any of the Previn children, (but) had the least to do with Soon-Yi” so Mia encouraged him to spend more time with her. Woody started taking her to basketball games, and the rest is tabloid history. So he hardly “had his eye on her” from the time she was a child.
Let me add this: If anyone is creeped out by the notion of a 55-year old man becoming involved with his girlfriend’s 19-year old adopted daughter, I understand. That makes perfect sense. But why not get the facts straight? If the actual facts are so repugnant to you, then why embellish them?
It’s understandable that Mia would remain furious with Woody for the rest of her life. If I were in Mia’s position, I’m sure I’d feel the same way. (Though I’d likely handle it as a private matter and not be tweeting about him being a pedophile, just before tweeting, “omfg look at this baby panda.”) I also understand the simmering anger of Ronan Farrow (née Satchel), who has famously said of Allen, “He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.” However, this particular dilemma might be resolved by Mia’s recent revelations that Ronan’s biological father may “possibly” be Frank Sinatra, whom Farrow married in 1966, when she was 21 and the crooner was 50.
While we’re on the subject, a word about this Sinatra business: To even say that Ronan is “possibly” Sinatra’s son implies that Mia was fooling around with her ex-husband decades after their divorce. Backdating from Ronan’s birthdate, it means that Farrow and Sinatra “hooked up” in March of 1987 when Mia was 42 and Old Blue Eyes was 71. This sort of dispels the myth that Woody and Mia had this idyllic, loving, monogamous relationship until Woody threw it all away in 1992, since Mia was apparently diddling her ex, five years earlier. If Mia was “just kidding” about the Sinatra scenario, it was an awfully insensitive thing to say, considering the fact that Sinatra’s wife, Barbara, is still very much alive. Did Mia stop to think how her coy tease might be perceived by the widow Sinatra? One can only wonder if this also fits Ronan’s definition of a “moral transgression.” (One may also wonder whether Woody is owed a fortune in reimbursement for child support.)
I am not here to slam Mia. I think she’s an exceptional actress and I seriously admire her political activism. (I even follow her on Twitter.) But those who hate Woody “for what he did to Mia,” should be reminded that if Sinatra was indeed Ronan’s biological father, it’s not the first time Mia had a child by a married man. In 1969, at the age of 24, she became pregnant by musician/composer André Previn, 40, who was still married to singer/songwriter Dory Previn. The betrayal is said to have led to Dory Previn’s mental breakdown and institutionalization, during which she received electroconvulsive therapy. She would later write a song called, “Beware of Young Girls” about Mia. Maybe sleeping with your friend’s husband doesn’t earn as many demerits as sleeping with your girlfriend’s adopted daughter, but if you’re waving the “Never Forget” banner in Mia’s honor, let’s be consistent and take a moment to also remember the late Dory Previn. (Or better yet, let’s forget the whole damn thing, considering it’s none of our business.)
Now, on to the more delicate issue of Mia’s accusations during the custody case that Woody sexually abused Dylan/Malone.
A brief but chilling synopsis of the accusation is as follows: On August 4, 1992, almost four months after the revelation about Woody and Soon-Yi’s relationship understandably ignited a firestorm within the Farrow household, Woody was visiting Frog Hollow, the Farrow country home in Bridgewater, Connecticut, where Mia and several of her kids were staying. During an unsupervised moment, Woody allegedly took Dylan into the attic and, shall we say, “touched her inappropriately.” Later in the day, it was alleged that the child was wearing her sundress, but that her underpants were missing. The following day, Mia’s daughter allegedly told her mother what had happened, and Mia put the child’s recounting of the story on videotape as evidence.
Did this event actually occur? If we’re inclined to give it a second thought, we can each believe what we want, but none of us know. Why does the adult Malone say it happened? Because she obviously believes it did, so good for her for speaking out about it in Vanity Fair. Her brother Ronan believes it happened, so good for him for sticking up for his sister in 140 characters or less. They’ve both grown up in a household where this scenario has been accepted as indisputable fact, so why shouldn’t they believe it?
I know I’m treading a delicate path here, and opening myself up to accusations of “blaming the victim.” However, I’m merely floating scenarios to consider, and you can think what you will. But if Mia’s account is true, it means that in the middle of custody and support negotiations, during which Woody needed to be on his best behavior, in a house belonging to his furious ex-girlfriend, and filled with people seething mad at him, Woody, who is a well-known claustrophobic, decided this would be the ideal time and place to take his daughter into an attic and molest her, quickly, before a house full of children and nannies noticed they were both missing.
Even people who give Woody the benefit of the doubt and defend him on the internet are often confused on a few points. Some mistakenly say that the court found him “not guilty” of the molestation charges. The fact is there was never such a ruling because he was never charged with a crime, since investigative authorities never found credible evidence to support Mia’s (and Dylan’s) claim.
Let’s back up a bit: Mia’s allegations of molestation automatically triggered a criminal investigation by the Connecticut State Police, who brought in an investigative team from the Yale-New Haven Hospital, whose six-month long inquiry (which included medical examinations) concluded that Dylan had not been molested. I’ve since read a recurring canard that Woody “chose” the investigative team. Yet nobody has suggested how or why Mia’s team would ever outsource the investigation to a team “chosen” by Woody. Others have said that the investigators talked to psychiatrists “on Allen’s payroll” before letting him off the hook. The only way I can explain this is that the investigators, naturally, would have spoken with Woody’s shrinks before giving him a clean bill of health. So technically, yeah, Woody’s shrinks would have been paid a lot of money by Woody over the years. (Let’s even call it an annuity.) The same would be true of his dentist, his eye doctor, and his internist.
As for the evidentiary videotape of young Dylan’s claims, it’s been noted that there were several starts and stops in the recording, essentially creating in-camera “edits” to the young girl’s commentary. This raises questions as to what was happening when the tape wasn’t running. Was Mia “coaching” her daughter off-camera, as suggested by the investigators? Mia says no—she merely turned the camera on whenever Dylan starting talking about what Daddy did. Maybe we should take Mia at her word on this. Since I wasn’t there, I think it’s good policy not to presume what took place.
The videotape and the medical exams weren’t the only problems Mia faced in bringing abuse charges against her former lover. There were problems with inconsistencies in her daughter’s off-camera narrative as well. A New York Times article dated March 26, 1993, quotes from Mia’s own testimony, during which she recalled taking the child to a doctor on the same day as the alleged incident. Farrow recalled, “I think (Dylan) said (Allen) touched her, but when asked where, she just looked around and went like this,” at which point Mia patted her shoulders. Farrow recalls she took Dylan to another doctor, four days later. On the stand, Allen’s attorney asked Mia about the second doctor’s findings: “There was no evidence of injury to the anal or vaginal area, is that correct?” Farrow answered, “Yes.”
In the midst of the proceedings, on February 2, 1993, a revealing article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, headlined: “Nanny Casts Doubt on Farrow Charges,” in which former nanny Monica Thompson (whose salary was paid by Allen, since three of the brood were also his) swore in a deposition to Allen’s attorneys that she was pressured by Farrow to support the molestation charges, and the pressure led her to resign her position. Thompson had this to say about the videotape: ““I know that the tape was made over the course of at least two and perhaps three days. I recall Ms. Farrow saying to Dylan at that time, ‘Dylan, what did daddy do… and what did he do next?’ Dylan appeared not to be interested, and Ms. Farrow would stop taping for a while and then continue.”
Thompson further revealed a conversation she had with Kristie Groteke, another nanny. “She told me that she felt guilty allowing Ms. Farrow to say those things about Mr. Allen. (Groteke) said the day Mr. Allen spent with the kids, she did not have Dylan out of her sight for longer than five minutes. She did not remember Dylan being without her underwear.”
On April 20, 1993, a sworn statement was entered into evidence by Dr. John M. Leventhal, who headed the Yale-New Haven Hospital investigative team looking into the abuse charges. An article from the New York Times dated May 4, 1993, includes some interesting excerpts of their findings. As to why the team felt the charges didn’t hold water, Leventhal states: “We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination.”
Leventhal further swears Dylan’s statements at the hospital contradicted each other as well as the story she told on the videotape. “Those were not minor inconsistencies. She told us initially that she hadn’t been touched in the vaginal area, and she then told us that she had, then she told us that she hadn’t.” He also said the child’s accounts had “a rehearsed quality.” At one point, she told him, “I like to cheat on my stories.” The sworn statement further concludes: “Even before the claim of abuse was made last August, the view of Mr. Allen as an evil and awful and terrible man permeated the household. The view that he had molested Soon-Yi and was a potential molester of Dylan permeated the household… It’s quite possible —as a matter of fact, we think it’s medically probable—that (Dylan) stuck to that story over time because of the intense relationship she had with her mother.” Leventhal further notes it was “very striking” that each time Dylan spoke of the abuse, she coupled it with “one, her father’s relationship with Soon-Yi, and two, the fact that it was her poor mother, her poor mother,” who had lost a career in Mr. Allen’s films.
Much is made by Mia’s supporters over the fact that the investigative team destroyed their collective notes prior to their submission of the report. Also, the three doctors who made up the team did not testify in court, other than through the sworn deposition of team leader Leventhal. I have no idea if this is common practice or highly unusual. I won’t wager a guess as to what was behind the destruction of the notes any more than I’ll claim to know why Mia stopped and started her video camera while filming her daughter’s recollections over a few days, or who was alleged to have leaked the tape of Dylan to others, or why Mia wouldn't take a lie detector test. (Woody took one and passed.) In any event, destruction of the notes may have been part of the reason that, despite the very conclusive position taken by the investigators that Dylan was not abused, presiding Judge Elliot Wilk found their report “inconclusive.”
Judge Wilk would ultimately grant Mia custody of Satchel and Dylan. 15-year-old Moses chose not to see Woody, which was his right. It was a hard-won victory for Mia who returned home with eight of her nine children intact. She would go on to adopt six more, including Thaddeus Wilk Farrow, named in honor of the Honorable Judge Wilk.
Woody was granted supervised visitation of Satchel, but his request for immediate visitation with Dylan was denied until the young girl underwent a period of therapy, after which a further review of visitation would be considered. As a legal matter, the investigation of possible criminal abuse would continue.
Almost four months after Wilk’s decision, the Connecticut authorities abandoned the criminal investigation, resulting in an unusual statement from Litchfield, Connecticut County Prosecutor Frank Maco, who dismissed the abuse charges against Woody, but still maintained that he had “probable cause” to believe Dylan. In the minds of many, the decision would leave Woody in a kind of moral limbo. Legally, he was cleared of everything—except a dark cloud of suspicion. Woody was furious, and called a press conference in which he referred to the state’s attorney office as “cowardly, dishonest and irresponsible. Even today, as they squirm, lie, sweat, and tap-dance, pathetically trying to save face and justify their moral squalor… there was no evidence against me. There is none now. I promise you, smear as they may, they will always claim to have evidence; but notice that somehow they will manage to find reasons why they can’t quite show it to you.”
Woody’s ad-hoc press conference made for good television and was widely covered in the press. Less widely disseminated was a news item that appeared in the New York Times five months later (Feb. 24, 1994), which reported that a disciplinary panel found the actions of County Prosecutor Frank Maco (the “probable cause” guy) were cause for “grave concern” and may have prejudiced the case. It winds up that Maco sent his “probable cause” statement to the Surrogate’s Court judge in Manhattan who was still deciding on Allen’s adoption status of Dylan and Moses, which Mia was trying to annul. The panel wrote, “In most circumstances, [Maco’s comments] would have violated the prosecutor’s obligation to the accused. [His actions were] inappropriate, unsolicited, and potentially prejudicial.” The article states that the agency could have voted sanctions against Maco ranging from censure to disbarment. Though the decision was quite damning, Maco got what amounted to a slap on the wrist. Two years later, the reprimand was overturned, but Mia was unsuccessful in her bid to annul the adoptions. Legally, Woody remains the adoptive father of Dylan and Moses.
Moses Farrow, now 36, and an accomplished photographer, has been estranged from Mia for several years. During a recent conversation, he spoke of “finally seeing the reality” of Frog Hollow and used the term “brainwashing” without hesitation. He recently reestablished contact with Allen and is currently enjoying a renewed relationship with him and Soon-Yi.
Life would go on for both Woody and Mia, respectively. Aside from tending to her growing family, Farrow would come to be recognized as a leading human rights advocate, with special concern for the plight of children in conflict-torn regions. She has worked diligently to bring attention to the Sudanese genocide in Darfur, and has made many trips to the region, receiving several awards for her humanitarian efforts in the process. Woody Allen would continue his ritual of writing and producing a film per-year—an unprecedented pace he’s maintained since 1969. The accolades and awards continue to pour in, and no one is less impressed than Allen, who has traditionally stayed away from all awards shows.
In 1997, Woody and Soon-Yi would marry in Venice, Italy, and over the next few years adopt two daughters. Anyone who has adopted is familiar with the vetting process conducted by social workers and licensed government agencies charged with looking out for the child’s welfare. Suffice it to say, the case of Woody and Soon-Yi was no exception, especially considering the highly-publicized events of 1992-93. Both adoptions, in two different states, were thoroughly reviewed by state court judges who found no reason why Woody and his wife shouldn’t be allowed to adopt. The girls, now aged 15 and 13, are named Bechet (after jazz saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet) and Manzie (after jazz drummer Manzie Johnson).
It took me little more than two years to complete my film, Woody Allen: A Documentary. I conducted hours of filmed interviews with Woody, who put forward no ground rules about questions I could ask, or topics to avoid. Although I shot some film on location with Woody in London and Cannes, most of our filming took place in New York City. On more than one occasion, when I was planning to interview Woody, I found I had to schedule around mornings when he’d walk his kids to school, or attend parent-teacher conferences. The normalcy of his domestic life was somehow surprising to me. I’ve not spent a lot of time with his kids, but I’ve met them on a few occasions where I’ve received the cursory “hello,” as they went about their business doing girl stuff with their friends. The only parent-child tensions I’ve been privy to are that his girls think their father’s mean for not letting them have a dog, and that he’s an idiot for not knowing how to work a computer. Lest anyone accuse me of being in Woody’s pocket, I’ll confess that I side with his kids on both counts.
My more recent professional association with Woody took place last month, when I was asked to work on the Allen clip montage for the Golden Globes. The montage editor, Nicholas Goodman, and I wanted to include a brief moment from The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which Mia appeared. The producers were concerned about whether she would sign a release for the clip. (The Screen Actors Guild maintains very strict rules about obtaining authorization from any actor who appears in a clip excised for compilations.) I thought it unlikely that Mia would object, as I had obtained a signed release for my documentary, in which she granted permission for her appearance in many lengthy clips from several Allen films. At the time, I was extremely grateful for her cooperation, for without it, I would have had a 12-year gap in my film, and Mia would have been extremely conspicuous by her absence. I even took it as a possible sign that 20 years after the fact, perhaps the healing process had begun to take hold. As a further sign of good will, Mia agreed to the use of her “Purple Rose” clip in the Golden Globe montage. The producers of the show were grateful. Everyone agreed it would have been a shame not to acknowledge Mia’s contribution to so many of Allen’s best films.
At the ceremony in Beverly Hills, actress Emma Stone, having just worked with Woody on his latest film Magic in the Moonlight, introduced the montage, followed by Diane Keaton’s surrogate acceptance speech, which was typically sentimental, loopy, and very Keatonesque. Woody, who would have never stopped throwing up had he been there, was instead in New York at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre for the opening of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, whose book was written by Woody’s friend Doug McGrath. Woody had already told me that if the show let out early enough, he was hoping to get home in time to catch the last quarter of the football playoffs.
Apparently, Mia and Ronan assigned more significance to the festivities than did Woody, seeing the televised occasion as a perfect opportunity to bring him down a few pegs. The first of Mia’s tweets, issued as the Woody segment commenced, was restrained and kind of cute: “Time to grab some icecream & switch over to #GIRLS.” I smiled when I read it, and thought, “Why not? You already saw the montage when you approved the use of your clip.” Her second tweet, referencing the recent Vanity Fair article, was nastier: “A woman has publicly detailed Woody Allen’s molestation of her at age 7. GoldenGlobe tribute showed contempt for her & all abuse survivors.”
This one puzzled me. I thought it was odd to say the Globe tribute showed contempt for abuse survivors when Mia willfully participated in the festivities by expressly agreeing to the use of her clip, when she had every opportunity to decline. She certainly wasn’t pressured, and we had an alternative version of the montage (sans Mia) all ready to go in case she passed. It seemed Mia either wanted it both ways, or simply assumed no one would ever learn that she was complicit in the tribute. By the time I saw her third tweet, asking, “Is he a pedophile?” and linking to the Vanity Fair article, my most charitable thought was that this woman needs to get over herself. A more mischievous part of me wanted to repost her tweet, but swap out her link for one leading to an article about the recent 10-year jail sentence received by her brother, John Charles Villiers-Farrow, for multiple counts of child molestation—a topic she’s been unusually quiet about, considering her penchant for calling out alleged (let alone, convicted) molesters to whom she’s exposed her children.
I was actually somewhat impressed with Ronan Farrow’s now-famous tweet from the summer of 2012: “Happy father’s day—or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” The target was fair game, and I remember thinking Ronan had inherited his father’s wit—before his actual paternity came into question. (A good sense of humor and the ability to think on his feet will serve him well on his own show on MSNBC.) But his tweet the night of the Globes was a bit more vicious: “Missed the Woody Allen tribute—did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Brevity may be the soul of wit, if not nuanced accuracy. Had he stated that a woman publicly “alleged” molestation, it probably wouldn’t have triggered quite the reaction Ronan was looking for, just weeks before his show debuts. To remind readers that the woman is recalling memories from the age of seven, when a six-month investigation characterized her as being “emotionally disturbed,” and making statements that were likely “coached or influenced by her mother,” takes a little more than 140 characters.
I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: I know Dylan/Malone believes these events took place, and I know Ronan believes so too. I am not in a position to say they didn’t, any more than all the people on the internet calling for Woody’s head can say they did. The point is that accusations make headlines; retractions are buried on page twelve, and coerced accusations are as much a reality as coerced confessions. Since Woody literally pays no mind to this stuff, and he continues to work and have a happy home life, I would never suggest he’s a victim in this case. The real victim has always been Malone. For me, however, the real questions are: who’s doing the victimizing, and does pain really heal better in the public spotlight? I don’t pretend to have answers for either question.
Malone, who is now a writer and artist, and happily married to an information-technology specialist, had been living a seemingly quiet life out of the spotlight. Obviously, if she feels that an interview with Vanity Fair is a necessary part of her healing process, that’s her right. I can only hope it brought her some closure, and I sincerely wish her all the happiness and peace she’s been looking for. I can even clear up one tiny mystery for her, of which I have personal knowledge. In the Vanity Fair article, Malone says that while a senior in college, she received in the mail a stuffed, manila envelope from Woody, filled with old photos of the two of them. She didn’t recognize the handwriting, but “(the envelope) had a fake return name: Lehman.” When I was working on my documentary, I’d occasionally request material from Woody’s office, which would be mailed to me by his assistant whose name would appear on the return address. During Malone’s senior year in college, Woody had an assistant whose surname was Lehman. So there’s one mystery solved. If only all the others were so easy.
As to the overall reliability or objectivity of Vanity Fair, I can’t really take a position. I do know that the publication was sued for libel in 2005 by director Roman Polanski who, in 1977, pled guilty to unlawful intercourse with a thirteen-year-old girl in Los Angeles that year. The magazine published an article stating that in 1969, Polanski was seen fondling and hitting on a young model at Elaine’s restaurant in New York City on his way to the funeral of his late wife Sharon Tate, who had been brutally slain by the Manson family. One of the witnesses who testified on Polanski’s behalf was Mia Farrow, who, I’m told, remains friendly with the director to this day. I commend her for standing by her friend and going on record as a character witness. That’s what friends do. In fact, her support of Polanski is so steadfast that when he won the Oscar for best director for his 2002 masterpiece, The Pianist, Mia never even suggested that the Motion Picture Academy showed contempt for all abuse survivors in so honoring him. But then again, those were the days before Twitter.
Polanski won his libel suit against Vanity Fair. It was proven that the director wasn’t even in New York on his way to his wife’s funeral, which took place in Los Angeles.
* * * * Editor's note: Subsequent to publishing the above piece, an open letter from Dylan Farrow appeared in Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times. When asked for comment, Weide sent this reply: “This continues to be a very sad story from every angle. I can only say I found nothing in Dylan’s letter that hasn’t previously been alleged in the two previous Vanity Fair articles, which I’ve already addressed. I also see nothing that contradicts what I wrote for The Daily Beast. If I wrote it today, it would be exactly the same piece. As I’ve already stated in my article, I hope she finds closure, and I sincerely wish her all the happiness and peace she’s been looking for."
Robert B. Weide is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker whose documentaries have covered the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Kurt Vonnegut. He was also the Executive Producer and director of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He tweets mostly nice things @BobWeide.