I used to know a guy — played basketball with him and a few others in the neighborhood. He was a very high-up executive with a local pro sports franchise. I remember telling him, “That must be pretty cool, working with [I named some of the biggest, most beloved sports stars in Houston history].”
He said, “It’s not what you think. You’re better off being just a fan. Some of these athletes you love can be the biggest a-holes in the world. That one player you like so much … he’s the most selfish person I’ve ever met in my life.”
They say that you should never meet your heroes, they’ll usually disappoint you. When I was growing up, my heroes always were sports stars. My bedroom walls were covered with photos of baseball, football, and basketball players. As I got older, my heroes, at least the people I admired most, shifted to newspaper writers, musicians, and comedians.
I didn’t get to meet many of them face-to-face, although I was once in the men’s room at Nathan’s Hot Dogs in Times Square and noticed that New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin was using the urinal next to me. We weren’t exactly face-to-face so I didn’t introduce myself. I certainly didn’t offer to shake his hand.
My biggest hero — the person I admired most, the one who made me laugh the hardest — was Woody Allen. I loved his movies, Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall. I found out that he made comedy albums during his standup years; I bought them and memorized them. I devoured his books. When he wrote short stories for Playboy, they were the, uh, second thing I looked at. I dug up everything I could find about Allen.
Woody Allen influenced, certainly inspired, a couple of generations of comedians coming out of New York. Richard Lewis borrowed some of Allen’s insecurities and angst. If you watch the early seasons of Seinfeld, Jason Alexander is practically doing a Woody Allen imitation as George Costanza.
I continued to love Woody Allen, despite things that developed in his personal life. I cringed at his stumbles, the accusations of inappropriate behavior with his daughter with Mia Farrow, his unseemly affair and later marriage to one of Farrow’s adopted daughters, and other missteps. To be clear, he did not have an affair with his daughter; Soon-Yi Previn was the adopted daughter of Allen’s partner, not wife, Farrow.
Like most, including a long list of major Hollywood actors who still clamored to appear in Allen’s movies, and critics who stood by him, I didn’t (or didn’t want to) believe the accusations, especially the charges coming from Farrow, who’s bit of an odd character herself.
This month, I’m watching the HBO documentary series Allen v. Farrow which goes in deep and dark about Allen’s 12-year relationship with Farrow and gives a one-sided account of Allen’s alleged inappropriate and disgusting behavior with his then-7-year-old daughter Dylan and his affair with Soon-Yi Previn.
The documentary is heavy-handed and one-sided because Allen did not participate in the project. His denial of all accusations comes only in the form of snippets from the audiobook version of his 2020 autobiography, Apropos of Nothing.
According to the documentary, and supported by recent interviews with Farrow and Dylan, Allen became infatuated with Dylan as a young girl, isolated her from the rest of the family, and allegedly sexually molested her in 1992. The documentary includes never before seen video of Farrow questioning Dylan about the incident a few days after it allegedly occurred. It’s compelling and disturbing.
Soon after, Allen began an affair with Soon-Yi. Allen claims this was during Soon-Yi’s freshman year in college. The documentary charges the affair started earlier, while Soon-Yi was in high school, and presents witnesses like Allen’s housekeeper who says she found semen stains and condom wrappers in Allen’s apartment from when Soon-Yi was in high school.
Farrow says that she discovered Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi when she found nude “Hustler-style” photos of Soon-Yi in Allen’s apartment.
The documentary includes an interview with another woman who claims she had a physical relationship with Allen when she was an teenager. Woody Allen has long and often denied that he ever had any illegal contact with an underage girl.
In fact, Farrow’s accusations against Allen were investigated by officials in Connecticut and, as you can imagine, the media in New York and supermarket tabloids had a field day with the sordid story. In the court case in Connecticut, no charges were pressed, although the prosecutor said he believed Farrow’s account but didn’t want to put Dylan through the trauma of a court case.
Allen and Soon-Yi were married in 1997. Allen was 62; Soon-Yi 27. Now, 85 and 50, they still are married and have two adopted children.
Allen v. Farrow is a four-part documentary airing Sunday nights on HBO. We’ve seen two installments. A preview of Part 3 seems to indicate that there was political or some kind of pressure for the original court case in Connecticut not to proceed.
I know that HBO is not a court of law, and the documentary presents only the prosecution, but I think the Allen v. Farrow makes a compelling case against Allen. I am disappointed and repulsed by the comedian whose work I loved and admired.
I can’t separate the two.