SPECIAL REPORT

WHEN LIFE IMITATES ART

WOODY VS. MIA IS AN UGLY FAMILY BATTLE

NORA UNDERWOOD August 31 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

WHEN LIFE IMITATES ART

WOODY VS. MIA IS AN UGLY FAMILY BATTLE

NORA UNDERWOOD August 31 1992

WHEN LIFE IMITATES ART

WOODY VS. MIA IS AN UGLY FAMILY BATTLE

SPECIAL REPORT

As a movie director, Woody Allen has devoted much of his career to documenting complex and often unorthodox sexual relationships. In his 1979 movie Manhattan, a 42-year-old writer takes his affair with a 17-year-old schoolgirl lightly until a disastrous liaison with his best friend’s mistress shakes him up. In 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters, the protagonist does not realize that he truly loves his wife until he has had an affair with her sister. But last week, a rancorous dispute between Allen, 56, and his former lover and leading lady, actress Mia Farrow, 47, cast Allen in a role even further removed from the ideals of conservative North Americans than those depicted in his movies. In the rapidly escalating battle with Farrow, Allen’s bid for custody of the couple’s three children was overshadowed by revelations that the director was sexually involved with Farrow’s young adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn. As well, lawyers involved in the dispute said that the police were investigating allegations that Allen may have sexually abused one of Farrow’s other children.

The rising tempo of charge and countercharge led the notoriously media-shy Allen to make two public statements in as many days. He told reporters in New York City that he had spent the past eight months trying to work out an amicable arrangement for joint custody of the three children he shared with Farrow: their biological son, Satchel, 41/2, and the two children that Farrow and Allen adopted, Moses, 14, and a seven-year-old daughter named Dylan. Allen said that because no arrangement was reached, he filed suit on Aug. 13 in New York State Supreme Court for custody of the three children.

‘Love’: Within days of that action,

Allen admitted that he was involved in a relationship with college student Farrow Previn, a Korean orphan who was adopted by Farrow and her then-husband, conductor André Previn, during the 1970s. Her exact age is not known—John Springer, a spokesman for Farrow, said that she has no birth certificate, but is believed to be between 18 and 21 years old. Allen declared in a written statement: “Regarding my love for Soon-Yi: it’s real and, happily, all true. She’s a lovely, intelligent,

sensitive woman who has and continues to turn my life around in a wonderfully positive way.” But family care specialists denounced the relationship between the young girl and Allen as inappropriate, particularly because Allen had acted as a father figure to her. “In Western society, it’s very strongly believed that sexual relations between immediate family members, or those in a position like immediate family

members, is inappropriate,” said Marilyn Belleghem, a marriage and family therapist in Oakville, Ont. “When you’re dating mum, it puts her children in the role of your own children—whether the child’s 5 or 25. He broke the boundary that the majority of society could tolerate.”

The day after the relationship between Farrow Previn and Allen was revealed, New York City newspapers reported that Connecticut

State Police officers were investigating possible sexual abuse involving one of Farrow’s children, and that Allen was involved in the investigation. Police officials would say only that an investigation in which Allen is a suspect was under way. Springer subsequently said that Farrow made a videotape earlier this month in which Dylan appeared to be describing sexual abuse. Declared Allen at a news conference: “These totally false and outrageous allegations have sickened me, so I felt that, for the sake of all my three children, I must try and remove them from an atmosphere so unhealthy it can surely leave irreparable scars.”

Offer: Allen claimed that Farrow’s lawyers had indicated that if Allen paid $8.3 million, Farrow would drop the allegations of child abuse. But Farrow’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, denied that any such offer was made, adding that the only financial discussions were about child-support payments. As well, Dershowitz declared that Allen launched his custody suit as a defensive measure. “He knew there were going to be serious charges against him,” said Dershowitz. “It’s all an attempt to deflect attention.” A Harvard University law professor, Dershowitz represented Rhode Island socialite ^ Claus von BUlow during his I appeal of his 1982 conviction £ for murdering his wife, and is g handling boxer Mike Tyson’s § appeal of his conviction for ! rape earlier this year. Allen 3 subsequently took—and passed—a lie-detector test in an effort to support his denial of the child-abuse allegations.

The relationship between Farrow and Allen began in 1980, after both had been twice married and divorced—Farrow to Previn and singer Frank Sinatra, who wed her when she was 21 and he was 50; and Allen to his 17-yearold sweetheart Harlene Rosen and actress Louise Lasser, who starred in his 1972 movie, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. Throughout their long affair, during which

Farrow appeared in 13 of Allen’s movies, they lived separately in apartments on opposite sides of Manhattan’s Central Park. Farrow lived with her five adopted and four biological children (she recently adopted two more), while Allen lived alone and concentrated on his work. According to Canadian-born author Eric Lax’s 1991 biography, Woody Allen, the arrangement was acceptable to both the comedian and Farrow. “As each has been married and divorced twice,” he wrote, “experience has taught them that legalizing a relationship doesn’t necessarily make it last.”

On Jan. 13, according to Dershowitz, Farrow discovered nude photos of Farrow Previn in Allen’s apartment and immediately broke off relations with him. The liaison between Allen and Farrow Previn began on Dec. 1, he added. Farrow’s 22-year-old son, Matthew Previn, told a reporter that Allen then ended the affair with the young woman and twice proposed marriage to Farrow, who rejected him. In a letter to her friend Maria Roach in late February or early March, which Roach made public last week, Farrow wrote about the effect that the breakup with Allen and the custody battle were having on her. “I have come so perilously close to a genuine meltdown of my very core,”

she wrote. “I see now that I have spent long years with a man who had no respect for everything that I hold sacred; not for my family, not for my soul, not for my God or my goals.”

New York’s Newsday gave a glimpse of the emotional stresses developing within the unconventional family. It said that friends of Farrow Previn claimed that her mother beat her, hit her with a chair, ripped her clothing and yelled at her after learning of her affair with Allen. They said that she left her mother’s apartment after a few days. Another source claimed that she then went to live with Allen.

Incest: The astonishing revelations raised profound issues about the responsibilities of parenthood and the definition of incest. According to family-care specialists, even though Previn remains Farrow Previn’s father, Allen likely acted, during at least part of his 12 years with Farrow, as an authority figure to her children. In his book, Lax noted: “Not many fathers spend as much time with their children as Woody does. He is there before they wake up in the morning, he sees them during the day, and he puts them to bed at night.”

For his part, William Marshall, a psychology professor at Queen’s University in Kingston,

Ont., and director of the Kingston Sexual Behavior Clinic, said that it was not clear if the relationship between Allen and Farrow Previn was incestuous in a legal sense. But, he added, “you have to wonder about someone who has known a prepubescent child in a parental-like role and why he would suddenly become sexually attracted to her when she blossomed into a woman — especially given the age discrepancy.”

Until recently, Allen and Farrow had managed to keep most details of their personal lives, and their troubles, private. But with last week’s revelations, and with a custody hearing set for this week in Manhattan, the feuding couple seemed certain to remain in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Allen’s latest movie, Husbands and Wives, began select screenings last week. In the movie, Allen plays a university professor who is on the verge of breaking up with his wife, played by Farrow, and who becomes involved with a young female student. The timing and theme of the movie seemed once again to underscore the parallels between the director’s art and his decidedly unconventional practice of family values.

NORA UNDERWOOD