Did Woody Allen Do It?

By Wil Forbis

February 1, 2018

Did Woody Allen molest his adopted daughter?It’s obvious that society is undergoing a profound shift in its views on sexual relations between men and women (particularly as to how we define sexual harassment). The pace with which powerful and famous men are being exposed as sexual aggressors has had an unrelenting fervor. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Charlie Rose, Al Franken… the list just keeps growing. Sometimes their crimes are minor (I have a hard time getting enraged at Rose and Franken), sometimes they are egregious (Cosby and Weinstein can burn in hell as far as I’m concerned) but it’s clear the old rules that shielded such behavior no longer apply.

The case of actor/filmmaker Woody Allen is different. For one thing, it’s been simmering for decades; it was over twenty years ago that his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, then aged seven, accused him of molesting her. Additionally, Allen has been accused of a single act and this fact sets him apart from the many celebrity harassers/predators of the modern era who face multiple charges, often from multiple accusers. The crime Allen is accused of is especially heinous—sexual abuse of a child. This is an assault that is especially hard to wraps one’s mind around. 

There’s one more difference between the case of Allen and all the others. This is Woody fuckin’ Allen we’re talking about! It’s been long known that Harvey Weinstein is a jerk. It was no secret that Bret Ratner is some kind of ‘bro’ douchebag. Even many of Donald Trump’s supporters concede he’s an alpha male bully. But Woody Allen is supposed to be the opposite of all that. For years he’s created female characters in his movies that many women credit with having a rare understanding of the feminine psyche. His films and stories pontificate on philosophy, metaphysics and morality. He seems totally devoid of the caddish self-confidence possessed by most serial predators. (The adjective most frequently used to describe him is “nebbish.”)

Of course, we can immediately note that many of these observations conflate Woody Allen's public persona with the private man. In reality, Allen may not be a Weinstein-esque sex freak but he’s no nerd in romance and successfully wooed numerous women including glamorous Hollywood actresses. And, of course, the discovery in 1992 of his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his then paramour, Mia Farrow, put a serious dent in his moral credibility. We can even start to wonder if his remarked upon insight into the minds of women is merely a tool developed to help bed them.

None of this proves or disproves that Allen molested Dylan. Answering that question involves examining the details of the case, which I do in a few paragraphs. I make no claims to have “solved” the Woody Allan case, but I have arrived at a judgment on his guilt or innocence.

Before we dive in, I should offer a sense of my opinion on Allen as an artist and celebrity so readers can be aware of my biases.  As a teenager and young adult, I loved Allen’s work. I consider many of his seminal films like “Annie Hall” or “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex” to be comedy masterpieces. I also liked many of his more introspective dramas such as “Interiors” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That said, I feel like his work dropped in quality around 1995 or so and since then he’s simply been going through the motions. Critics continue to praise his movies but I’ve been disappointed with his work to the degree that I rarely watch his new releases.

With that said, let’s examine the case.

Background to the Accusations
In 1980, Allen, at what was arguably the pinnacle of his career, entered into a relationship with actress Mia Farrow. Though they would never wed or even share a home, they did assemble a family. Farrow already had several adopted children, including Soon-Yi, from her previous marriage to composer Andre Previn. With Allen, she adopted two more—son Moses and daughter Dylan—and birthed a child, Satchel. (Satchel, now known as Ronan, wrote the New Yorker article that helped expose Harvey Weinstein. There is speculation that Ronan's father may actually be Farrow’s first husband, Frank Sinatra.)

According to Mia Farrow, there was something odd about Allen’s relationship with Dylan even before the charges of molestation. Her descriptions of various disturbing events that took place in the years leading up to the assult are detailed in the decision written by the judge who oversaw the custody battle that took place between Allen and Farrow in 1993. This Daily Beast article from 2014 offers a description of the legal decision. The following paragraph stands out.

According to Justice Wilk, Farrow became “concerned with Mr. Allen’s behavior towards Dylan” around 1987-1988. “During a trip to Paris, when Dylan was between two and three years old, Ms. Farrow told Mr. Allen that ‘[y]ou look at her [Dylan] in a sexual way,’” according to the decision. “You fondled her. It’s not natural. You’re all over her. You don’t give her any breathing room. You look at her when she’s naked.” She was suspicious of Allen because he’d read to Dylan in bed while in his underwear and permitted “[Dylan] to suck on his thumb.” Mia Farrow, her longtime friend Casey Pascal, Sophie Raven (Dylan’s French tutor), and Dr. Susan Coates, a clinical psychologist who treated Satchel, all testified that Allen “focused on Dylan to the exclusion of her siblings.” In the fall of 1990, when Farrow asked Dr. Coates to evaluate Dylan to see if she needed therapy, Farrow “expressed her concern” that “Allen’s behavior with Dylan was not appropriate.” Dr. Coates observed, “I did not see it as sexual, but I saw it as inappropriately intense because it excluded everybody else.”

This passage from Maureen Orth’s 1992 Vanity Fair article on the allegations offers additional observations.

One summer day in Connecticut, when Dylan was four and Woody was applying suntan lotion to her nude body, he alarmed Mia’s mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, and sister Tisa Farrow when he began rubbing his finger in the crack between her buttocks. Mia grabbed the lotion out of his hand, and O’Sullivan asked, “How do you want to be remembered by your children?” “As a good father,” Woody answered. “Well, that’s interesting,” O’Sullivan replied. “It only lasted a few seconds, but it was definitely weird,” says Tisa Farrow.

In a separate Vanity Fair piece from 2013, Maureen Orth writes…

Individuals outside the family who were there at the time remarked to me how Dylan would shut down when Allen came around. She would complain of stomachaches and lock herself in the bathroom to avoid him. 

Dylan has backed up the general flavor of these comments as well as some specifics in her two newspaper accounts in the LA Times and NY Times and a recent appearance on CBS This Morning. Allen denies any impropriety in his relationship with Dylan. (To my knowledge, he hasn’t commented on every specific allegation described above.)

Despite these issues, Farrow and Allen’s relationship continued with no major bumps until January 1992 when Farrow discovered nude pictures of Soon-Yi in Allen’s apartment. This quickly led to the exposure of Allen’s sexual relationship with Soon-Yi—then aged around 20 years old (her exact age is unknown)—and the fiery destruction of his relationship with Farrow. A custody battle for the children soon followed. Woody and Soon-Yi wed in 1997 and remain married to this day.

Dylan Farrow's Accusation
On August 4th of 1992, eight months after Allen and Soon-Yi’s affair had been discovered, Allen visited his children, including Dylan, then age seven, at Farrow’s vacation home in Bridgewater Connecticut. A babysitter saw Allen kneeling forward with his face in Dylan’s lap. The babysitter reported this to Mia Farrow a day later. Farrow then asked Dylan about it and Dylan stated that her adopter father, Woody Allen, had sexually molested her.

Dylan describes what happened in her recent CBS interview with journalist Gayle King.

GAYLE KING: Let's go to August 4, 1992. And if you could tell us what happened that day.

FARROW: I was taken to a small attic crawl space in my mother's country house in Connecticut by my father. He instructed me to lay down on my stomach and play with my brother's toy train that was set up. And he sat behind me in the doorway, and as I played with the toy train, I was sexually assaulted… As a 7-year-old I would say, I would have said he touched my private parts. ... As a 32-year-old, he touched my labia and my vulva with his finger.

Alarmed by these accusations, Mia Farrow videotaped her daughter’s statement over the course of at least two days. (The video has a “start and stop” nature that some say implies that Dylan was being coached for “correct” answers by Mia Farrow.) Farrow took Dylan to a pediatrician where the child, after some hesitation, repeated her allegations. The pediatrician then informed the police. A week later, Allen sued for custody of Moses, Dylan and Satchel, setting up the custody trial from which much pertinent testimony was documented. 

The Connecticut State's Attorney for the Litchfield district, Frank Maco, began investigating the case. He requested that the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale–New Haven Hospital determine if Dylan would be a workable witness. As Maco tells it, the clinic superseded their authority and stated that Dylan had not been molested. (In an unusual turn, they also destroyed their notes.) Maco ultimately declined to charge Allen with a crime because he wished to avoid the stress a trial would put on Dylan. 

Allen has from the start denied the accusations made against him.  He and his defenders allege that Mia Farrow, enraged by his affair with Soon-Yi, coached Dylan to make the claims. Allen’s documentarian, Robert B. Weide, raised the following point while defending Allen in a Daily Beast article from 2014.

…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.

Allen and Farrow’s adopted son Moses, who, as an adult has become a defender of Allen, recently raised some intriguing points

I assure you, there was no electric train set in that attic. There was nothing practical about that space as a place for kids to play, even if we wanted to. It was an unfinished attic with exposed fiberglass insulation. It smelled of mothballs, and there were mouse traps and poison pellets left all around. My mother used it for storage where she kept several trunks full of hand-me-down clothes, that sort of thing. The idea that the space could possibly accommodate a functioning electric train set, circling around the attic, makes no sense at all. One of my brothers did have an elaborate model train set, but it was set up in the boys’ room, a converted garage on the first floor. Maybe that was the train set my sister thinks she remembers.

Additionally, Moses has painted his mother as a controlling parent who at times hit him and demanded obedience from her children. Dylan has denied Moses’s recollection of events.

(Update on May 26, 2018: Moses recently penned a detailed blog post on his take of the controversy.)

We should also consider the testimony of Dr. Susan Coates during the custody trial. Coates treated young Satchel and interacted with both parents during the early 1990s. In her testimony, Coates stated that on August 1, 1992 (three days before the alleged incident) Mia Farrow called her upset that the Woody/Soon-Yi affair was still ongoing. Farrow called Allen “satanic and evil” and begged Coates to “find a way to stop him.” Four days later, as reported in the NY Times,:

Ms. Farrow phoned again, saying that Dylan had begun complaining that Mr. Allen had abused her. Dr. Coates characterized Ms. Farrow as having been extremely calm during the call, in contrast to her agitated state in other calls.
"I was puzzled, because in that conversation she was very calm," Dr. Coates said. "I did not understand her calm."

Grasping at the Truth
When I set out to write this article, I made a point to arrive at a conclusion about the case. Before I explain how I made my decision, I will point out that I changed my mind at the last minute.

When I first dove into the evidence, I, rather lukewarmly, came to the conclusion that Allen was guilty. This was largely informed by the copious examples of early weird behavior of Allen towards young Dylan. (The suntan lotion incident, for example.) While it was difficult to conceive of Woody Allen as a child molester, I had to admit that there was a pattern of behavior that fit.

I questioned this assumption when I came across Robert Weide’s argument that …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.

That does indeed seem like ill-advised behavior. But ultimately, isn’t any child molestation ill-advised? We are speaking of a crime that, if discovered, relegates the perpetrator to the lowest moral echelon in society. Every act of child molestation has an element of desperation to it. It could be argued that precisely because the Allen/Farrow relationship was so inflamed, Allen saw August 4th as his last chance to act on dark urges. Thus I continued settling into my assessment that Allen was guilty.

Until I came across Dr. Coates testimony. To remind you, Coates stated that Mia Farrow called her on August 1st, 1992, enraged about the Allen/Soon-Yi affair, and seeking a way to stop him. Then, four days later Farrow called Coates again and calmly reported that Dylan was saying that Allen had molested her.

That is the point I cannot get past. It too strongly raises the possibility that Farrow was seeking a way to punish Allen for his adulterous affair with Soon-Yi and used Dylan to do it. That, buoyed by the fact that no other child has made allegations against Allen, makes me think he is innocent. I admit I’m not supremely confident in this assertion. It rests largely on the testimony of Dr. Coates, who might have had some reason to defend Allen. And I can’t account for the record of Allen’s odd behavior towards Dylan. (Granted, some of that record is derived from statements made by Mia Farrow or her friends and family.) But if I were part of a jury passing judgment on Allen for this crime, I would not feel the evidence against him was enough to convict.

I should note: I don’t think Dylan is lying. I feel she honestly believes Woody Allen molested her. And she may, one day, make an irrefutable case that he did.  

Again I return to the observation that there’s something unique about this case compared to other current celebrity sex abuse incidents. The allegations against Bill Cosby are easy to believe simply because of the sheer number of women making the compliant. Matt Lauer, Louis CK and others essentially admitted their guilt. But the Allen case does not fit into such easy patterns. To even to begin to form an opinion on his guilt or innocence requires clawing one’s way through a sea of conflicting facts, motives and opinions. I’m struck how the narrative feels like a classic Agatha Christie novel where the twists and turns continually shock the reader’s presumptions.

It’s very possible that we will never know what really happened. And I don’t fault people who become convinced of either Allen’s guilt or innocence. But we all do well to remind ourselves that individual crimes seldom perfectly fit into whatever moral or political narrative we want to believe. Life is much more complex than that.

UPDATE: March 2020 - This National Review article does a succinct job of tallying the facts that lead one to doubt Allen's guilt.

Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Email - acidlogic@hotmail.com

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