Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

For more than a decade, filmmaker Woody Allen was a romantic partner and artistic collaborator with actor Mia Farrow. In early 1992, Farrow learned that Allen had been having a romantic relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, her adopted daughter from a previous marriage. In the ensuing controversy, which led to a very public custody case, Farrow charged Allen, also, with molesting Dylan, Allen and Farrow’s adopted daughter.

Summary of Event

Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were celebrated as a leading power couple throughout the 1980’s. Though they never legally wed, they were so tightly linked together in the mind of the public, both on screen and off, that when their alliance ended in 1992, scandal was inevitable. Public shock was intensified by the degree of acrimony that the split-up engendered, and by its surprising cause. [kw]Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter, Woody (Jan. 13, 1992) [kw]Farrow’s Adopted Daughter, Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia (Jan. 13, 1992) Allen, Woody Farrow, Mia Previn, Soon-Yi Allen, Woody Farrow, Mia Previn, Soon-Yi [g]United States;Jan. 13, 1992: Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter[02540] [c]Sex;Jan. 13, 1992: Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter[02540] [c]Families and children;Jan. 13, 1992: Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter[02540] [c]Public morals;Jan. 13, 1992: Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter[02540] [c]Law and the courts;Jan. 13, 1992: Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter[02540] [c]Publishing and journalism;Jan. 13, 1992: Woody Allen Has Affair with Lover Mia Farrow’s Adopted Daughter[02540]

Woody Allen kisses Soon-Yi Previn two days after the couple wed in Venice.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

By the time the scandal erupted, Woody Allen had been a household name for thirty years. He began his career as a gag writer for other humorists before embarking on a successful career of his own as a stand-up comedian. He began writing and appearing in various cinematic spoofs during the early 1960’s and, by the end of the decade, had written and directed his first feature film: Take the Money and Run (1969). A number of critical and popular successes followed, culminating in the bittersweet romantic comedy Annie Hall (1977), which garnered a number of Oscar nominations and is considered by many critics to be one of the best American comedic films. Early in his directorial career, Allen showed a tendency to emulate the renowned European directors whom he idolized, including Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, by employing a repertory stable of actors film after film. He especially wanted a recurring female lead, and that lead often was his romantic partner. From 1980 through 1992, Farrow filled that dual role.

Farrow was a product of Hollywood—the daughter of actor Maureen O’Sullivan and agent John Farrow. She became a star as a teenager playing Allison McKenzie on the night-time soap opera Peyton Place (television) Peyton Place, which led to an Oscar-nominated role as the protagonist in Roman Polanski’s horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby in 1968. Her love life drew attention throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, when Marriage;Mia Farrow[Farrow] she wed singer Frank Sinatra and then, later, musician and conductor André Previn, both of whom were old enough to be her father. The marriage to Sinatra lasted only two years, but the marriage to Previn lasted a decade, during which the couple had three sons and adopted three daughters. Daughter Soon-Yi Previn had been abandoned in Korea as a child to a birth mother who might have been abusive to her.

Soon after Farrow and Previn divorced, Farrow met Allen, and they became inseparable. The two lovers had apartments near each other in New York, and Allen was frequently in the company of Farrow’s children, whose number had by the end of the 1980’s increased to include a child—Satchel—born to Allen and Farrow, and two children the couple had adopted: a boy named Moses and a girl named Dylan. (Farrow later changed the names of all three children.)

At some point around 1990, Allen and Previn, who by this time was twenty years old, became romantically involved. Farrow found out about the affair on the morning of January 13, 1992, when she let herself into Allen’s apartment and discovered on his mantelpiece some Nudity nude photographs of her daughter. Farrow soon confronted Allen, who apparently tried to placate her by playing down what had happened as a brief lapse in propriety, but soon after the release of their last film together, Husbands and Wives (1992), the couple parted company. The cause of their separation made headlines around the world, as they began to feud publicly. Most of the initial sniping between the two amounted to little more than acidic remarks made to reporters until the question of the custody of their three children arose.

As the custody issue was going to court, Farrow made the stunning allegation that Allen, while visiting the children at her country home in Connecticut, had sexually abused Dylan, causing the little girl to be terrified of her adoptive father. Allen responded that this claim was an untruth concocted by Farrow to punish him for his relationship with Previn. After listening to much debate between Allen’s and Farrow’s attorneys, a judge in Connecticut announced that the evidence was too inconclusive to charge Allen with molestation, but she sharply criticized him for his conduct with both Previn and Dylan. The judge awarded Farrow primary custody, with Allen getting rights to supervised visitation with the children.

During and after the court case in Connecticut, friends and family of Farrow and Allen took sides publicly, as did critics and commentators in the news and entertainment media. Those in Allen’s camp argued that child molestation tends to be compulsive, repetitive, and patterned behavior, yet Allen had never before been suspected of such conduct, including during the decade in which he was frequently in the company of Farrow’s numerous children. Farrow’s supporters pointed to a common motif in a number of Allen’s films, in which older men are attracted to young girls. These films include Manhattan (1979) and Husbands and Wives.

For years after the custody battle, Allen and Farrow continued to make caustic remarks about each other, but both resumed their respective careers. Allen and Previn began to appear in public frequently as a couple, and within five years they married, on Christmas Eve, 1997, in Venice, Italy. They later adopted two daughters of their own. Farrow and Previn have been estranged from each other since Previn’s marriage to Allen.

Impact

The Farrow-Allen-Previn triangle is a textbook example of a public scandal from which no one emerged unscathed. Although much sympathy accrued to Farrow as the wronged lover and mother, questions arose about choices she had made in adopting numerous children, some with special needs, and then trying to bring them up in seemingly unorthodox, unstructured circumstances and with a partner who maintained a separate residence and adopted some but not all of the children. Also, some agreed with Allen’s supporters that Farrow’s sudden denunciation of Allen as a molester seemed ideally and theatrically timed, coming as it did after the discovery of his involvement with Previn and just before the custody hearings. Although Previn remained relatively quiet during and after the scandal, many saw her as a cruel, faithless, and ungrateful daughter.

It was Allen, though, whose reputation suffered the most. Apart from the wry humor, the most appealing aspect of his films had long been their compassionate portrayal of characters experiencing the disappointments, insecurities, and contradictions of everyday life. As soon as the news of his relationship with Previn hit the media, though, the public saw another facet of Allen, a cold and haughty one. He seemed insensitive and uncaring, wholly unconcerned with the pain he had caused a woman with whom he had shared twelve years of intimacy and fruitful artistic collaboration. Also, for a person who had spent most of his adult life in psychoanalysis, his take on his relationship with Farrow’s children seemed simultaneously unsophisticated and naïve. He continued to stress that he had never really been a father figure to the children, meaning that there was nothing improper about his falling in love with Previn. While he might not have been a father figure to the Previn siblings, he was one to the younger children; Allen would have been the only stable male authority figure and role model in their young lives. If he truly refused to play such a role in their lives, he appears irresponsible at best; if he was simply denying his role as a father to excuse his affair with Previn, he appears selfish. Allen, Woody Farrow, Mia Previn, Soon-Yi

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bailey, Peter J. The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Comprehensive overview and analysis of all aspects of Allen’s creative work, including articles, fiction, and his many films.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ewing, Charles Patrick, and Joseph T. McCann. Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. An examination of some of the most historically significant legal cases involving a clear psychological element. Includes a chapter on the Allen-Farrow custody battle and charges of molestation against Allen.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Farrow, Mia. What Falls Away: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday, 1997. A detailed account of the scandal, including the day Farrow found out about Allen’s affair with her daughter. Also includes fascinating recollections of Farrow’s childhood in Hollywood and her experience during the 1950’s with polio, which gave her special insight into the needs of children around the world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Skoble, Aeon J., and Mark T. Conrad, eds. Woody Allen and Philosophy. Peru, Ill.: Open Court, 2004. Philosophical analyses of the ethos of Allen’s work, interesting especially in light of the scandal, as it contains essays on integrity and morality as defined in his films.

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