Mia Farrow has had a big life. After a childhood in Beverly Hills and London with a movie-star mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, and a writer-director father, John Farrow, she became famous at 19 on Peyton Place, a sensation when it premiered in 1964 as television’s first prime-time soap opera. She lost her virginity to Frank Sinatra and married him when she was 21 and he was 50. Two years later he served her divorce papers on the set of Rosemary’s Baby, the Roman Polanski film for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination in 1968. Frank and Mia stayed close, however, even when she was married to the composer-conductor André Previn, whom she divorced in 1979, after having three sons and adopting three at-risk Asian daughters. She also continued to see Sinatra throughout her 13-year relationship with Woody Allen, which suffered a jolt when she found lurid photographs taken by Allen of Soon-Yi Previn, one of her adopted daughters, then a sophomore in college, on the mantel in Allen’s Manhattan apartment. Only a month earlier, in December 1991, Allen had formally adopted two of Mia’s children, 15-year-old Moses and 7-year-old Dylan, even though he was in therapy for inappropriate behavior toward Dylan. In August 1992, after disappearing with Allen in Mia’s Connecticut country house and reappearing without underpants, Dylan told her mother that Allen had stuck his finger up her vagina and kissed her all over in the attic, charges Allen has always vociferously denied. Anxious that Allen might cause her harm, Mia told me, she confessed her fears on the phone to Sinatra.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, and shortly thereafter she got a call from a man who told her, “Don’t talk on the phone. Meet me at 72nd and Columbus Tuesday at 11 A.M. I’m in a gray sedan.”
“I had to be sure I understood,” Mia recalled. “I even looked up the word ‘sedan.’ ”
The car pulled up at the appointed hour; the back door flew open, and the driver motioned for her to get in. He didn’t even turn around. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
“I just started babbling,” Mia said. “ ‘I’m afraid he’s going to have me killed—have somebody else do it. He’ll have me run off the road.’ Woody just seemed so powerful then. He had an entire floor for his publicity at his publicists’. His driver on his movies was a Teamster, whose brother-in-law was Mickey Featherstone” (a confessed murderer and enforcer for an Irish Mafia gang).
“The Teamsters?” the driver said dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. We own the Teamsters.”
He gave her names and phone numbers in three cities to call should she ever feel in danger. “I remember babbling, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ Off he went, and I did feel safer.”
It is 20 years since I reported for Vanity Fair the sad, sordid tale of Mia and Woody and Dylan and Soon-Yi and Mia’s other children, caught up in a major tabloid scandal. Today, at 68, Mia Farrow is far removed from that media circus. The mother of 14 children—ranging in age from 43 to 19—10 of whom were adopted and 2 of whom have died, she also has 10 grandchildren. Her focus is no longer acting (she has made more than 40 films) but activism, in Africa, as a UNICEF ambassador and on more than 20 missions of her own, particularly to the Darfur region of Sudan and to neighboring Chad. Coupling the mass killings in Darfur with China’s tacit support of the Sudanese government as well as its veto power in the U.N. Security Council in exchange for a claim on Sudan’s oil, she named the 2008 Beijing Olympics “the genocide Olympics” and triggered an international reaction. Her partner in this crusade has been her son Ronan Farrow, born in 1987, when she was with Allen. Ronan was 10 the first time he went with her to Africa, and after he graduated from college, at 15, he received the title of UNICEF youth spokesperson. Currently a Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Yale Law School at 21 and worked in the State Department from 2009 to 2012, first on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan for two years and then as head of the Office of Global Youth Issues.
In a powerful 2007 op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal under their dual byline, Mia and Ronan singled out Steven Spielberg’s role as an artistic adviser of the Beijing games, comparing it to Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl’s role in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That was followed by a front-page story in The New York Times, as well as two meetings between Mia and Chinese officials. According to Rebecca Hamilton, author of Fighting for Darfur, “The three months following the publication of the Genocide Olympics op-ed saw a 400 percent increase in the number of English-language newspaper headlines linking China with Darfur, compared to the three months prior.” Spielberg eventually resigned.
This month mother and son are receiving the annual Richard C. Holbrooke Award for Social Justice from the Blue Card organization, which aids needy Holocaust survivors. (A former U.N. ambassador and diplomat, Holbrooke, who died in 2010, was an early mentor of Ronan’s.) Later this month, Mia will make her third trip to the Central African Republic, which she described to me as “the most abandoned place on earth.” Hamilton accompanied her to Chad in 2008. “She had done more travel to the region than any journalist I know,” she said. They crossed rivers on tires covered with planks and traveled to places the U.N. had declared too dangerous to attempt under its auspices. “The special part of going with Mia is dealing with the women and kids in the camps,” said Hamilton. “Her body language—how quickly they opened up to her—you can sense when someone is interested on a human-to-human level.”
Mia’s activism began in 2000, when UNICEF asked her to go to Nigeria and help publicize a polio-eradication project. At nine she had been a polio victim herself, and she described in detail the isolation and fear she felt then in her best-selling 1997 memoir, What Falls Away. Her second African trip, with Ronan to Angola, Mia says, “was altogether different.” They met a man who told them he had had a belt like the one Ronan was wearing, but he ate it. She considered the trip “life-changing,” and she began to read voraciously about Africa, especially the massacre in Rwanda, she says, and quickly became disgusted with Pope John Paul II: “It is a Catholic country, and yet the Pope had done nothing to end [the killings]. If he had gone there—and who wouldn’t?—if he had taken over the radio airwaves, he could have said, ‘Lay down your machetes.’ ” She pauses and adds, “He is getting canonized.”
What really goaded Mia was a 2004 New York Times op-ed by Samantha Power, currently the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, warning that the same thing that had happened in Rwanda was unfolding in Darfur. Mia began blogging on her Web site, posting videos, and taking photographs to document the horrors she witnessed. Once, for hours, she held the hand of a man whose eyes had just been gouged out, until his brother came to take him to a makeshift clinic. “I felt very connected to him—he was in great pain,” Mia says. “I still go visit him.” In April 2009, after the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir for atrocities and he ordered 40 percent of the humanitarian-aid workers out of the country in retaliation, Mia went on a hunger strike to raise awareness and put pressure on him. She had to stop after 12 days. “My blood sugar betrayed me. The doctor said I was going to go into convulsions and then into a coma. I promised the children I wouldn’t do that. I don’t regret it. I did two or three Larry King shows, two or three Good Morning Americas. My driveway was filled with satellite trucks—we couldn’t have ever got that kind of press for the people of Darfur.”
Though most of Mia’s family remain supportive, André Previn, who is still close, calls her activism “a little bit Joan of Arc.” He told me, “I was full of admiration—I just thought it was a bit much. If you went over there, all you discussed was Africa.” Mia’s friend and neighbor Rose Styron—who is the widow of the author William Styron and has known Mia since she appeared on a boat with Sinatra in the 60s near the Styrons’ summer house on Martha’s Vineyard—feels very differently: “I can’t wait till she comes back from Chad or the Sudan. I’m her ear when she gets back.” Another neighbor, the novelist Philip Roth, says, “Mia has a conscience as big as the Ritz. She is one of those people who can’t bear to be in the presence of human suffering without acting on her feelings.” He adds, “If she wasn’t a lapsed Catholic, I would say she was the best Catholic.” Roth is attracted to her “utter lack of ostentatiousness” and her intelligence. “And I do not suppose I am the first man to think this.”
“She met Philip at our house when we were having a dinner for Václav Havel,” Rose Styron told me. “She came all dressed in leather, looking gorgeous, and they both fell for her. She had affairs with both.”
“I couldn’t speak Czech, and he could barely speak English,” says Mia of Havel, who gave her all his books to read. “I felt he gave me a sense of stepping up and assuming responsibility beyond my own family as a citizen. I stopped thinking only of my own lifeboat.” Of both men she says, “I think the bigger question is what did they find in me?”
As the evil al-Bashir stayed in power, Mia came to believe that creating a museum devoted to the people of Darfur could be a significant contribution. She has amassed 38 hours of video on her trips, documenting people in refugee camps and the traditions that are in danger of being lost forever. At first, she says, the refugees considered a museum “an alien notion. They rightfully asked, ‘What about salt? What about soap?’ You express appropriate sorrow, because they are mourning their dead, and eventually you bring up the children: ‘You have treasures inside you couldn’t carry in your minds through all this conflict. How are your children going to know about your lives?’ ” Inevitably, they come around and joyfully re-enact their weddings and planting ceremonies for her.
Perhaps the most valuable outcome of Mia’s Africa work is the unique bond she has forged with Ronan. “How they work together is amazing,” says Hamilton. “They are both incredibly smart. People know that about Ronan, but people don’t appreciate how smart Mia is. In the process of thrashing out an op-ed, they are confident of what they know and obsessive over their words. Try to write 800 words with them; it’s excruciatingly painful, because it has to be absolutely right—draft after draft after draft.” Ronan told me, “It’s an unusual thing to do with one’s mother, and very often we disagree, but I love working with her.”
It is striking how much Mia and Ronan are alike—the same porcelain skin, the same intense blue eyes, the same ability to perform. He was only 11 when he entered Bard College; Mia drove him back and forth nearly every day—90 minutes each way—for four years. Ronan is writing a book on America’s proxy wars, but he also writes songs and scripts. Mia sent me a tape of him belting out Stephen Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around,” which she used to sing to the children, and his phrasing sounds eerily familiar. In August of last year, gossip columnist Liz Smith wrote that he had been in Los Angeles visiting Nancy Sinatra Jr. and “has caused the anti–Woody Allen contingent to point out that such a connection gives heft to the ongoing theory that Ronan is not the son from [Mia’s] relationship with Woody, but from her post-divorce romantics with the late Sinatra himself.”
I asked Nancy Sinatra Jr. about Ronan’s being treated as if he were a member of their family, and she answered in an e-mail, “He is a big part of us, and we are blessed to have him in our lives.” She said of Mia, “From the early days until now, we have been like sisters. My mother is also very fond of her. We are family and will always be.”
I asked Mia point-blank if Ronan was the son of Frank Sinatra. “Possibly,” she answered. (No DNA tests have been done.)
Ronan attended Sinatra’s funeral, in 1998, with his mother, Nancy Sinatra Jr., and Nancy Sinatra Sr., who fusses over him and cooks for him like a grandmother, he says. Mia told me that she and the two Nancys put several items into Frank’s coffin, including “a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a dime, because he always told us never to go anywhere without a dime. ‘You never know who you’ll have to call.’ ” Mia also put in a note and her wedding ring.
“Was he the great love of your life?,” I asked.
Frog Hollow, Mia Farrow’s house in northwestern Connecticut, is her little piece of paradise. She lives with chickens and an organic vegetable garden on a small lake. It is where she retreated with her children after the chaos of the court hearings and custody fights with Woody Allen over Dylan, Ronan, and Moses, which in the end she won decisively. Allen had to pay her million-dollar-plus legal fees. Painted in big script at the top of one of the landings at Frog Hollow is the word that—along with Responsibility—serves as the family’s shield: Respect. With all its toys, books, stuffed and live animals, quilts, cribs, faded 1940s photos of Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller as Jane and Tarzan, and endless bric-a-brac, Frog Hollow is right out of the old nursery rhyme:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
“There were never more than eight children at a time living at home,” Mia says. In essence, there are two sets of siblings, six Previns and eight Farrows. The oldest are the Previn twins, Matthew and Sascha, and their brother, Fletcher Previn. Matthew, the father of two and married to a lawyer, is a partner in a Park Avenue law firm. Sascha, a teacher, is the stay-at-home dad of a baby girl, whose mother, his second wife, is a pediatric cardiologist. Fletcher is an executive assistant at IBM; his wife is a graphics designer. The next in age, Lark, adopted from Vietnam, died in 2008 of complications from pneumonia and left two little girls; her estranged husband has a criminal record. Daisy, also from Vietnam, is a construction manager in Brooklyn, married to a musician, with a son from her first marriage. Both women as babies suffered from severe malnutrition. Soon-Yi, from Korea, now married to Woody Allen, was adopted at seven, after having been abused and abandoned by her prostitute mother. She is totally estranged from Mia’s family, and she and Allen have adopted two daughters. Her father, André Previn, says, “She does not exist.”
Mia adopted Moses, who has cerebral palsy, from Korea at two. He is a family therapist and a photographer. Separated from his wife and two children, Moses does not keep in touch with any of the others.
Dylan was adopted in 1985 from Texas. After Mia gave birth to Ronan, she adopted Isaiah, an African-American born to a crack-addicted mother; he is a senior at the University of Connecticut. Tam, a blind girl from Vietnam, died from heart problems in 2000. Next came Quincy, also African-American, who at 19 attends college and wants to be an aid worker. Thaddeus is a paraplegic; he was adopted from India. A car mechanic, he is studying to become a police officer. The last daughter, Minh, from Vietnam, is also blind.
“I never thought I would have so many children. That was never a plan,” says Mia. “I did want a child or two—they came as twins. I didn’t think about more children for a couple of years.” She was living in England with André Previn. The Vietnam War was ending, and in 1973 the Previns decided to adopt a Vietnamese baby, Lark Song. “I remember standing in the airport in Paris with Mia for 10 hours waiting for the baby,” says Previn. “We were told nothing, just to be there. At one point Mia said, ‘How will we know who she is?’ I said, ‘Mia, how many nuns carrying an Asian baby are on the flight?’ Finally we saw a nun carrying a basket coming towards us. She said, ‘Voici votre bébé,’ and then she disappeared.”
“Lark was a very ill baby,” Mia told me. “She was only five pounds. But I was absolutely entranced, even though it was a lot of work and stress.”
After adopting Soon-Yi, who had serious emotional issues, Previn thought that six was it. “Mia didn’t agree and kept it going.” A former friend adds, “Mia cannot have a man play a role in raising the children. It’s her way or no way.” In later years, as the number mounted, Mia always considered her children’s views on whether or not to adopt again. “I can’t remember votes,” says Matthew, “but I remember certain robust discussions.” Mia’s close friend Carly Simon, who lived for years in the same West Side apartment building in New York, told me, “The way she sees herself is unlike the way anyone else does. She has a huge hoopskirt under which she has all these beloved children. She was always the model mother. Whenever my family found ourselves in a difficult position, we’d say, ‘What would Mia do?’ ”
“People have this impression of Mia as a flighty airhead flower child. She’s not,” says Maria Roach, daughter of the producer Hal Roach, who grew up next door in Beverly Hills. “She gives that delicate impression, but she’s a powerhouse. She can get done what needs to get done.” (Dory Previn, André’s second wife, who got dumped—reportedly when Mia became pregnant with the twins—warned of that seeming fragility in her song “Beware of Young Girls.”) Roach adds, “Tam, who was blind, could sort her own laundry. Mia somehow managed to organize all those kids in a very functional, united way.”
Because her husbands were not happy about her making movies away from them, the radiant young actress never capitalized on the enormous potential for fame and fortune she accrued from Rosemary’s Baby. “I had thought I would probably never work again after that,” she says. “I had very little ambition.” Sinatra demanded that she stop working on the film, which ran way over its shooting schedule, and make The Detective with him. “In terms of what Frank would say, I shouldn’t have done any movies. He’s on the record saying, ‘I’m a pretty good provider. I can’t see why a woman would want to do anything else.’ That’s the way men thought, and you felt pretty guilty wanting something for yourself.”
“Do you think if you’d flown around with him and just sat by his side the whole time, you’d still be together?,” I asked.
“Yes, because then he came back, over and over and over and over. I mean, we never really split up.”
Mia had no lawyer for either of her divorces, and she took no alimony from Sinatra or Previn. “Some wineglasses was all she got from Frank,” says Roach. Most women would consider that plain dumb on her part. “I think she had an amazing amount of integrity and faith in herself,” says another childhood friend, Casey Pascal, who lives nearby in Connecticut. “She didn’t want to be obligated to anyone who treated her badly.” Previn is said to have given her a small amount monthly for child support and paid half the school tuitions for his group of six. Allen would chauffeur the kids around and take them on European vacations every year, but he reportedly paid Mia only $200,000 for each of the 13 films she made with him. Her mother’s second husband, James Cushing, a businessman and producer, helped out with the children’s schooling. Nevertheless, financial worries were frequent. During her breakup with Previn, Mia moved to Martha’s Vineyard for a year but then ran out of money, so her mother took her and the children into her Manhattan apartment on Central Park West, and Mia worked on Broadway opposite Anthony Perkins in Romantic Comedy. “I think I was hoping I could patch things up with André,” she says.
In a way, she was mirroring the hardships she had suffered growing up. From contracting polio at age 9 to the tragic death of her eldest brother, Michael, in a small-plane crash when he was 19, Mia Farrow had a life full of shocks and heartbreaks. Her father was a womanizer, and he and his equally hard-drinking wife never got over their son’s death. “After Michael died, for a lot of years, everyone went to hell,” says Roach. In a sprawling Beverly Hills household where the parents rarely ate with their children, the seven Farrow kids never had any extended family around. “You don’t feel rooted the way one might if you grew up in a town where your relatives were there and your base was there. No one I knew felt that in Beverly Hills,” says Mia. “Their parents came here and left their fate to luck, and they either lucked out or they didn’t. If they lucked out, their children didn’t know how to replicate that. A few did, like Michael Douglas or Jane Fonda, but there were many more who didn’t.”
Mia’s life became even more chaotic in 1963, when John Farrow died at 58 of a heart attack. Maureen O’Sullivan was starring in a play on Broadway, so she moved the children to New York. At 17, Mia started looking for acting and modeling work, because there wasn’t enough money for college. She posed for Diane Arbus and became the baby muse of Salvador Dalí in a totally platonic relationship. Her godfather, the director George Cukor, paid her $50 a week to go to every play on Broadway and write him a synopsis in order for him to decide if it would make a good movie. The younger siblings in the family were left to fend for themselves, with often sad results. Patrick, who had drug problems in youth and “terrifying emotional instability,” according to Mia, became a sculptor and committed suicide four years ago. Her estranged brother, John, recently pleaded guilty to sexually abusing young boys in Maryland. Susan Farrow, who was married to Patrick for 43 years, told me she once asked him if he had ever heard the word “normal” in his family, because “it was not normal.”
As the eldest daughter, however, Mia, even before she went to a convent boarding school in England, was always “very determined and bossy—the leader of the pack,” according to Roach. “It was something I was born with, a kind of determination,” Mia says. “Mia was almost too smart for school. She didn’t like rules,” says Roach, adding, “We absolutely had no supervision—we could escape and make our own fun.” Roach became a Playboy Bunny and later married the astronaut Scott Carpenter. Success for girls, she says, was defined by catching the right man, “and if that meant taking off your clothes or marrying an astronaut, you did it.” Mia hung with “the flighty, pretty girls,” Roach recalls. “It was not cool to be smart.” According to Mia, “If you come from where I came from, it was assumed that girls would just marry.”
I was able to speak to eight of Mia’s children, who uniformly said they were not especially aware of how unique their situation was growing up. “I knew the status of my mom, but to me we were normal. My brothers were my brothers, and my sisters were my sisters. There was nothing special,” Daisy Previn, 39, told me. “We each had our own life, went to school, did our homework. My mom was there to sit down for dinner with us.” There was help in the house, but not a lot, and sometimes the teenage girls would complain about how much they had to babysit. I asked Daisy about their emotional issues and physical handicaps. “It wasn’t considered that you can’t see or you have this disability or that,” she said. “It was more that it was time to clean your rooms, so one person would help another one do it.” One of the accusations Woody Allen’s side made during the uproar with Soon-Yi was that Mia favored her biological children. Daisy disagrees: “If we got into trouble, it was no different than if a biological kid got into trouble. As far as love was concerned, there was no distinction. I gave my mom some very hard times growing up, but in the end she always said, ‘Remember, Daisy, I love you.’ ”
Most of the children used the same adjective for their situation: cool. “Not many people have that much variety, diversity. I liked that,” says Sascha Previn. “We all pitched in and helped each other out; we had to.” Isaiah, 21, who at six feet three and 275 pounds defines himself as “the large black male of the family,” adds, “In terms of size, composition, and disabilities, we weren’t normal, but we were great—we were so cool.” He credits Mia’s “unflinching honesty. She was very open about what each one of us is and where we came from. That became more normal to me than the regular 2.2 nuclear family. We got used to that as soon as we were old enough to understand some of us have physical or mental disabilities—so what? We are defined by more than just blood; we are brought together by love.”
“I am so proud of my family,” Ronan told me. “I grew up across the table from Moses, who has cerebral palsy, and next to my sister Quincy, born of a drug-addicted inner-city mother, and Minh, who is blind. I could never have understood what it means to grow up blind or with cerebral palsy. I saw problems and needs, so the next thing you think is: O.K., what are you going to do about it?”
I witnessed a real example of redemption one day at Frog Hollow when Thaddeus came to visit. As a paraplegic in Calcutta, he was discarded in a railway station and forced to crawl on his hands and stubs of legs to beg for food. Later, at an orphanage, he was chained to a post, and kids would throw rocks at him to prompt the mannish growls he made. When Mia saw him, she says, she had a powerful reaction: “That’s my son.” Mia thought he was 5, but when doctors examined his teeth, they determined he was 12. He was so filled with rage that he would bite Mia and try to pull her hair out. But she taught him that even if he could not choose how he was born he could choose how to behave. He shared a room with Isaiah, who describes him as “the hidden gem of the family. He is such a hard worker.” Thaddeus walks with crutches or uses a wheelchair. “It was scary to be brought to a world of people whose language I did not understand, with different skin colors,” he told me. “The fact that everyone loved me was a new experience, overwhelming at first.” He eventually found he had a talent for mechanics. Lying on his skateboard, he could push himself under cars to fix them. Mia tried to get him into a technical school, but they wouldn’t take him. Last Christmas he came home after spending a year living in upstate New York, losing weight, doing odd jobs. A girlfriend had started taking him to church, he said, and he had a spiritual awakening. He became a Good Samaritan, stopping to help people stranded along the roadside change their tires. He decided he wanted to work in law enforcement and talked his way into a criminal-justice program at a junior college. “You’re an inspiration,” the officer in charge told him. “I came back at Christmastime to tell Mia, ‘I know I never really said thank you, Mom.’ I just let out emotions I would never let myself express. Finally I was able to.”
Fletcher Previn, 39, is his mother’s protector. He built his first computer at age 13, and he painstakingly Photoshopped Woody Allen out of every single family photo and edited him out of family videos so that none of them would ever have to see him again. “We can look at them and be reminded of the good and not be reminded of the bad,” he told me.
Similarly, Carly Simon took Allen’s name out of the lyrics of her song “Love of My Life.” It originally read:
I love lilacs and avocados
Ukuleles and fireworks
And Woody Allen and walking in the snow
The new lyrics read, “ … And Mia Farrow and walking in the snow.” Simon sums up: “What a shock that all was. I will never see another Woody Allen movie.”
Many people feel protective of Mia, but Fletcher, who worked as Allen’s personal assistant on three films, has actually chosen to have his family live next door to her. His two daughters, seven and three, love to tromp through the nearby woods with their mother to visit Grandma, who reads to them and lets them color her toenails green and purple and play with her parakeet. “She’s an influence I want on my kids,” he says.
Not long after the crisis with Soon-Yi, compounded by the allegations of what had happened with Dylan, Fletcher took off to study in Germany, where he stayed several years. Sascha moved to Colorado, giving up a job he had in New York. “Devastating” is the word the children use for what happened to them. Daisy says, “It turned our world upside down. It was nothing you would wish on anyone.” Fletcher adds, “To my siblings and me, you thought of [Allen] as another dad. It can disrupt your foundation in the world. It resets the parameters of what is possible.”
The author Priscilla Gilman, Matthew Previn’s girlfriend in high school and college, was constantly in and out of Mia’s apartment. One day, she recalls, Matthew called her at Yale and said, “ ‘I have to come over. It’s just so horrible.’ He was green, and he fell on my sofa. ‘Woody’s having an affair with Soon-Yi.’ Soon-Yi was the last person I would have thought of,” she says. Matthew showed her the naked photos of Soon-Yi that Mia had found. “They were extremely pornographic—really disturbing.” Gilman says she had always thought Soon-Yi, whom she characterized as the nerd of the family, had a crush on Matthew. “He definitely picked on the most sheltered person,” she continues, referring to Allen. “It took her hours to do her homework; she had a tutor.” Soon-Yi also had trouble bonding. “I remember Matthew saying she’d scratch and spit at him,” says Gilman.
In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the shocking photographs, in January 1992, Mia did not bar Allen from her house. She allowed him to visit his adopted children, and she finished the film they were working on, Husbands and Wives. “The kids have a right to be somewhat angry—she didn’t protect them,” says a legal observer. “She let it go on; she didn’t want to rock the boat. He was in therapy for inappropriate behavior with Dylan when he adopted her! Tell me that makes sense.” Gilman explains, “Mia didn’t want the media to know. She didn’t want Woody’s name tarnished.”
Allen, in turn, according to Gilman and others, did everything he could to woo Mia back and to continue seeing Dylan. “I did witness him begging her to get back together—many times,” Gilman asserts, “saying Soon-Yi meant nothing to him, and it was a ‘cry for help,’ because it was hard after the baby [Ronan] was born. I remember him coming over with presents.”
The next shock came when Mia was told it was mandatory for Dylan’s pediatrician to report her allegations to the authorities. A week after the report was filed, Allen, under investigation by the Connecticut State Police, filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to win custody of Moses, Dylan, and Ronan. He called a press conference to declare his love for Soon-Yi and to claim that Mia was making up accusations of child-molestation because she was basically a scorned woman. He called her actions “an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation of innocent children for vindictive and self-serving motives.” In an interview in Time magazine, he baldly declared, “The heart wants what it wants.”
Lark and Daisy, who had graduated from the elite Nightingale-Bamford School for girls, in New York, shared a room with Soon-Yi in Mia’s house. Lark was then in her last year of nursing school at New York University, and Daisy was a student at Wheaton College. They both dropped out. Lark broke up with her boyfriend, a football player at Columbia, and got pregnant by a man who had been in jail. Daisy got pregnant with his brother and later married him. Today, Daisy does not ascribe their actions to what happened at home. “It’s also a part of growing up,” she told me. “Everybody at one point makes their own stupid decisions.”
Mia is haunted by what-ifs: “How would everyone have turned out—how would everyone be—if this had not happened?” she asks. “Mia was going to be Woody’s inspiration, his muse,” says Carly Simon. “In some way her fantasy worked for him too. Then he rebelled against it, so fantastically, so cruelly.” Gilman adds, “She took children nobody wanted. Woody Allen gave a rebuke to the meaning of her life: ‘See, it doesn’t work out, Mia. You can’t make it better.’ ”
Fletcher is more direct: “There were casualties, who were totally derailed. It had a different impact on everyone, but everyone had a reaction.” Moses, he says, was crushed. He also singles out Lark, who died at 35. “I really do think he’s got some blood on his hands.”
‘To this day it’s hard for me to listen to jazz,” Dylan told me. “He [Allen] would take me with him [when he practiced the clarinet with his band]. I’d be in between his legs, facing out. I felt like a dog or something. I was just told to sit there. I did what I was told. He used to sing to me the famous song ‘Heaven’ [“Cheek to Cheek,” by Irving Berlin]. It really sends shivers up and down my spine and makes me want to throw up, because it’s a throwback.”
Dylan (who now has another name) has never before spoken publicly of what she remembers about Allen and how his behavior back then has tormented her. She refuses ever to say his name. “There’s a lot I don’t remember, but what happened in the attic I remember. I remember what I was wearing and what I wasn’t wearing.” I asked her if what she had said happened in the attic happened more than once. “That was isolated. The rest was just everyday weirdness—the weird routine I thought was normal.”
Dylan is 28, a college graduate, married to an information-technology specialist who serves as her buffer. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I would not be functioning without him.” Before our conversation, which lasted more than four hours, I promised her that I would not reveal where she lives or other identifying details. Quick-witted and extremely intelligent, she is writing and illustrating a 500-page novel in the Game of Thrones genre.
She recalls vividly how paparazzi swarmed outside Mia’s apartment building in the wake of the scandal. “If I had to use the main entrance to go to school, I had to be wrapped in blankets and carried to the car.” From the time she was able to register Allen’s obsessiveness toward her, Dylan said, she could never shake the feeling that she was disappointing one parent or the other. “After I told my mom what happened to me in the attic, I felt it was my fault,” she said. 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. A babysitter testified that on the day of the alleged attic incident, while Mia was out shopping, she had come upon Allen in the TV room, kneeling, face forward, with his head in Dylan’s lap.
“I didn’t know anything formally wrong was going on,” Dylan said. “The things making me uncomfortable were making me think I was a bad kid, because I didn’t want to do what my elder told me to do.” The attic, she said, pushed her over the edge. “I was cracking. I had to say something. I was seven. I was doing it because I was scared. I wanted it to stop.” For all she knew, Dylan said, “this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it.” (Allen initially denied having gone into the attic. When hairs of his were found there, he said he might have popped his head in once or twice. Because of where the hair was found, his presence could not be proved conclusively.)
“Did he tell you it was a secret?,” I asked.
“Yes. He said, ‘You can’t tell anyone.’ I didn’t realize how careful he was—things that would happen when nobody was in the room. I was not feeling O.K. with him putting his thumb in my mouth, or how he hugged me.” When she was told that such behavior “wasn’t normal, I felt more guilty. There was no way not to make me feel guilty. There was no way someone was not hurt, whether me, my father, or my mother, and my brothers and sisters having to cope.” She thought she was to blame for all the tears and turmoil. “I felt I was damaging the family structure; that was crushing, damning.” Allen was already paying for a shrink for Dylan on the day she went missing with him. “I remember the doctor coming over once a week, and it was so annoying,” Dylan said. “I didn’t want to sit in a room and talk to grown-ups.”
Right after Dylan told Mia her account of what had happened, Mia made a video of her talking about it and took her to a pediatrician. Dylan first told the doctor she had been touched on the shoulder, because she was embarrassed, she explained to me. After that, she stuck to her original story. “My mom would tell me it wasn’t my fault. She never put me in the place where I felt like I was the victim.” Dylan had to be examined multiple times for the criminal investigation, and over and over again for the bruising custody battle. “There was a period when I had to go to all these different offices; I had to tell what happened. I felt the more I had to tell it, the less I was believed. I felt they were making me say it because I was lying.” (Woody Allen’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz says that Allen still denies the allegations of sexual abuse.)
Mia gave up the New York apartment and took the younger children to live in Connecticut. There, for several years, Dylan thrived. She recalled, “I had this perfect life. I was a girl living on a farm, and I had a pony. Ronan, Tam, and I were like the Three Musketeers.” Once she started high school, however, she found it difficult to make friends. With Tam’s sudden death, Dylan’s nice new world disintegrated. She became reclusive and plunged into severe depression. At one point she started cutting herself, and she even made a halfhearted attempt at suicide. “I’m not proud of it. It was very hard for me to cope. My mom was my rock, and Ronan was my best friend.” Tam’s death proved to her, she said, that “you can’t just run off to the country and live happily ever after, because there is always something after that.”
The depression lasted all through college, exacerbated to high decibels twice when Allen succeeded in contacting her, Dylan said. The first time, she was bringing the mail in at Frog Hollow when she found a typewritten envelope addressed to her with a postmark from London. It was shortly before her 19th birthday, in 2004. Mia also saw the letter. According to Dylan, it said now that she was 18 he wanted to have a conversation. He was willing to meet anytime, anywhere, and would send a helicopter for her. He allegedly said he “wanted to set the record straight about what your mother has told you. Love, your father.”
Three years later, during her senior year of college, she said, a large stuffed manila envelope arrived at the school. “I should have recognized the handwriting—I didn’t. It had a fake return name: Lehman.” Inside she found “a four-inch-thick explosion of pictures of me and him—pictures, pictures, pictures everywhere. Some had tack holes in them. There was never anybody else in the pictures—there was definitely a theme going on.” None of them was inappropriate, but “it was scary.” According to her, the accompanying letter read, “I thought you’d want some pictures of us, and I want you to know that I still think of you as my daughter, and my daughters think of you as their sister. Soon-Yi misses you.” It was signed “Your father.”
“How do your daughters think of me as their sister?,” Dylan wondered. “How does that work?” She told me, “I held it together enough to get back to my room, and for three days I didn’t move. I wouldn’t answer my phone or answer my door.” She asked her mother to call her lawyers, and they were told that this did not constitute harassment. (When asked about the letters, Sheila Riesel, Allen’s attorney, called it a “private matter,” adding, “This is a man who loves all of his children and should be respected for that.”)
One time, the sight of a boy at school wearing a Woody Allen T-shirt sent Dylan into a fit of vomiting. She still fears that he might phone her. “I’ve had physical breakdowns because I opened a magazine to the wrong page. Once I was at Madame Tussauds, and I got separated from my friend. There was a bench, and I sat down on it to look around for her. I noticed a wax replica next to me. Him! It was the only time I screamed in public.” She called her fears “crippling” and said, “I’m scared of him, his image. Nobody wants to think this legendary filmmaker is my worst nightmare. That’s what scares me, when I picture things chasing me or happening—I think it’s him after me. It’s hard to explain how terrifying that is.” Her savior is her husband, whom she met through a classified ad in The Onion shortly before graduating from college.
After a week of dating, she broke up with him, telling him that, due to childhood memories, she had hang-ups about sex. “I was so scared of it.” She told me that when she explained to him she was never going to enjoy it, he said, “No! I’m not going to accept this. You’re not broken. You are over-reacting to something completely in your head.” She was so angry she stormed out, but several hours later she called him. “Look, I have some skeletons in my closet. They reside there. Some just might be permanent residents, but if you’re willing to help me work on things I can fix, I’d be very grateful.”
“I’m so glad you called me,” he told her, “because I wasn’t going to call you.” They married in 2010.
“I have never been asked to testify,” Dylan told me, adding, “If I could talk to the seven-year-old Dylan, I would tell her to be brave, to testify.”
Staff at the Yale–New Haven Hospital Child Sexual Abuse Clinic concluded that Dylan had not been sexually abused. They had been asked by Frank Maco, the Connecticut state attorney handling the case, to render an opinion solely on Dylan’s ability to perceive facts correctly, her ability to recall, and her ability to repeat the story on the stand in court. Instead, as Maco tells it, not only were his requests ignored but the clinic went far beyond them, and he learned in March 1993 from Dr. John Leventhal, the pediatrician in charge of the clinic, that “ ‘we find no merit in this claim, and we’re going to present this to Woody Allen’ the next day. The next thing we know Woody is on the steps of Yale proclaiming his innocence.”
Maco says giving the results to Allen first, ignoring the state attorney’s request, and then pronouncing judgment on the case was unprecedented. In a 1997 Connecticut Magazine article, investigative reporter Andy Thibault quoted a deposition given in April 1993 by Leventhal: “Regardless of what the Connecticut police wanted from us, we weren’t necessarily beholden to them. We did not assess whether she’d be a good witness in court. That’s what Mr. Maco may have been interested in, but that’s not necessarily what we were interested in.”
The clinic cited Dylan’s “loose associations” and her active imagination as thought disorder. Dylan, for example, had told them she had seen “dead heads” in a trunk in the attic. When he was informed that Mia “had a trunk in her attic in which she kept wigs from her movies on wig blocks,” Thibault wrote, “Leventhal acknowledged this was not evidence of a fantasy problem or thought disorder.”
Thibault cited a litany of practices employed by the Yale–New Haven clinic that at least one expert put into question. Based on an examination of court documents and the report, he wrote, “The Yale team used psychologists on Allen’s payroll to make mental health conclusions.” He reported that the team had destroyed all of its notes, and that Leventhal did not interview Dylan, although she was called in nine times for questioning. They did not interview anyone who would corroborate her molestation claims. Judge Elliott Wilk, who presided over the custody hearing brought by Allen, wrote in his decision that he had “reservations about the reliability of the report.”
The specter of celebrity and Allen’s clout loomed over everything. The general public today has no memory of how complex, intense, and ugly this battle became. The court proceedings and hearings dragged on for more than four years. Although Allen spent millions of dollars in legal fees, he lost two trials and two appeals. The day after the Yale–New Haven clinic report came out, Maco issued a press release that said he was going to continue investigating.
Meanwhile, private investigators were hired by Allen. “There was a serious effort to dig up dirt on Maco and a number of state-police detectives and have an impact on the criminal investigation, and it did have an impact,” says Thibault, who spoke to some of the detectives involved. One of the top state-police investigators in the case told me, “They were trying to dig up dirt on the troopers—whether they were having affairs, what they were doing.” In his article, Thibault wrote that Allen’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz acknowledged that at least 10 private investigators were hired, but, Thibault quoted him saying, “we didn’t go into any kind of smear campaign against the police.” Maco says, “I was informed by the state police that someone is going to be out there watching you. I was given the information to just be careful.”
At a key moment in the investigation, the trooper in charge of the case was accused of trying to leak a tape of Dylan to a local Fox affiliate in New York. The accusation was later proved to be false, but it prevented any Connecticut police from going to custody hearings in New York or from talking to New York authorities during the internal investigation. Their job was to determine whether or not there was probable cause to issue an arrest warrant. The top investigator I spoke to had interviewed Allen. “He had a scripted presentation, with his attorneys there. I did not find him credible,” the officer told me of the three-hour session. “I allowed him to say his piece without questions. When I questioned him, he starts stuttering and saying he didn’t do anything.” The officer stated, “There was never ‘Yes, I did’ or ‘No, I didn’t.’ There was not a clear, definitive yes or no.” (“You’ve seen how he talks sometimes,” Abramowitz says of Allen. “But there was no hesitation on the merits of what that was about.”)
In June 1993, Justice Elliott Wilk awarded custody of Dylan to Mia and denied Allen immediate visitation with the child. He allowed Moses to decide for himself whether he wanted to see his adoptive father again, and he increased Ronan’s—then Satchel’s—visits to three a week, supervised. The judge concluded that Allen demonstrated no parenting skills and was “self-absorbed, untrustworthy, and insensitive.” Allen’s trial strategy, he concluded, had been “to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother.” He found “no credible evidence” to support Allen’s contention “that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan or that Ms. Farrow acted upon a desire for revenge against him for seducing Soon-Yi.” He found the molestation allegations inconclusive. Allen appealed, but the opinion was upheld.
Unlike the Yale–New Haven staff, the state investigators found Dylan credible. “When a little girl says someone digitally penetrated her,” one of them told me, “if a child relates pain to the incident at that age, that’s credible.” Maco had steered clear of any questioning of Dylan during the Yale–New Haven inquiry. After Wilk’s decision, however, he decided he needed to see for himself if she could be relied on to take the witness stand. “I sat down with the child, with my secretary, with another female from the state police, and we rolled around—we had stuffed animals. As soon as I broached the idea of Woody, the child just froze. Nothing.”
On September 24, 1993, Maco called a press conference to say that he believed he had probable cause to arrest Woody Allen but that he would not press charges because of the fragility of the “child victim.” Maco’s statement caused at least one legal expert to accuse him of wanting it both ways—of convicting Allen without a trial. Allen called a press conference to say that “vindictive” Mia’s “cheap scheming reeks of sleaze and deception.” He asked, “Did State’s Attorney Maco choose to overlook the truth and become a stooge for Miss Farrow because he didn’t like my films?”
“It should have been ‘complainant’ instead of ‘victim,’ ” Maco admitted to me, but he had felt he owed his community an explanation: “It’s not that the mother is a fabricator or concocter or that the child is unbelievable.” Dylan just wouldn’t cooperate, he said, so it would not have been fair to Allen or anyone involved to bring the case to trial. Allen’s lawyers swiftly filed ethics claims against Maco with two Connecticut state boards. The Connecticut Criminal Justice Commission, which appoints state prosecutors, dismissed the complaint, and a local panel of the Statewide Grievance Committee, which reviews and investigates attorney complaints, also dismissed it, but its decision was overturned by one vote in the Statewide Grievance Committee. It was not until a year after public hearings were held, in 1996—a “mini trial” with both Maco and Allen testifying—that Maco was found not to have violated the rules of professional conduct. It had cost the state more than $250,000 to defend him. Maco, whose more than 20-year record remains unblemished, was forced to absent himself from trials for a time. He retired early, in 2003.
While the complaints against Maco were proceeding, Allen brought another action before Judge Wilk in order to be able to see Dylan and to resume unsupervised visits with Ronan. He and the boy had never gotten along. As I reported in the 1992 Vanity Fair story, Ronan, at three, had kicked Allen, and Allen had twisted the child’s leg until he screamed. According to court testimony in the second trial, in June 1996, Ronan’s psychiatrist testified that on a supervised visit to Allen’s apartment in 1995, Ronan, then seven, reported that he had kicked Allen, who then grabbed him by the neck with both hands and threw him down on the couch. Shortly thereafter, the supervised visits were suspended.
At the end of the trial, in which both sides referred to Ronan’s “phobic reaction” to Allen, Judge Wilk informed Ronan that he would have to resume visits with his father in the office of his psychiatrist—which Allen vehemently objected to. Ronan started heaving uncontrollably, collapsed on the floor in front of everyone, and had to be carried out. The judge ruled that Dylan did not have to see her father at all. Allen appealed again and lost. He never saw Ronan again either. Last year on Father’s Day, Ronan tweeted, “Happy father’s day—or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.”
In New York in March 1993, Paul Williams, who had been honored as Caseworker of the Year in 1991, and who was handling Dylan’s case for the city’s Child Welfare Administration, was suspended after being suspected of leaking to the media. According to a New York Observer article at the time, Williams claimed his office had faced pressure from City Hall to drop the case—a charge denied by then Mayor David Dinkins. Williams, who spoke twice to Dylan, is said to have “absolutely” believed her.
Williams was eventually reinstated, in September 1993. Today, according to someone close to the matter, the case file is nowhere to be found, although it would ordinarily have been marked “indicated” to signify that it merited further attention—a potential red flag in allowing someone to adopt children.
Woody Allen’s latest movie, Blue Jasmine, is about two very different adopted sisters. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) has changed her name (as a number of Mia’s children have). A scene in which Jasmine’s rich and crooked husband (Alec Baldwin) confesses his infidelity with a teenage au pair is played out in their New York apartment, and Jasmine freaks out. After Mia reacted to the news of Soon-Yi, Allen’s circle sought to characterize her as a vengeful female, drinking and popping pills, as Cate Blanchett does throughout the film.
When I asked Mia if she had seen Blue Jasmine, she said she did not know what I was talking about. These days, she is happily, serenely ensconced at Frog Hollow. Quincy is the only one still living at home, when she is not attending college, so Mia said she is finally able to relish “glorious laziness. For so many years I was like NASA Control Center.” When she is in front of the public now, it is on Twitter, tweeting her 233,000 followers. She has offers to act, but she mostly stays put. One hot summer night, I watched her as she dipped one foot into her lake to test the water and then proceeded, fully clothed, to plunge in. Carly Simon says she always remembers what Mia once told her: “Don’t ever be afraid of making waves.”
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