• Two months of soap opera in a ‘90s Manhattan courtroom
• A thicket of therapists weighed in on the most intimate details of the tabloid couple
• A wacky trial gave way to a Waco siege
I don’t know if Woody Allen molested his 7-year-old daughter.
You’d think I might have some idea. I did sit in the courtroom for every session of the filmmaker’s custody case against his onetime romantic partner Mia Farrow. For two months in the spring of 1993, the tacky drama played out in the New York County Courthouse at 60 Centre Street in lower Manhattan.
In Acting Justice Elliot Wilk’s courtroom, Allen and his lawyer, Elkan Abromowitz, tried to win custody of the couple’s three children Dylan, Moses and Satchel (now well-known as Ronan Farrow).
At issue at various times in the trial: an allegation that Woody sexually molested daughter Dylan the summer before at Farrow’s lakeside home in Connecticut . . . Woody’s affair with Mia’s adoptive daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn . . . and the parenting skills of both Woody and Mia.
My hard-working CNN producer, Adam Kluger, had the tough job. Every morning, he and a CNN camera crew had to stake out a building with multiple entrances in hopes of catching video of Woody or Mia or any of their phalanxes of lawyers as they arrived. Then, late in the day, they had to do the guess-the-exit game again to try and videotape the departures. Whenever the correct portal was chosen, Adam would shout out, along with other reporters, something like, “What did you think of today’s (or yesterday’s) testimony?!” Invariably, no answer came back.
Along with a pack of reporters, I marveled as one after another, psychologists and psychiatrists took the stand to attest to either the negligence or the diligence of Woody and Mia as parents. On balance, the impression this parade of shrinks left was that neither one would win a parent-of-the-year award. Ever.
In the down time during frequent heated (presumably) conferences in the judge’s chambers, we scribes amused ourselves any way we could. One day, someone came up with a fun game: let’s pretend we’re casting a future made-for-TV movie about this trial. The only suggestion I remember is the one that made it into a weekend “color” story about the trial – and the reporters’ casting game – written by Paula Span for the Washington Post Style Section. She said something to the effect that the most inspired casting was proposed by “the man from CNN” who saw Mia Farrow being played by Blythe Danner. Thank you, Paula! (She now teaches Journalism at Columbia University, so you know she is a good reporter!)
Some days I would prepare a taped package and record a standup on the courthouse steps. Other days, where some particularly titillating development unfolded, I would go live. One day, my live shots were scrapped altogether when the Branch Dividian compound in Waco, Texas, burned down, taking David Koresh with it.
When the final gavel came down on the Woody-Mia trial, one just made for supermarket tabloids, the winners and losers were sorted out.
Winner: Mia, who gained custody of the children.
Loser: Mia, whom the judge commended as a parent, but said, “Ms. Farrow’s principal shortcoming with respect to responsible parenting appears to have been her continued relationship with Mr. Allen.”
Loser: Woody, described by the judge as a “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive” father.
Winner: Woody, of whom the judge said it was unlikely that he could be prosecuted for sexual abuse based on the evidence.
Loser: Woody, because a team of experts who testified concluded that Dylan was not abused, but the judge said he found the evidence inconclusive.
Winner: Courtroom sketch artist Ruth Pollack, who, on the last day of testimony, sold prints of the work seen here to reporters (and maybe some of the lawyers, too) for $40 apiece. This framed image hangs on my wall to remind me of the longest, and undoubtedly weirdest, legal case I ever covered.
Now, Satchel, who goes by Ronan Farrow, and for some reason became a reporter, is a hero of the #MeToo movement. And he was furious when the publisher of one of his books about sex offenders agreed to publish Woody’s autobiography. After a walkout protest by employees of the publishing firm, Hachette, the book was cancelled. I’m not going to take sides in all this, except to say that as a big fan of the First Amendment, I don’t like seeing books squelched pre-publication for any reason.