Throwing the Book at Woody Allen

•  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.


4 thoughts on “Throwing the Book at Woody Allen

  1. Fascinating. You’re the only person I know who actually witnessed this travesty. Everything you report comports with the long reports I’ve read elsewhere, but adds some interesting color. I agree with you about the First Amendment issues. But I will also say that I’ve never believed the core allegation against Woody, and I utterly detest “cancel culture.” Nice piece.

    1. I too doubt the molestation charge, based on what the court heard. Just didn’t want to take a stand but let readers know what the judge thought. (If you could share your reaction on Facebook, where far more people will see it, I’d be grateful, Bob. You are one of my most ardent and active “followers,” for sure.

  2. I have two factual corrections and one addition:

    1. (…) an allegation that Woody sexually molested daughter Dylan the summer before at the lakeside of their Connecticut home (…)

    It was not ‘their’ home, but Mia’s home. Allen did not (co-) own it, and never considered it or treated it as ‘his’ home.

    The allegation, which wasn’t found credible, was that Dylan was molested in a narrow, 4 ft. high *crawl space* behind a *closet* in the attic of the house; not ‘at the lakeside’.

    2. (…) Woody’s affair with Mia’s adoptive teenage daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn (…)

    Soon-Yi’s age at the time has been firmly established in the course of the custody proceedings. In 1977, Mia and André Previn registered their newly adopted daughter’s date of birth as Oct 8th, 1970. Her intimate relationship with Woody Allen did not start before Dec, 1991, making Soon-Yi 21 years old. *Not* a ‘teenage’ daughter, even when Mia suddenly tried to portray Soon-Yi as several years younger than she had always considered her oldest daughter to be.

    3. (…) experts concluded that Dylan was not abused, but the judge said he found the evidence inconclusive (…)

    A custody trial is not a criminal case. In a criminal case, the evidence must meet the strict criterion of being ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Any *reasonable* doubt can turn the verdict in the defendant’s favor. In a civil trial though, like a custody trial, the evidentiary standard is much lower: ‘preponderance of the evidence’. So if Justice Wilk concluded that he did not have ‘conclusive’ evidence to *believe* the abuse happened, it implies that the preponderance of the evidence was in favor of ‘no abuse’. In other words, Wilk was 100% free to either *believe* or not *believe* the abuse happened, and he chose to *not believe* it, as the evidence presented in court weighed in favor of “no abuse*.

    Wilk’s conclusion was in line with the conclusions arrived at by the child abuse investigators at Yale-New Haven and NY Child Welfare, who worked for the prosecution and in Dylan’s best interest.

    Add to this that in 1998, a NY Adoption board made their own independent investigation into the allegation, with a view to Allen and Soon-Yi applying for adoption of two daughters. The Adoption board did not need ‘evidence beyond doubt’ either, and could easily have rejected the application based on suspicions alone. But they did not believe the abuse allegation, just like Wilk did not. Allen and Soon-Yi have adopted two daughters, now adult, who love their parents, and have both spoken up publicly in their defence against idiotic allegations in the media.

    1. Thank you for your sharp-eyed perusal of this post. I’ve made the appropriate corrections. I have at my disposal a skillful spotter of typos, punctuation and grammar errors, but having been mostly retired from the news business for some time now, I don’t have an editor who can go deeper into the weeds of my reminiscences. (Not that there’s a lot of editors left in the industry as it is.)
      I’m wondering if you could tell me where your extensive knowledge of the Woody-Mia case originates. Are you an interested party or a follower of celebrity contretemps…or something in between?

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