By Robert Weide
On February 20th, I was contacted by an editor for a major online publication, asking to interview me about the upcoming HBO series “Allen v. Farrow.” The idea was to provide some balance to an interview with filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, that recently ran on the Deadline website. As much as I tend to avoid interviews on this family tragedy, I liked the idea of providing some balance to the winners of the Leni Riefenstahl Lifetime Achievement Award, so I agreed to do so. I was also impressed that any mainstream news service would be interested in hearing the other side of this story. There were a few online publications that were calling out the HBO series for the one-sided hatchet job that it was (most noticeably, Hadley Freeman in The Guardian), but most were swallowing the HBO series whole, seemingly thrilled that someone was finally taking Allen down.
I explained to the editor that I wasn’t watching the series, but had heard reports from others who had seen all four episodes via press links. (I was already working on a blog about the magical, disappearing train — a failed attempt to discredit Moses Farrow in the final episode.) I said that I would still respond to any specific question that didn’t necessitate my watching the series. The editor was fine with that, explaining that their questions would incorporate any information from the show that called for a response.
Although I accepted their proposal, the timing sure wasn’t great. They requested the interview during the very week that I was directing a new episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and putting last minute touches on a new documentary. It was unlikely that I could get a focused half-hour on the phone without multiple distractions. I asked them to send me their questions via email, and that way, I could work on written responses here and there, whenever I could get a few minutes at a computer. It would also allow me to access my own research files when needed. Once I submitted my responses, I suggested we then get on the phone for any follow-up questions. I encouraged the reporter to take that opportunity to challenge me on any answer they felt was questionable. They agreed to that process, and a few days later, I received an email with ten questions.
I went about composing answers to their questions whenever I could — on set breaks, in my trailer, during lunch, late at night before bed. On the night of March 3, after wrapping my Curb episode, I proof-read my answers, then emailed them to the reporter, who was thrilled and thankful.
Then, of course, the next morning came the call I could have predicted. The reporter was extremely apologetic. They weren’t running the piece. “Whose decision was this?” I asked. He said the editorial staff got together and decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to print it. “This will hurt you and it will hurt us,” was a phrase he uttered more than once. “Look,” I said, “if you’re protecting yourselves, that’s fine. But please don’t pretend to be protecting me. I’ve been at this for seven years. I don’t scare easily.”
He sounded very nervous. Had someone “gotten to him?” Maybe it wasn’t as sinister as a call from HBO or Ronan Farrow. Maybe it was simply an in-house lawyer. In any event, I told him that I had put a lot of time into this, while in the middle of other obligations, and didn’t appreciate having my time wasted. “I owe you one,” he said. I didn’t like the sound of that. No self-respecting reporter owes me a thing — even if I save their kid from a burning building.
So here I am, back at my blog, where nobody exerts any editorial control over my words. From here, I happily present to you “The Interview That Never Happened.”
Q: During the scandal – who had the louder PR machine? Mia or Woody? Or were they equally strong?
A: In 1992, I’m not certain who had the louder PR machine or if it mattered. It was a big, juicy story and everyone wanted a piece of it. Younger people may not remember, but it was on the evening news every night – national news – and there were countless magazine covers and newspaper headlines. I think reporters covered it however they wanted and I couldn’t tell you what PR mechanisms were working behind the scene back then.
But I can tell you that it makes me laugh every time someone suggests that Dylan’s story is “finally” being told with this HBO series. Since the Vanity Fair article in 2013, it seems Mia and Dylan and Ronan have done nothing but tell this story again and again, with all the same falsehoods and inconsistencies. Ronan wants us to think that Woody controls this big media empire and he paints his own family as David against Allen’s Goliath, when exactly the opposite is true. Ronan has access to any news outlet he wants to use as a megaphone. I mean, what talk show hasn’t he been on in the past five years? Weigh that against the number of times you’ve seen Woody give print or TV interviews during that same period. He loathes publicity and only does it under duress when he has a new movie coming out. His long-time publicist retired last year, and her job was mainly to field interview requests when he had a new movie coming out. He’ll sometimes reluctantly issue a press release to reply to the Farrows’ assaults. And a couple of years ago, I remember he did an interview with a Spanish language TV station in Argentina. So, yeah, big media empire he’s running out of his apartment.
Q: Instead of publicly railing against Allen, why can’t Dylan simply pursue him legally again and bring sexual assault charges against him? [In the Deadline interview,] Amy Ziering didn’t seem to know why.
A: Yeah, I thought that was really interesting when Ziering dodged that question. The more I hear from those filmmakers, the more I wonder if they’re really that clueless or simply dishonest. I’m guessing Ziering knows that Dylan Farrow could absolutely file a civil suit against Woody in Connecticut, and the statute of limitations won’t expire until she’s 48. Of course, Ronan is a lawyer and presumably knows this. But the Farrows would never enter a court of law where they have to testify under oath and open themselves up to cross-examination. Also, as soon as the Yale-New Haven and NY state investigations were entered into the record, it would be “game over.” It’s so much easier to convict him in the court of public opinion, especially with such lazy fact checkers at their disposal and no testimony from the other side. I’m guessing that when Ziering dodged that question, she was simply annoyed that someone asked it. But it’s not only a legitimate question, it kind of gets at the dishonesty at the very core of this matter.
Q: Connecticut State Prosecutor Frank Maco calls the Yale New Haven Report “a runaway evaluation”. Investigation notes were shredded, and the hospital allowed Woody Allen to announce the findings of the report at a press conference, and didn’t hand it over to Maco. What’s your take on all of this? Is it unusual in a child abuse case to interview the subject nine times (which Yale New Haven did)?
A: Let’s be clear about this – the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale-New Haven Hospital is about the most respected body in the country for investigating these kinds of cases. Mia’s attorney, the D.A., the judge, everyone sang their praises as the best in the business. Remember, they were put on this case by the state prosecutors, with whom they did business all the time. But once they concluded that Allen had not abused Dylan, suddenly they were “incompetent” and “discredited” and did everything wrong. It’s laughable. If the Yale-New Haven report had concluded Allen was guilty, the Farrows would be very happy with them and singing their praises.
The Farrows have been going on about the destroyed notes for years, and now the filmmakers are joining in on that red herring. If they say they can’t find anyone who thinks this is normal protocol, they aren’t looking very hard. I can direct them to any number of people who will tell them this is quite standard protocol for many investigative bodies, including the FBI. Once they write up their summaries, they often destroy their notes. It’s an issue of privacy for the interview subjects, especially in a sensitive investigation involving a minor. The Farrows would love for us to think this is some kind of smoking gun, when it’s actually just shooting blanks. If the notes had been kept, they’d be complaining about that. They complain that the head of the team, Dr. Leventhal never personally interviewed Dylan. If he had, they’d say she shouldn’t have been interviewed by a man. Her nine interviews were conducted by a female PhD and a female social worker. I’m sure that was either too many times or not enough. They’re desperate to discredit the findings of a thorough seven-month investigation that simply didn’t go their way.
What are they suggesting, anyway? That Woody Allen got on the phone with the Yale-New Haven team and said, “Guys, if you can get me off the hook on this, I’ll get you tickets to the premiere of ‘Bullets Over Broadway’?” I mean, it’s really quite insane.
The fact is that both Mia and Woody and their lawyers were called in at the same time and personally told the results of the investigation, right on the eve of the custody trial. I seem to recall hearing that Mia beat a hasty retreat upon hearing the news.
Q: Maco backed away from the case because it hinged on the testimony of a 7-year old girl, not to mention he didn’t want to put Dylan on the witness stand and traumatize her. Why would he bail from such an important case if he had a substantial amount of evidence?
A: Maco did something highly irresponsible. He said he wouldn’t bring criminal charges against Allen, even though he had “reasonable cause.” He used Dylan’s frailty as an excuse, but in reality, he knew he had no case – especially after the Yale-New Haven report was issued. But he wanted to make certain a cloud of suspicion would always hang over Woody. So, well done, Maco. It worked! But I encourage you to ask lawyers about this, as I have. Most of them will tell you that’s just doubletalk to save face — having your cake and eating it, too. If you think you can win a case, you pursue it. Especially for a crime as heinous as child molestation. In fact, it would really be a D.A.’s obligation to prosecute it. If you choose not to pursue it, it’s because you don’t have a case. I assume the HBO special will fail to mention that even the judge in this case, Elliot Wilk, who basically hated Woody, said the evidence suggested that he probably couldn’t be successfully prosecuted for sexual abuse.
By the way, I haven’t researched the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of this type of case, but let’s suppose it’s ten years. If Dylan was too frail to testify at seven, how frail would she have been at sixteen, seventeen? Even Dylan now claims that she wished the case had been pursued. So Maco, in his cowardice, failed everyone. But regardless of Dylan’s age, if this case ever wound up in court, the result would be the same.
Q: Pricilla Gilman and Mia’s best friend Casey Pascal appear in the docuseries. Were the two ever called as key witnesses or deposed? They offer eyewitness testimonies in the docuseries of what occurred in the Connecticut house.
A: It’s been a while since I’ve perused the transcripts, but I don’t remember Priscilla Gilman testifying. She was the girlfriend or fiancé of Matthew Previn. She may have given an interview to the police investigators, but she wasn’t there on the day, anyway. Casey Pascal, who was Mia’s best friend, did testify. She and Mia went out shopping while Woody was at the house with the kids. You know, it’s interesting about the testimony. You’ve got all these nannies and babysitters and tutors giving their version of the events that day, but it’s pure Rashomon. Everyone’s narrative not only conflicts, but they outright negate each other. Their timelines are all over the place, people are seeing Woody in two or three places at once. It’s as if they all signed off on the accusation, but forgot to get their stories straight. Plus, if you strung together all the different things that people claim to have witnessed, as well as the 15 to 20 minutes we’re supposed to believe that Woody was alone with Dylan, you’d have to figure he was there at least an hour, hour and a half, before Mia arrived. But when you stick with what’s actually known, it seems Woody got to the house only about 10-30 minutes before Mia returned. So yes, many Mia loyalists testified at the custody trial, but they didn’t do her any favors.
Let me clarify this issue of how long Woody was at the house without Mia. Woody says he got to the house around 3:15 or 3:30. Records show a car phone call ending at 3:34. Mia’s friend, Casey Pascal, says they left to go shopping at 1:00 and were gone for 2, 2½ hours. That would have them returning between 3:00, before Woody got there, and 3:30, around the time he arrived. Now, I’m not suggesting Pascal is especially reliable or honest, but we know Woody was there for some period of time when Mia was out, so to even suggest 10 to 30 minutes is giving Pascal the benefit of the doubt. But you start to see how all this witness testimony just doesn’t add up. I’m sure the HBO series covers all this ground, right?
Q: After the Yale New Haven’s investigation found Dylan accusations uncredible; that she couldn’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, as well as believing that she was coached by Mia Farrow — the NYC Child Welfare investigation by Paul Williams believed there was enough credible evidence to bring a prima facie case against Allen. Williams was fired from the department for not staying quiet about the case, and it was reported that the protection of Allen went all the way to the NYC mayor’s office. Williams’ own attorney Bruce Baron says “There was a strong political climate to shut things down”. What do you know about this? Given that Woody put NYC filmmaking on the map – did he or his lawyer Elkan Abramowitz have a lot of sway and power in the city?
A: Look, you’ve got the Yale-New Haven investigation, which after seven months, concludes that Woody didn’t abuse Dylan. You’ve got the NY Child Welfare Office reaching the same conclusion after a fourteen-month investigation. That’s a big problem for the Farrows. So what do they have to do? Discredit both investigations. The Paul Williams thing is pretty ancillary to the question of what did or didn’t happen on August 4, 1992. But I guess the filmmakers had four hours to pad. Do they ever present evidence that there was pressure from the Mayor’s office? Do they ever present evidence that Allen or his lawyer were somehow behind it? Again, Woody must have shelled out a lot of free movie tickets to Dinkins and his staff. I should add that Woody’s movies probably bring in less money to the city of New York than a Gray’s Papaya stand. The only power he ever yielded in New York was getting a good table at Elaine’s.
Maybe the “pressure” came from Judge Wilk. He chastised Williams on the stand about Dylan being put through the trauma of two different investigations, and said New York should have just ceded to Connecticut’s findings. Wilk also rejected the claim that Williams was an expert in child abuse. I also remember a report came out of the Human Resources Administration saying that Williams was taken off the case because of bad conduct and being biased and rude to his interview subjects.
Again, you can pick apart this stuff forever. For me, it’s like batting practice, but I’m not sure how relevant it is.
Q: Mia Farrow says in episode 3, “Woody could control the Yale people, and control somehow New York…” She says he told her ‘It doesn’t matter what’s true, it matters what is believed.” Do you believe these statements?
A: She really said that, about Yale and New York? You know, that’s just so Looney Tunes, I don’t even know where to begin, so I won’t. As to the line about it’s not the truth, it’s what’s believed… Mia’s credibility aside, I can only say that if Woody said that, he was pretty prescient. The fact that so many people will gobble up this series, hook, line and sinker, kind of bears him out. You know, HBO did a movie about the McMartin preschool trial in the 90s, and the tagline was, “The charges were so shocking, the truth didn’t matter.” I think they could repurpose that one for their four-hour Farrow-mercial.
Q: The docuseries purports that Woody was with Dylan for 20 minutes in the attic; that’s where he molested her. Can you comment on this?
A: If I may disabuse you of this notion, at no time during the trial or anywhere else is it established that Woody and Dylan disappeared for 15-20 minutes. That’s based on a story told by Mia’s nanny Kristi Groteke that there was a 15-20 minute gap where she lost track of them. In other words, she was busy in the kitchen and for a few minutes wasn’t paying attention to where they were. The next day, she told another nanny, Monica Thompson, that they weren’t out of her sight for more than five minutes. Casey Pascal’s nanny, Alison, said she saw them in the TV room during that time, but when Kristi asked if she had seen them, she said, “no.” On the stand, Alison was asked why she told Kristi she hadn’t seen them, when she testified she had, and her answer was “I don’t know.” It’s pure Keystone Kops. Kristi was the one who talked about those missing minutes, and I find it very interesting that she didn’t give the filmmakers an interview. I’d love to know what that’s about.
Q: In his ruling of the custody case of Allen v. Farrow, Justice Elliot Wilk says some disturbing things about Woody Allen; things which support Mia and Dylan’s claims. Essentially: Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measure must be taken to protect her…It is unclear whether Mr. Allen will ever develop the insight and judgement necessary for him to relate to Dylan appropriately…Ms. Farrow is caring and loving mother…I’m not convinced that the videotape consists of any leading questions…there’s no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan. That’s quite a damning ruling. And Woody Allen tried to appeal several times and lost (so the docuseries reports). Again, wouldn’t such a ruling be in Maco’s favor in his case against Woody? Don’t you think this ruling, coupled with the Williams’ scandal, just casts a lot of doubt about Woody Allen?
A: There’s a lot to unpack there. Let me go at it, point by point. I’ve already addressed the Williams “scandal.” And as I said, if Maco had a case, he would have prosecuted, but he didn’t. The rest is revisionist history.
As for Wilk’s judgment, as you’ve pointed out, this was a custody hearing, not a criminal trial, since no charges were ever brought against Allen. So Wilk is not deciding whether or not the molestation took place. He was simply deciding who Dylan, Ronan and Moses should live with, and not surprisingly, he chose Mia. But Mia’s abuse accusation was not at the center of his decision. Rather, there were two key factors. First, in any custody decision, a big factor is who maintained custody prior to the challenge. Of course, that was Mia. Woody never even spent a night in their apartment. Judges don’t like to disrupt that precedent without very good reason. So that’s most of the ball game right there.
And the other factor, no matter how you slice it, Woody was carrying on a romantic, sexual relationship with the woman who was the sister of these three kids, adopted or not. That’s what the judge kept coming back to. So Woody’s attempt to gain custody seemed doomed from the start. But that’s a very separate issue from the accusation about Dylan. Should Woody now be cancelled because he fell in love with his ex-girlfriend’s daughter, who was of age, thirty years ago? Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Of course, Woody and Soon-Yi are still together after almost 30 years, so I guess the so-called “grooming” continues with his 50-year old bride.
Wilk’s “grossly inappropriate” line is borrowed from Dr. Susan Coates, who was a therapist for both Ronan (who was named Satchel then) and Dylan. She was treating the kids, not Woody. She testified about Woody’s “inappropriate” behavior towards Dylan, but only in the context of lavishing so much attention on his own daughter, while ignoring Mia’s other kids – the Previn kids. But the Farrows always forget to mention that Coates specifically stated she perceived no sexual element to his behavior.
Next — Wilk never suggested that he didn’t accept the findings of Yale-New Haven. He only said he was “less certain” than they were that there was no abuse. But of course, they were the ones who investigated it for seven months, not him.
As to whether Mia’s taping of Dylan consisted of leading questions, one expert witness, a Dr. Steven Herman, a clinical psychologist, testified that it was unfortunate that Mia, and not an objective and trained evaluator, videotaped Dylan’s testimony, mainly because the way she focused on specific things could possibly “set a tone for a child about how to answer” and raise her anxiety level. He concluded that it complicates matters. By the way, that witness was called and paid for by Mia, not Woody. Another witness, a retired New York Police Lt. Richard Marcus, who had been head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit, testified that Dylan “lacked credibility in that the manner in which the questions were asked [by Mia] and the statements that were elicited did not convince me that the incident had, in fact, taken place.” He said Mia’s leading questions smacked of prompting, and described it as a form of rehearsal. Even good old Judge Wilk said Mia’s choice to videotape Dylan inadvertently compromised the sexual abuse investigation.
Wilk also never suggested that Dylan be permanently separated from Allen. His suggestion was that she remain in therapy for six months to heal from the trauma of this dramatic parental split, then reevaluated, and if she made progress, there could be supervised visits with Allen. If he felt the abuse had taken place, I don’t think he’d be suggesting they could reunite after six months.
In the appellate case, there was an impartial witness, a psychologist who said specifically that contact with Allen was necessary to Dylan’s future development. None of the appellate decisions in the custody case concluded that Woody abused Dylan — simply that Mia would maintain custody. Let’s also not forget that Woody and Soon-Yi adopted and raised two daughters, now in college, who love and stand up for their father. With this infamous accusation hanging over Woody’s head, you don’t think these adoption agencies in two states thoroughly investigated the case before allowing the adoptions? Those are two more legal decisions in Woody’s favor.
Was Mia a caring and loving mother as Wilk suggests? Out of ten adopted children, four of them would agree with Wilk. Moses, on the other hand, talks of pretty grave abuse at the hands of Mia. Soon-Yi credits Woody with saving her life by getting her out of that house. Unfortunately, you can’t ask Lark, who died in poverty, estranged from Mia. You also can’t ask Tam, who committed suicide after a fight with Mia, or Thaddeus, another suicide. There’s also one other child who is currently estranged from Mia that nobody is mentioning. So out of ten adopted kids, three estranged, three dead, two by suicide. Maybe she was a caring and loving mother, but those don’t strike me as particularly good odds.
Look, I’m the first to admit that a few thousand people might read this interview, whereas millions will watch the HBO series. I described my standing up to this one-sided hit-job as fighting off a tsunami by spitting at it. But what’s that line from Capra’s Mr. Smith? Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for? That sounds about right to me.
Some additional suggested reading about the HBO series – not by me:
“Allen v Farrow is Pure PR” by Hadley Freeman – The Guardian
“Allen v Farrow: Intellectually Dishonest Propaganda Meets Emotional Blackmail” by Cathy Young
“Woody Allen: The Biggest Lie of All” by Kat Rosenfield
“Unanswered Questions in AllenvFarrow” by J. Clara Chan – The Wrap
“Put Me on Team Woody” by Andrea Peyser
“The Woody-Mia Wilderness of Mirrors” by David Talbot
“One-Sided HBO Doc. Convicts Woody Allen” – Book & Film Globe
“A McCarthyite Attack on Woody Allen” – Joanne Laurier
“Back Into the Cesspool” – The Third Estate Sunday Review
Robert B. Weide is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker whose documentaries have covered the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Kurt Vonnegut. He was also the Executive Producer and director of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He tweets at @BobWeide. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is not a meme.