by Eric Lax
Writer/director Robert Weide has stated, “It is possible to believe in Woody Allen’s innocence without branding Dylan Farrow a liar.” The key to this seeming contradiction may be held by Moses Farrow. In this excerpt from the recent Eric Lax book “Start to Finish,” Moses is given an opportunity to share his memories of life under the Farrow roof.
Introduction by Robert Weide:
While I was writing my 2014 essay, The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast, for The Daily Beast, I discovered that Moses Farrow – the third child in the infamous 1992 custody case between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – had been estranged from Mia Farrow for years, and was now happily reunited with Allen and Soon-Yi. I tracked down Moses easily enough through Facebook and asked if I could talk to him for my piece. I discovered Moses, now a licensed marriage and family therapist, to be an intelligent, soft-spoken, private young man who understandably had some reluctance to publicly weigh in on this highly personal and painful family matter. Rather than apply any pressure, I simply told him he was welcome to call me if he wanted to speak, either on or off the record. The next day, Moses contacted me to say he had been thinking about it, and realized he was not only willing to talk to me, but felt that he had to speak out, and welcomed the platform to do so.
Our follow-up conversation lasted almost two hours, during which Moses related to me one harrowing experience after another about life in the Farrow compound. After we got off the phone and I reviewed my hand-written notes, I realized that there was no way for my essay to include Moses’ recollections, as I was already approaching 5,000 words, and doing justice to Moses’ story would push the length past the tipping point. Instead, I made only the briefest reference to Moses and his unhesitating use of the phrase “brainwashing” to describe the household experience from which he finally made his escape.
Soon after my piece appeared in The Daily Beast, Moses provided a statement for a follow-up article by People magazine, and just last year spoke at some length with author Eric Lax who was writing a book entitled, “Start to Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking,” chronicling Woody Allen’s creative process from script to screen during his 2014 production of Irrational Man (originally titled The Boston Story). One thread in the film’s story-line involves a woman who is devastated by a judge’s predisposition against her in a child custody case. This provides Lax with a jumping-off point to explore the custody chapter in Allen’s own life, which ultimately led to a new interview with Moses. With Lax’s permission, I have excerpted that portion of his book for this post.
In my initial conversation with Moses in 2014, he told me, “My mother’s worst nightmare was that one of the kids would one day break from the clan and start speaking out.” Indeed, Moses’ recollections about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his adoptive mother does throw a bit of a monkey-wrench into the Mia/Ronan/Dylan narrative, so it’s not surprising that the Farrow camp would view it as a fire that needs to be put out. Mia herself would claim, “It’s heartbreaking and bewildering that [Moses] would make this up.” The ultimate irony perhaps is that Dylan, in her L.A. Times Op-Ed, would call the recollections of her abused brother, “insignificant.” In my own writing, I have said that it’s possible to believe in Woody Allen’s innocence without branding Dylan Farrow a liar. If that sounds at all contradictory or cryptic, I would suggest the key to this puzzle can be found in Moses’ very lucid recollections.
Finally: In my most recent essay responding to Dylan Farrow’s Op-Ed for the L.A. Times (which you might want to read for added context), I state that Moses’ reflections of life in the Farrow household get “real dark, real fast.” In that context, I can verify that what Lax has included in his book, and what I’ve quoted from Moses in my own writing, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Whether Moses will, at some point, make a more complete statement, shining a light on some remaining mysteries, is a decision much on his mind these days.
Excerpt from “Start to Finish” by Eric Lax:
Moses Farrow was born in Korea in 1978, afflicted with cerebral palsy. He was abandoned in a telephone booth, taken to an orphanage, and adopted by Farrow when he was two. In 1985 she adopted Dylan; in 1991 Woody became his adoptive parent as well.
Now a thirty-nine-year-old family therapist, Moses speaks of a childhood in which his mother created an atmosphere “in which I felt the constant need to gain her trust and approval.”
In his earliest memories, “I was awoken in the middle of the night by Mia. I was in kindergarten. I slept in the girls’ room with [my adopted sisters] Lark and Daisy, on the lower bed of the bunk. Mia pulled me out of it. I was still half asleep as she repeatedly asked in a harsh tone if I had taken her pills. It wasn’t out of concern that I had swallowed any, but rather accusing me that I had stolen them from her. She took me to her bathroom. I was crying as she stood over me, scowling. I told her a dozen or so more times that I hadn’t taken them, but finally I said what she wanted to hear. I was forced to lie. However, simply telling her I took them didn’t suffice, and more questions ensued. I had to elaborate on the lie and tell her I had taken four or five pills because I thought they were Tic Tacs. She pulled me over to the sink and directed me to put her bar of soap in my mouth and then instructed me to wash out my mouth, telling me that lying is a bad thing to do. Once I dried my mouth she put me back to bed. The next day I searched for the missing pills and found them under the cabinet between the toilet and the bathtub; however, I never mentioned it to her out of fear of getting into more trouble. This was the first time I felt truly fearful of her, and it was the start of her instilling fear in me. It began the very long and impossible task of gaining her approval. I can recall numerous times that she let me know the burden was on me to gain her trust.
“The summer between first and second grades, she was having new wallpaper installed in the bedroom I slept in, across the hall from hers on the second floor of the house in Connecticut. She was getting me ready to go to sleep, and when she came over to my bed she found a tape measure. I didn’t even know what it was. She had a piercing look on her face that stopped me in my tracks. It was really scary. She asked if I had taken it. She used that familiar voice I had become attuned to as she explained she had been looking for it all day. I stood in front of her, frozen. She asked why it was on my bed. I told her I didn’t know, that perhaps the workman left it there. After a couple more demands for the answer she wanted, she slapped my face, knocking off my glasses. She told me I was lying. She directed me to tell my brothers and sisters that I had taken the tape measure. Through my crying and tears I listened to her as she explained that we would rehearse what should have happened. She told me that she would walk into the room and I would tell her I was sorry for taking the tape measure, that I had taken it to play with and that I would never do it again. We practiced at least a half dozen times. It became late, I was afraid and had cried myself out. Once she was satisfied, she took me to the rocking chair and rocked me. After a short while she brought me downstairs and made hot chocolate for me before putting me to bed. That was the start of her coaching, drilling, scripting, and rehearsing.
“Over the next few years, I continued to become more anxious and fearful. At that point, I had learned to fight, flee, or freeze. I often chose the latter two. For instance, as a young child, I was given a new pair of jeans. I thought they would look cool if I cut off a couple of the belt loops. When my mother found I had done this, she spanked me repeatedly—as was her way—and had me remove all my clothes saying, ‘You’re not deserving of any clothes.’ Then she had me stand naked in the corner of her room.”
Monica Thompson was a nanny in the Farrow household from 1986 to 1993. In a January 1993 affidavit to Woody’s lawyers reported by the Los Angeles Times, she said that around 1990 she saw Farrow slap Moses across the face because he could not find a dog’s leash. “The other children were horrified and told their mother that it could not have been Moses who lost the leash. Farrow told the children that it was not their place to comment on the incident. The children were scared of their mother and did not like to confide in her because they were afraid of what their reactions might be.” (Thompson acknowledged that in 1992 she had told Connecticut police that Farrow was a good mother and did not hit her children but that she had lied because she was pressured to support the charges against Woody and feared losing her job. She resigned in January 1993 after being subpoenaed to testify in the custody battle.)
On at least one occasion, Moses fought back. “One summer day in the Connecticut house, Mia accused me of leaving the curtains closed in the TV room; they had been drawn the day before when Dylan and Satchel were watching a movie. She insisted that I had closed them and left them that way. Her friend had come over to visit and while they were in the kitchen, my mother insisted I had shut the curtains. At that point, I couldn’t take it anymore and I lost it. I yelled at her, ‘You’re lying!’ She shot me a look and took me into the bathroom next to the TV room. She hit me uncontrollably all over my body. She slapped me, pushed me back and hit me on my chest. She said, ‘How dare you say I’m a liar in front of my friend. You’re the pathological liar.’ I was defeated, deflated, and beaten down. Mia had stripped me of my voice and my sense of self. It was clear that if I stepped even slightly outside her carefully crafted reality, she would not tolerate it. Yet, I grew up fiercely loyal and obedient to her, even though I lived in extreme fear of her. Based on my own experience, it’s possible that Mia rehearsed with Dylan what she ended up recording on video. As she had done with me, it’s conceivable she set the stage, the mood, and scripted what was to take place.”
Around the time of the custody trial in 1993, a person who went often to the Farrow home found Dylan crying one day. The story has been confirmed with someone else who often visited. “Dylan asked me, ‘Is it okay to lie?’ She felt she didn’t want to lie and wondered, What would God think? She wanted an Attic Kids doll, but Mia forbade it. This was shortly before Dylan was to speak with someone connected with the trial. She said, ‘Mom wants me to say something I don’t want to say.’ Then the next week she had the Attic Kids doll with a yellow dress. I asked, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘I did what my mom asked.’”
The story does not surprise Moses, who adds, “This, I can speak to with confidence. Mia’s ability and intent to mold her children to do her bidding was matched by her living in constant fear her secrets of abusive parenting would be divulged and the reputation she built as the loving mother of a large brood of adopted kids would be destroyed. My biggest fear was that we would be rejected, excommunicated rather, from her and the family. I lived in constant threat of this happening. As an adopted child, there is no bigger fear than to lose your family.”
Soon-Yi Previn says, “She just liked to pick on people. She chose the easy, vulnerable targets. She had a fierce temper. On one occasion, she kicked me and hit me again and again with the phone. She was always physical and violent with us. I learned to stay away from her and keep in survival mode, but Moses got the brunt by being too innocent, too sweet, to grasp the situation. She was regularly mentally and physically abusive to him.”
After Woody and Soon-Yi began their relationship, Moses spent “many days and nights with Mia offering support.” One day Moses went by himself to the end of the driveway to the Connecticut house to denounce Woody to the assembled media throng.
“Being thirteen, I felt that this was the right mindset,” he says. “I was showing loyalty to my mother. Mia already established with us that, ‘You have to be with me or you’re against me. We’re in a battle. This is a custody fight. We have to stick together as a family.’”
As the custody battle continued, however, Moses found that despite his reflexive loyalty to Farrow, he was emotionally torn between his parents. In a meeting with Judge Renee Roth, who had overseen his adoption, Moses recalls being told that Woody had proposed that Moses come to live with him. The powerful feeling to undo an injustice echoes the distraught mother in “The Boston Story” who is about to lose custody of her children. “I believe that Woody knew what kind of mother Mia was at that point,” says Moses. “He was trying to protect his kids and was trying to offer a better life with the kindness and love and affection, that’s who he is.” Because he found “the loyalty Mia demanded was overpowering,” Moses chose to stay with her and soon became a boarding student at Kent School in Connecticut.
He had a psychological evaluation done in the wake of the high emotions of the custody case. “I shared my truth and told the psychologist that I felt like I was a pawn. I was torn between both Mia and Woody. After his report was submitted, I received a very upsetting call from Mia at school. She said, ‘You’ve destroyed my case! I can’t believe you said that you are torn. You have to recant your statement. You have to call your lawyer and make this right.’” Moses did as he was told.
He recalls his boyhood relationship with Woody as the opposite of his mother’s. “He would come over to our apartment every morning at 6:30. I used to love to wake up before the others, and he and I would be at the kitchen table together. He would always bring two newspapers and half a dozen or so massive muffins—blueberry, corn, wheat. He’d open up The New York Times and sit there turning pages, and I’d take The New York Post and go straight to the comics and word puzzles. We would read together before waking Dylan. It was peaceful and memorable. He’d make a couple of slices of toast with cinnamon and honey and be there as she ate her breakfast. He really seemed to enjoy taking care of her. He was a caring father to me. He helped me feel good about myself, and I felt he did everything he could to include us in his life.” (Woody’s production company for many years was called Moses Productions. He had another called Dylan and Satchel Productions.)
Moses believes that in no way did Woody sexually abuse Dylan. The molestation accusation against Woody was “calculated. Mia had a judge who seemed sympathetic to her case, she found a lawyer who helped craft her arguments, she used her influence as a mother over her own children and used it to gain favor in the media.”
He adds, “The instance of Mia telling Woody that she had something planned for him is the way she operated. On the one extreme, she went on uncontrollable rages, but she also made carefully crafted plans. She instilled fear. She demanded obedience. It wasn’t just a few slaps on the cheek but extremely disproportionate actions. Now that I no longer live in fear of her rejection, I am free to share how she cultivated and brainwashed me as she has done with Ronan and Dylan. In 2002, I told Mia I wanted to reach out to Woody. Her initial response was understanding and motherly: ‘I can see you miss having a father, and I’ll support you.’ However, not twenty-four hours later she told me, ‘I forbid you to contact Woody.’” However, he did and they reunited. Farrow has broken off with Moses.
In February 2014, while Woody was in the midst of the preproduction and casting of “The Boston Story,” Nicholas D. Kristof gave over his column in The New York Times to an open letter from Dylan in which she detailed the alleged 1992 sexual assault by Woody: “[My father] told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me… I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”
It is a heartrending letter, all the more so because undoubtedly she believes every word of it. But the attic was not the first place the alleged abuse happened and apart from the letter’s details not being consistent with what she told the Yale-New Haven investigators, Moses says there is a central problem with the recollection: “I assure you, there was no electric train set in that attic. There was nothing practical about that space as a place for kids to play, even if we wanted to. It was an unfinished attic with exposed fiberglass insulation. It smelled of mothballs, and there were mouse traps and poison pellets left all around. My mother used it for storage where she kept several trunks full of hand-me-down clothes, that sort of thing. The idea that the space could possibly accommodate a functioning electric train set, circling around the attic, makes no sense at all. One of my brothers did have an elaborate model train set, but it was set up in the boys’ room, a converted garage on the first floor. Maybe that was the train set my sister thinks she remembers.” Mia Farrow described the area in a deposition made in 1992 as “a crawl space…where the eave kind of drops.”
Moses told People magazine in 2014, “Of course Woody did not molest my sister. She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate toward him. The day in question, there were six or seven of us in the house. We were all in public rooms and no one, not my father or sister, was off in any private spaces… I don’t know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible.”
Farrow declined to respond to People regarding Moses’s accusations but tweeted, “I love my daughter. I will always protect her. A lot of ugliness is going to be aimed at me. But this is not about me, it’s about her truth.” Dylan said of Moses in the People article, “He is dead to me.” She also said, “I don’t know where he gets this about getting beaten. We were sent to our rooms sometimes.”
Monica Thompson was not in the house the day of the alleged incident but, according to the Los Angeles Times article, said in her affidavit that when she came to work the next day, “Moses came over to me and said that he believes that Ms. Farrow made up the accusation that was being said by Dylan.” It has been argued that Woody paid her salary and that therefore she is somehow less reliable but he did that only indirectly; he says he gave Farrow $1 million of the salary he received in 1990 for acting in Paul Mazursky’s Scenes from a Mall for the general welfare of their children.
On the 1970 album On My Way to Where by Dory Previn (she married André Previn in 1959 and divorced him in 1970 after he impregnated Mia Farrow) is a song about incest, “With My Daddy in the Attic.” The lyrics include: “And he’ll play / His clarinet / When I despair / With my / Daddy in the attic.” Woody said that Dory—who died in 2012—called him at the time of the molestation allegation to say “that’s where Mia got the story line for her concocted tale.”
Before Linda Fairstein became a best selling author, she was director of the first sex crimes unit in the United States, appointed in 1976 by New York City District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. Until 2002 she oversaw the investigation of thousands of allegations of child and sexual abuse, and she has an informed opinion on this one.
“Once there was the suggestion that Woody Allen was involved with Soon-Yi, then there’s every reason for Mia Farrow to be doing something from angry to insane, and there’s no better weapon than your children. So take the weakest link—the youngest, the girl—and whatever you want to say that would make the public believe you are dealing with a monster, is to make this claim.
“When the story came out that Mia had videotaped Dylan”—in eleven segments shot at different times in different places, one nude in a bathtub, others outside showing her topless—“it sounded to me like one of the craziest things I’d ever heard. On every level, it’s the last thing you would do. First of all, videotaping her naked while asking again and again about what happened. Why are you exposing your child to these videos that someday will possibly be in the hands of the public or in the courtroom? That fact alone set off every alarm.”
In regard to Farrow’s telling Woody, “You took my child, I’m going to take yours,” Fairstein adds, “That sounds so real to me. That’s the kind of venom I’m used to seeing in this kind of case: You’ve ruined my life, I’m going to hit you where it hurts most. The idea of saying to a public figure just about the worst thing you could have as a newspaper headline about them is totally in keeping with how these cases are used in matrimonial matters.”
Fairstein cites studies that have been done over the past twenty years on “How suggestible children are. Dylan’s been told a story, and there’s only one person left to please. Daddy’s already been thrown out of the picture. How frightening. Like any kid, you’re wanting to be with, if not two parents, the one parent. So I don’t imagine from that point on she was free to tell any other story. If you believe as I do that the allegation is false, then it is the fault of the woman who created the allegation who has mortally wounded this child.
“I was in the district attorney’s office thirty years, and this was my specialty for twenty-eight of them, so there were thousands of abuse cases in which I had a direct or supervisory role. I have no reason to believe this event happened.”
Excerpt from “Start To Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking” ©2017 by Eric Lax. Reprinted with permission by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.
Robert Weide tweets at @BobWeide.