Before New York magazine had even published its profile of Soon-Yi Previn — Woody Allen’s wife, and the previously silent center of their scandalous relationship — the story had already generated controversy due to its author, Daphne Merkin. A Page Six story published hours before Merkin’s profile of Previn went live focused on how Allen’s estranged daughter, Dylan Farrow — who alleged in 1992 when she was 7 years old that Allen sexually molested her, and has revisited those allegations as an adult several times over the last four years — was “outraged” by the story because she believed “the writer was hand-picked by Allen because she's sympathetic to him.”
Merkin acknowledges in the profile that she has been “friends” with Allen “for over four decades,” and after it was published, a great deal of the criticism of the piece fixated on that detail. From journalist Yashar Ali: “[T]o have a Woody Allen sycophant … profile Soon-Yi isn’t journalistically sound.” From actor and activist Amber Tamblyn: “New York Magazine should give Mia And Dylan Farrow the cover and let a friend of four decades write the story and the whole issue should be dedicated to women groomed from young ages by predatory men and mothers who were marked ‘crazy’ for trying to do anything about it.” And from writer Israel Daramola: “And now in my exclusive profile we get the true story from Soon-Yi, Woody Allen’s wife, as told to me, Woody Allen’s Friend, while Woody Allen is in the room with us. Truly we will find the truth today.”
The ethical risks of having Allen’s friend of decades write a profile of his wife were apparently outweighed by the newsworthiness of hearing for the first time at any length from Previn. But the reactions to the published profile that have focused on Merkin’s compromised role in the story have obscured what that story actually contributes to our understanding of Allen’s relationships with Previn and Dylan Farrow, and their shared mother, Mia Farrow. With regard to Dylan, it’s almost zero.
Previn decided to break her 26-year silence about her relationship with Allen in the wake of her husband’s sudden career implosion this year, which was precipitated by Dylan’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in December 2017 asking why the #MeToo revolution had “spared” him. Several actors who had starred in Allen’s films — including Timothée Chalamet, Mira Sorvino, and Greta Gerwig — subsequently announced they would no longer work with the director, and Allen’s upcoming film A Rainy Day in New York, starring Chalamet, has yet to be given a release date by distributor Amazon Studios.
“I was never interested in writing a Mommie Dearest, getting even with Mia — none of that,” Previn tells Merkin. “But what’s happened to Woody is so upsetting, so unjust. [Mia] has taken advantage of the #MeToo movement and paraded Dylan as a victim. And a whole new generation is hearing about it when they shouldn’t.”
It is the one and only time Previn is ever quoted in the 9,000-word profile about the veracity of her half-sister’s allegations. Previn (and, by inference, Allen) seems to take at face value that Dylan’s story should not be heard. It’s as if Previn believes that the sheer act of asserting her voice for the first time will muzzle Dylan and her supporters.
In her public response to the story, however, Dylan indicated that an earlier draft had more to say about her. “When New York Magazine contacted me [about the story], they described multiple obvious falsehoods,” she wrote, specifically citing an allegation that Mia Farrow attempted to “bribe” Dylan to lie about Allen molesting her “with a doll that was not manufactured until years later.” No such allegation is in the story as published.
When asked for a comment about Dylan’s statement, a representative for New York magazine referred BuzzFeed News to the publication’s statement on the story, which read in part: “This is a story about Soon-Yi Previn, and puts forward her perspective on what happened in her family. We believe she is entitled to be heard.”
Previn makes only one more reference to Dylan’s allegations, but she does so to make a rather astonishing claim about her affair with Allen. “It only became a relationship really when we were thrown together because of the molestation charge,” says Previn.
Indeed, rather than relitigate Dylan’s story directly, the profile attempts instead to humanize Previn’s enduring relationship with Allen — and, by extension, Allen’s disintegrating public persona — while depicting Mia Farrow as a neglectful, abusive, and unhinged mother.
The portrait Previn paints of Mia Farrow is harrowing, alleging favoritism of her biological children, neglect, and verbal and physical abuse. A Farrow family spokesperson denied Previn’s claims; whatever the truth of Previn’s accounts of Farrow as a mother, however, their connection to Dylan Farrow’s experience of Woody Allen as a father remain, at best, tenuous and, at worst, actively distracting. Of Merkin’s many sins of journalism — including allowing Allen to be present for several of her interviews with Previn — perhaps the most glaring is the line “[I]t's Mia et al.’s account of events that has so far carried the day.” Not only does it actively erase Dylan’s name from her own story, it also attempts to rhetorically link what happened to Dylan with Mia Farrow in a piece that specifically and extensively attacks Mia’s character.
By contrast, the image of Allen that emerges from the story is revealing in ways that Previn and Merkin likely did not intend. Merkin writes that Allen is “oblivious” and not “‘in touch’ with his innermost feelings,” and questionably characterizes his isolation by noting “the almost Aspergian aloneness of the man.” Previn, meanwhile, calls Allen “a poor pathetic thing” who was “so naïve and trusting” to fall for Mia Farrow in the first place. If the aim here was to imply that Allen was too inept and unsophisticated to have ever attempted anything untoward with Dylan, Merkin and Previn also give the impression of Allen as a socially cloistered man with a tenuous grasp on reality.
Previn underlines that she never once saw Allen as a father figure, in part because she didn’t see him as particularly interested in children. But she also makes clear that Allen initiated their sexual relationship — she recalls that their first kiss came after they watched a film by his filmmaking hero Ingmar Bergman together — and that a great deal of her attraction was that Allen flattered her with the kind of love and attention she said she had been missing from her mother.
While Previn is forthright in saying that her relationship with Allen was “a huge betrayal” of Mia Farrow, Allen’s current feelings on the matter never made the story. Instead, he somewhat confusingly appears to claim that he would have faced the same public outcry had he had an affair with “an airline stewardess” and then asked for joint custody or visitation of his children. “Sex is always like Jewish guilt — it has a certain dramatic impact on the audience. But it would’ve been the same thing,” Allen says, as if his complicated familial connection to Previn was beside the point.
Meanwhile, Previn reveals that the first time she heard Allen say he loved her was in the press conference he called after news of Dylan’s allegations and his relationship with Previn first became public. “We had never said those words to each other,” she says. “I was madly in love with him. … Completely attracted to him, physically and sexually. I know he’d said that I’d meet someone in college, but I’d already decided. I came to realize how understanding he was and what a sweet person he was. He grew on me.”
Ultimately, Merkin is at least successful in providing a window into the thinking of a person who has been a silent face of one of the most shocking celebrity scandals of the past 30 years. Whether that portrait will change anyone’s mind about Previn or Allen, however, remains sadly and exasperatingly unclear.
Mia Farrow was misidentified as Woody Allen's wife in a caption mislabeled by a photo agency in an earlier version of this post.