I’m a very private person and not at all interested in public attention. But, given the incredibly inaccurate and misleading attacks on my father, Woody Allen, I feel that I can no longer stay silent as he continues to be condemned for a crime he did not commit.
I was present for everything that transpired in our house before, during, and after the alleged event. Now that the public hysteria of earlier this year has died down a little and I have some hope that the truth can get a fair hearing, I want to share my story.
August 4, 1992 was a warm, sunny day in Bridgewater, Connecticut, but in our family’s country home, Frog Hollow, there was a chill in the air. My mother, Mia Farrow, was out shopping with her close friend since childhood, Casey Pascal. I was 14 at the time, and home that day with my little sister Dylan, who had just turned seven, my four-year-old brother Satchel (who now goes by the name Ronan) and Casey’s three kids. We were being supervised by our nanny, Kristi, as well as Casey’s nanny, Alison, and our French tutor, Sophie. It was a full house.
There was another grown-up in the TV room that day, sitting on the floor, watching “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” with the rest of us – Woody Allen. On the surface, it was not unlike his previous visits to our country home. But my mother had put all of us on notice not to let him out of our sight. She was understandably furious: seven months earlier she had learned that he was in an intimate relationship with my 21-year-old sister Soon-Yi, after discovering Polaroids of her in Woody’s apartment. For months now, she had been drilling it into our heads like a mantra: Woody was “evil,” “a monster,” “the devil,” and Soon-Yi was “dead to us.” This was the constant refrain, whether or not Woody was around. (So often did she repeat it that Satchel would announce to one of our nannies, “My sister is fucking my father.” He had just turned four.) My mother was our only source of information about Woody – and she was extremely convincing.
As the oldest child at the house that summer day, I took Mia’s warnings very seriously. I thought my job was to support my mother and I desperately wanted her approval, as did all of her children. I had also learned repeatedly that to go against her wishes would bring horrible repercussions. I would keep my eyes on Woody until she returned. But secretly, I was torn.
To help explain why, I want to give you a little background about our family.
Even though Woody and Mia never married – and he never lived with us or even stayed the night at our apartment in the city – he would often come over around 6:30 in the morning, bringing two newspapers and a bunch of muffins. I would wake up before the others, and so he and I would sit at the kitchen table together for breakfast. While he read The New York Times, I’d grab the Post and go straight to the comics and word puzzles. We’d spend this peaceful time together before waking Dylan. He’d make her a couple of slices of toast with cinnamon or honey and be there as she ate her breakfast. He hardly seemed like a monster to me.
My older siblings were all either biological or adopted children of Mia and her ex-husband André Previn. In 1985 Mia adopted Dylan. Two years later she and Woody had their only biological child, Satchel. At the age of 49, Woody seemed to delight in his new role of father.
Mia had adopted me, her seventh child, as a single parent in 1980. In 1992 she successfully petitioned to allow Woody to co-adopt both Dylan and me, writing to the adoption agency, detailing what an excellent father he was. I was thrilled when Woody officially became my father, since he had already taken on that role in my life. We played catch and chess, fished, and shot hoops. As the years went by, Satchel, Dylan and I were frequent visitors to his movie sets and his editing room. In the evenings, he’d come over to Mia’s apartment and spend time with us. I never once saw anything that indicated inappropriate behavior at any time.
Then, of course, the news of Woody and Soon-Yi went public – and everything changed. My mother insisted that we remove both of them from our lives, and we had no choice but to accept.
Even people who doubt Dylan’s claims of assault, often cling to Woody’s relationship with Soon-Yi as justification for their skepticism about him. The public attacks on Soon-Yi by complete strangers still stagger me, as does the general misinformation that so many people consider fact. She is not Woody’s daughter (adopted, step, or otherwise), nor is she developmentally challenged. (She got a master’s degree in special education from Columbia University!) And the claim that they started dating while she was underage is totally false.
In truth, Woody and Soon-Yi rarely even spoke during her childhood. It was my mother who first suggested, when Soon-Yi was 20, that Woody reach out and spend time with her. He agreed and started taking her to Knicks games. That’s how their romance started. Yes, it was unorthodox, uncomfortable, disruptive to our family and it hurt my mother terribly. But the relationship itself was not nearly as devastating to our family as my mother’s insistence on making this betrayal the center of all our lives from then on.
But the fatal dysfunction within my childhood home had nothing to do with Woody. It began long before he entered the picture and came straight from a deep and persistent darkness within the Farrow family.
It was common knowledge in Hollywood that my grandfather, the director John Farrow, was a notorious drinker and serial philanderer. There were numerous alcohol-fueled arguments between her parents, and Mia told me that she was the victim of attempted molestation within her own family. Her brother, my uncle John, who visited us many times when we were young, is currently in prison on a conviction of multiple child molestation charges. (My mother has never publicly commented on this or expressed concern about his victims.) My uncle Patrick and his family would often come by, but those visits could end abruptly as Mia and Patrick would often wind up arguing. Patrick would commit suicide in 2009.
My mother, of course, had her own darkness. She married 50-year-old Frank Sinatra when she was only 21. After they divorced, she moved in to live with her close friend Dory Previn and her husband André. When my mother became pregnant by André, the Previns’ marriage broke up, leading to Dory’s institutionalization. It was never spoken of in our home, of course, and not even known to me until a few years ago. But, as I look at it – as a licensed therapist as well as an eyewitness – it’s easy to see the seeds of dysfunction that would flourish within our own home.
It was important to my mother to project to the world a picture of a happy blended household of both biological and adopted children, but this was far from the truth. I’m sure my mother had good intentions in adopting children with disabilities from the direst of circumstances, but the reality inside our walls was very different. It pains me to recall instances in which I witnessed siblings, some blind or physically disabled, dragged down a flight of stairs to be thrown into a bedroom or a closet, then having the door locked from the outside. She even shut my brother Thaddeus, paraplegic from polio, in an outdoor shed overnight as punishment for a minor transgression.
Soon-Yi was her most frequent scapegoat. My sister had an independent streak and, of all of us, was the least intimidated by Mia. When pushed, she would call our mother out on her behavior and ugly arguments would ensue. When Soon-Yi was young, Mia once threw a large porcelain centerpiece at her head. Luckily it missed, but the shattered pieces hit her legs. Years later, Mia beat her with a telephone receiver. Soon-Yi’s made it clear that her desire was simply to be left alone, which increasingly became the case. Even if her relationship with Woody was unconventional, it allowed her to escape. Others weren’t so lucky.
Most media sources claim my sister Tam died of “heart failure” at the age of 21. In fact, Tam struggled with depression for much of her life, a situation exacerbated by my mother refusing to get her help, insisting that Tam was just “moody.” One afternoon in 2000, after one final fight with Mia, which ended with my mother leaving the house, Tam committed suicide by overdosing on pills. My mother would tell others that the drug overdose was accidental, saying that Tam, who was blind, didn’t know which pills she was taking. But Tam had both an ironclad memory and sense of spatial recognition. And, of course, blindness didn’t impair her ability to count.
The details of Tam’s overdose and the fight with Mia that precipitated it were relayed directly to me by my brother Thaddeus, a first-hand witness. Tragically, he is no longer able to confirm this account. Just two years ago, Thaddeus also committed suicide by shooting himself in his car, less than 10 minutes from my mother’s house.
My sister Lark was another fatality. She wound up on a path of self-destruction, struggled with addiction, and eventually died in poverty from AIDS-related causes in 2008 at age 35.
For all of us, life under my mother’s roof was impossible if you didn’t do exactly what you were told, no matter how questionable the demand.
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 Connecticut house. I was getting ready to go to sleep, when my mother came over to my bed and found a tape measure. She gave me a piercing look that stopped me in my tracks and asked if I had taken it, as 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 a workman had left it there. She asked again and again and again.
When I didn’t give the answer she wanted, she slapped my face, knocking off my glasses. She told me I was lying and directed me to tell my brothers and sisters that I had taken the tape measure. Through my tears I listened to her as she explained that we would rehearse what should have happened. 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. She made me rehearse it at least a half-dozen times.
That was the start of her coaching, drilling, scripting, and rehearsing – in essence, brainwashing. I became anxious and fearful. Once, when 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 Mia saw what I had done, she spanked me repeatedly and had me remove all my clothing, saying, “You’re not deserving of any clothes” and making me stand naked in the corner of her room, in front of my older siblings who had just returned from dinner with their father André. (After I spoke to People magazine in 2014 about how I was treated, Dylan called it a “betrayal” and said that I was “dead to” her. She later publicly dismissed my recollections of my childhood as “irrelevant.” This from a woman who now styles herself an “advocate for abuse victims.”)
Fighting back was not a viable option. One summer day, 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 Casey 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, yelling, “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 backwards and hit me on my chest, shouting, “How dare you say I’m a liar in front of my friend. You’re the pathological liar.” I was defeated, deflated, beaten 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. It was an upbringing that made me, paradoxically, both fiercely loyal and obedient to her, as well as deeply afraid.
In short, it was not a happy home – or a healthy one. Which brings us back to August 4, 1992.
Strangers on Twitter pose me this question all the time: “You weren’t there to witness the assault, so how do you know it didn’t happen?” But how could anyone witness an assault if it never happened?
As the “man of the house” that day, I had promised to keep an eye out for any trouble, and I was doing just that. I remember where Woody sat in the TV room, and I can picture where Dylan and Satchel were. Not that everybody stayed glued to the same spot, but I deliberately made sure to note everyone’s coming and going. I do remember that Woody would leave the room on occasion, but never with Dylan. He would wander into another room to make a phone call, read the paper, use the bathroom, or step outside to get some air and walk around the large pond on the property.
Along with five kids, there were three adults in the house, all of whom had been told for months what a monster Woody was. None of us would have allowed Dylan to step away with Woody, even if he tried. Casey’s nanny, Alison, would later claim that she walked into the TV room and saw Woody kneeling on the floor with his head in Dylan’s lap on the couch. Really? With all of us in there? And if she had witnessed that, why wouldn’t she have said something immediately to our nanny Kristi? (I also remember some discussion of this act perhaps taking place on the staircase that led to Mia’s room. Again, this would have been in full view of anyone who entered the living room, assuming Woody managed to walk off with Dylan in the first place.) The narrative had to be changed since the only place for anyone to commit an act of depravity in private would have been in a small crawl space off my mother’s upstairs bedroom. By default, the attic became the scene of the alleged assault.
In her widely-circulated 2014 open letter in The New York Times, the adult Dylan suddenly seemed to remember every moment of the alleged assault, writing, “He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. 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’s a precise and compelling narrative, but there’s a major problem: there was no electric train set in that attic. There was, in fact, no way for kids to play up there, even if we had wanted to. It was an unfinished crawl space, under a steeply-angled gabled roof, with exposed nails and floorboards, billows of fiberglass insulation, filled with mousetraps and droppings and stinking of mothballs, and crammed with trunks full of hand-me-down clothes and my mother’s old wardrobes.
The idea that the space could possibly have accommodated a functioning electric train set, circling around the attic, is ridiculous. 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?) Now, whenever I hear Dylan making a public statement about what allegedly happened to her that day when she was barely seven, I can only think of that imaginary train set, which she never brought up during the original investigation or custody hearing. Did somebody suggest to the adult Dylan that such a specific detail would make her story more credible? Or does she really believe she remembers this train “circling around the attic” the same way she says she remembers Woody’s whispered promises of trips to Paris and movie stardom (kind of odd enticements to offer a 7-year-old, rather than a new toy or a doll)? And all this apparently took place while those of us who promised to have our eyes trained on Woody were downstairs, seemingly oblivious to what was happening right above our heads?
Eventually, my mother returned with Casey and her newest adoptees, Tam and baby Isaiah. There were no complaints by the nannies, and nothing odd about Dylan’s behavior. In fact, Woody and Mia went out to dinner that night. After dinner, they returned to Frog Hollow and Woody stayed over in a downstairs bedroom – with, apparently, no abnormal behavior by Dylan, and no negative reports from any of the grown-ups.
The next morning, Woody was still at the house. Before he left, I briefly wandered into the living room and witnessed Dylan and Satchel sitting with him on the floor by a wall with a big picture window. The kids had a catalogue from a toy store and were marking off the toys they wanted him to bring back on his next visit. It was a cheerful, playful atmosphere – which would soon seem jarring compared to what Mia would allege happened less than a day before. Many years later, I once mentioned my recollection to Woody, and he said that he, too, remembered it quite vividly, telling me how he had told Satchel and Dylan to mark one or two toys each, but they had laughingly managed to check off virtually every toy in the catalogue. He remembers bringing it back to the city with him, with the intention of purchasing a few of the items they had checked. He told me he wound up holding onto that catalogue for years, having no idea that he would never see his daughter again.
Interestingly, it was only after Woody returned to the city that Mia would receive a phone call that would change our lives forever. It was from her friend Casey, who reported that her nanny Alison had witnessed Woody supposedly placing his head in Dylan’s lap on the sofa in the TV room.
When Monica, our long-term nanny who was out that day, returned to work the next day, I confided to her that I thought the story was made up. Monica, who had been with us for six years, would quit her job a few months later, saying that Mia was pressuring her to take her side and support the accusation.
It was Monica who later testified that she saw Mia taping Dylan describe how Woody had supposedly touched her in the attic, saying it took Mia two or three days to make the recording. In her testimony she said, “I recall Ms. Farrow saying to Dylan at that time, ‘Dylan, what did daddy do… and what did he do next?’ Dylan appeared not to be interested, and Ms. Farrow would stop taping for a while and then continue.” I can vouch for this, having witnessed some of this process myself. When another one of Dylan’s therapists, Dr. Nancy Schultz, criticized the making of the video, and questioned the legitimacy of the content, she too, was fired immediately by Mia. (My mother, for whom “loyalty” was hugely important, would also fire another long-term caretaker, Mavis, claiming that she was making statements against her.)
During the custody hearing, my mother kept stressing how we needed to stick together as a family. Frightened and beaten down, I, too, played my part. I even wrote a letter condemning Woody, saying that he had done something horrible and unforgivable, and had broken my dreams. I even read the letter for the news media that were now regularly gathered at the end of our driveway, knowing that doing so would earn my mother’s approval. That public denouncement of my father remains the biggest regret of my life.
Later that year, I remember many meetings with lawyers and an evaluation I went to in New Jersey. I am naturally shy and kept quiet until I finally felt the need to speak up. I told the evaluator that I felt stuck between my parents. Afterwards, I returned to my school and my mother called, screaming. “Do you realize what you’ve done? You’ve destroyed my case! You need to call your lawyer and tell her you take back what you said, tell her that you recant your statements and want them stricken from the record.” I felt my stomach drop. When I next spoke to the lawyer, I repeated her words verbatim, “I take back what I said, I recant my statements and want them stricken from the record.” Again, the pattern held: I was forced to follow my mother’s script to prove my loyalty.
Even though she still lectured us about “staying together as a family,” at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, my mother sent me to boarding school in Connecticut against my wishes. I objected that I wanted to stay in New York; she didn’t care. My usefulness in the family drama had played itself out. I had made my statement against my father, my role was done, and I was sent away.
At the time, of course, I knew nothing about the six-month criminal investigation conducted by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital, ordered by the Connecticut state police. But since this allegation was renewed a few years ago, I’ve seen the results of that investigation. It specifically concluded that “Dylan was not abused by Mr. Allen,” that her statements had a “rehearsed quality” and that they were “likely coached or influenced by her mother.” Those conclusions perfectly match my own childhood experience: coaching, influencing, and rehearsing are three words that sum up exactly how my mother tried to raise us. I know that Dylan has recently referred to this brainwashing theory as “spin” by our father – but it was nothing of the sort. It was not only the conclusion reached by a state-ordered investigation, it was the reality of life in our household.
That report put an end to any chance of criminal charges being brought against my father. A second, 14-month investigation by the New York State Department of Social Services, reached the same conclusion as Yale/New Haven: “No credible evidence was found that [Dylan Farrow] has been abused or maltreated.” Nevertheless, when a judge granted custody of Satchel and Dylan to Mia, at 15, I chose the path of least resistance, and also stayed with my mother.
In my mid-twenties, shortly after I graduated from my master’s program, I felt that I wanted to reach out to Woody, and communicated this to Mia. I’ll never forget how happy I felt when I received her return email saying she would support it, understanding my need for a father figure. That happiness was short-lived. Less than 24 hours later, she reconsidered, and wrote back, saying that she forbade me from making contact with “that monster.”
Several years later, I became estranged from my mother, but it has taken years of self-reflection, professional help and support from those I love – and who love me in return – for me to appreciate the sad truth of my childhood and of what my mother did to my siblings and me. I am grateful to have awakened to the truth of what happened to us – but disappointed that it took me this long to get here.
Meanwhile, though, my father continues to face wave after wave of unfair and unrelenting attacks from my mother and her surrogates, questioning why he has been “given a pass” all these years. But Woody was not given a pass. Quite the opposite. Mia’s accusation was fully investigated by two separate agencies and charges were never brought. Mia reached the end of the legal runway after it was determined that the abuse never occurred. But trial by media thrives on the lack of long-term memory and Twitter requires neither knowledge nor restraint.
To those who have become convinced of my father’s guilt, I ask you to consider this: In this time of #MeToo, when so many movie heavyweights have faced dozens of accusations, my father has been accused of wrongdoing only once, by an enraged ex-partner during contentious custody negotiations. During almost 60 years in the public eye, not one other person has come forward to accuse him of even behaving badly on a date, or acting inappropriately in any professional situation, let alone molesting a child. As a trained professional, I know that child molestation is a compulsive sickness and deviation that demands repetition. Dylan was alone with Woody in his apartment countless times over the years without a hint of impropriety, yet some would have you believe that at the age of 56, he suddenly decided to become a child molester in a house full of hostile people ordered to watch him like a hawk.
To the actors who have worked with my father and have voiced regret for doing so: You have rushed to join the chorus of condemnation based on a discredited accusation for fear of not being on the “right” side of a major social movement. But rather than accept the hysteria of Twitter mobs, mindlessly repeating a story examined and discredited 25 years ago, please consider what I have to say. After all, I was there – in the house, in the room – and I know both my father and mother and what each is capable of a whole lot better than you.
To my sister Dylan: Like you, I believe in the power of speaking out. I have broken my silence about the abuse inflicted by our mother. My healing began only after getting away from her. And what she has done to you is unbearable. I wish you peace, and the wisdom to understand that devoting your life to helping our mother destroy our father’s reputation is unlikely to bring you closure in any kind of lasting way.
Finally, to my mother: One thing you always said you appreciated about me was my ability to listen. I listened to you for years and held your truth above all others. You once said to me, “It’s not healthy to hold onto anger.” Yet here we are, 26 years later. I’m guessing your next step will be to launch a campaign to discredit me for speaking out. I know it comes with the territory. And it’s a burden I am willing to bear.
But, after all this time, enough is enough. You and I both know the truth. And it’s time for this retribution to end.