Woody Allen, whose movie Whatever Works opens June 19, has a lot in common with me. We are both Jewish, we both root for the Knicks and we both like Woody Allen movies. We also once lusted after the same girl.
The girl, Stacy, was a classmate of mine in the now-defunct Bentley school on the Upper West Side, which I attended through 6th grade. Stacy’s rosy complexion, big round eyes and button nose pushed the limits of my prepubescent amorous desires.
Stacy developed into a gorgeous teenager and became an actress, while I developed acne and became a nerd. We had several friends in common and I would sometimes gawk at her—I mean see her—at parties.
When I was in high school I heard rumors that Stacy was dating Woody Allen. One weekend I was walking on the Upper East Side with my best friend Steve, discussing our costumes for the next Star Trek convention, when we saw Stacy holding hands with an older man. We both meekly said “hi” to her as she sashayed by.
“Do you know who that was?” Steve asked.
“Woody Allen!” we said in unison.
Stacy met Woody on the set of Annie Hall, in which she had a bit part that was left out of the final cut. Stacy has talked publicly about their two-year relationship, but Allen never has. It is widely believed that the movie Manhattan was based on their romance, which began when Woody was 41 and Stacy 17.
Stacy is not my only link to the “Woodman” (an apt double entendre, if I ever heard one). My father and Allen attended Midwood High School together (“very strange” is my dad’s only recollection of the future filmmaker), and I have seen Allen several times around the city.
One time I saw him eating dinner with Diane Keaton at Primola on East 64th Street, and last summer he walked by me while I was eating at an outdoor café near Lincoln Center. My most recent brush with greatness took place earlier this year in the Upper East Side restaurant Café Boulud, when Allen walked in with Soon-Yi (I normally avoid expensive restaurants like General Motors stock, but it seems that every time I go to one, Woody, has to show up, just to prove that he can get a better table than I can).
For those of you unfamiliar with the Mia, Woody, Soon-Yi love triangle, here is the short version: Soon-Yi is the adopted-daughter of Andre Previn and actress Mia Farrow. After Woody and Mia adopted two children and had a third biologically, Woody commenced a sexual affair with Ms. Previn (as far as I know Woody does not belong to a Mormon fundamentalist sect), which Mia learned about after finding pictures taken by Allen of a naked 19-year-old Soon-Yi. A custody battle ensued over Mia and Woody’s children, during which Farrow accused Woody of having sexually abused their daughter Dylan.
At the trial, Woody explained that the pictures of Soon-Yi were “erotic” rather than “pornographic.” This distinction failed to impress the judge, who gave custody to Mia.
Soon-Yi and Woody eventually married. As for the child sex-abuse allegations, an appellate court called the evidence inconclusive, but added that it “suggest[s] that the abuse did occur.”
When I saw Woody and Soon-Yi at Boulud, they looked like any other happily married couple, with a 35-year age difference between them. Has Woody no shame, I wondered.
Even though he has carried on as though he believes that life is one long audition for the male lead in Lolita, I am a fan of Woody’s work. Yet whenever I open my wallet to see one of his movies or read one of his books, I squirm at the thought that I am giving money to a pervert.
I have otherwise never felt guilty about being entertained by lowlifes. I have watched Roman Polanski’s films and rooted for athletes whom I wouldn’t be seen in a nightclub with, unless I were wearing a bullet-proof vest, without the slightest twinge of disgust. But I take Woody’s misbehavior personally.
I resent that he has come to represent Jewish New York—my New York! When he introduced a film tribute to the city during the 2002 Academy Awards, I wanted to shout: farmers in Iowa, coal miners in West Virginia and all other people who have livelihoods that seem really exotic to urban dwellers like myself, please don’t think that Woody is one of us. We do not all deal with a mid-life crisis by dating high-school girls, and Judaism does not require us to have sex with our domestic partner’s children.
But, of course, he is one of us. In the outsider mentality of his characters and his irony-based humor, I see a piece of every Jewish Upper East and West sider I know. And in terms of Jewish geography, Woody’s link to me through my father and Stacy practically makes him a relative—a famous cousin who has disgraced the family name.
Some readers may believe that my disgust with Woody is really just displaced jealousy over the fact that he got the girl I dreamed of having. But I know that Stacy was out of my league. After all, what chance would a scrawny, nerdy-looking guy like myself, have had with a girl like her? Then again…
Ben Krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the Upper East Side.
Trackback from your site.