1977: Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, then married though soon to split, adopt a girl from South Korea named Soon-Yi. Her age is uncertain, estimated at either 5 or 7; the family pegs her birthdate at October 8, 1972. She is the third of eleven children Farrow will adopt, mostly from abroad, over the course of her life.
In order to adopt Soon-Yi, Farrow must challenge federal law, which at the time allowed only two visas per family for purposes of international adoption. Farrow’s memoir offers a concise illustration of the workings of class privilege in America: “Forget it, the [adoption] agency told us: to change the law would require an act of Congress. But we already had been sent a blurry black-and-white two-by-two-inch head shot of a child.… This was my daughter…. My old friends, Bill and Rose Styron, sought the help of Massachusetts Congressman Michael Harrington, and he agreed to sponsor the bill that was necessary…. Finally, in 1977, Congress passed the bill. Soon-Yi could come home.”
The change in the law opens the way for a series of laws and conventions that by the 1990s would establish international adoption as a mass phenomenon in the US, with attendant passionate advocacy and critique.
1980: Farrow, now divorced from Previn, adopts Moses Amadeus Farrow, then 2 years old, from South Korea. A few months later she meets Woody Allen. They never marry but embark on an unconventional relationship that lasts for twelve years, while he lives on New York’s Fifth Avenue and she lives across the park on Central Park West with the children. Until infants arrive years later, according to a court, “He had no involvement with them [the children] and no interest in them.”
July 11, 1985: Mia Farrow adopts a newborn girl in America whom she names Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow.
December 19, 1987: Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow, then presumed to be the son of Woody Allen, is born to Mia Farrow.
Six and a half years later a court in a custody dispute will find that “Mr. Allen showed little or no interest in the pregnancy. It is not disputed that Ms. Farrow began to withdraw from Mr. Allen during the pregnancy and that afterwards she did not wish Satchel to become attached to Mr. Allen.” Each parent will claim the other wanted to monopolize a child. Again the court: “The record demonstrates that Ms. Farrow expressed concern to Allen about his relationship with Dylan, and that Allen expressed his concern to Ms. Farrow about her relationship with Satchel.”
1990: Farrow and Allen engage Dr. Susan Coates, a child psychologist in New York, who will later testify in a custody hearing that Satchel (now Ronan) was alienated from Allen and that the parents’ relationship was “in considerable trouble.” Coates also evaluates Dylan, whom she finds to be “taken over by fantasy” when asked to describe even a tree. Coates counsels Allen about his relative indifference to Satchel as compared with Dylan, 5, upon whom he lavishes attention. Of the latter relationship, Coates will testify, “I did not see it as sexual, but I saw it as inappropriately intense because it excluded everybody else, and it placed a demand on a child for a kind of acknowledgment that I felt should not be placed on a child.”