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.”
December 17, 1991: With Farrow’s willing consent, Allen formally adopts Moses Amadeus Farrow and Dylan Farrow.
January 1992: Mia Farrow finds intimate Polaroids of her (adopted) daughter Soon-Yi Previn, age 20, under a box of tissues on the mantle in Allen’s Manhattan apartment. After confronting Soon-Yi and confirming the affair, she tells all but the youngest children what she has learned.
February 1992: Farrow gives Allen a Valentine, a family photograph with the children pierced by trussing skewers, and herself pierced by a steak knife wrapped in a photo of Soon-Yi.
Over the next several months, according to Dr. Coates’s testimony, Farrow’s rage intensifies while she and Allen privately try to come to some agreement about the future: “I felt it was a really dangerous situation.” Court records establish that Farrow did not conceal her rage from her children. Coates advised Allen not to visit Farrow and the children at her country house in Connecticut. “In my clinical evaluation, this was a place where protection was needed.” Allen does not heed the warning.
July 1992: Farrow learns that the affair between Woody and Soon-Yi has not ended.
While visiting in Connecticut to celebrate Dylan’s seventh birthday, Allen finds a note in Farrow’s handwriting on his bathroom door (more accurately, the door of a bathroom near the guest room where he slept):
Child Molester at
Molded then abused
one sister now focused on
August 1, 1992: In a call to Dr. Coates, Mia, distraught over the Soon-Yi affair, says Woody is “satanic and evil.” She begs the psychologist to “find a way to stop him.” In the same conversation she asks Dr. Coates, “Do you think I should marry him?” Coates’s testimony: “I said, ‘Are you serious?’” Coates added that Farrow “heard my reaction to it, and realized there was something absurd about it.”
August 4, 1992: Allen visits Farrow and the children in Connecticut. Farrow has gone shopping with a friend, Casey Pascal. Babysitters, a number of children, Allen and other staff are at the house. Farrow has instructed babysitters not to leave Dylan alone with Allen. When Farrow and Pascal return from shopping, no one tells Farrow that anything was amiss between Allen and Dylan. Later, Sophie Berge, the children’s French tutor, notices that Dylan has nothing on under her sundress; she tells Farrow, who asks Kristine Groteke to get Dylan some underpants. At night Pascal’s baby-sitter, Alison Stickland, tells Pascal that she is bothered by something she saw (that day): Allen in the TV room, according to court documents, “kneeling in front of Dylan with his head on her lap, facing her body. Dylan was sitting on the couch staring vacantly in the direction of a television set.”
August 5, 1992: Pascal calls Farrow to tell what the baby-sitter said. Later Farrow will testify that she asked Dylan “whether it was true that Daddy had his face in her lap yesterday.” Farrow will add: “Dylan said yes. And then she said that she didn’t like it one bit.”
Farrow calls Dr. Coates to say Dylan has begun to complain that Allen abused her. “I was puzzled, because in that conversation she was very calm,” Dr. Coates testified. “I did not understand her calm.”
After consulting a lawyer, Farrow takes the child to a pediatrician. “When they arrived home [from the doctor], Farrow said Dylan had been ‘afraid to talk to the doctor,’ ” a nanny at the time, Monica Thompson, will testify in a sworn deposition. Farrow will testify that the child gestured to her shoulder when asked by the doc to indicate her “private part” and later confided that she felt embarrassed.
Depending on accounts, over twenty-four hours or a matter of days, Farrow videotapes Dylan. “I was present when Ms. Farrow made a portion of that tape outdoors,” Thompson, who had not been at the house on August 4, testified in her deposition. “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.”
August 6, 1992: After months of legal negotiation, Allen and Farrow had been scheduled to sign an agreement for child support of Moses, Dylan and Satchel, reportedly requiring Allen to pay $6,000 a month and to have only supervised visitation rights. This does not take place.
Thompson again, under oath: “she took Dylan back to the doctor. When they arrived home, Farrow told me that ‘everything is OK now—everything is set.’” Farrow seemed “very happy and excited for herself.”
August 7, 1992: Kristi Groteke, Dylan’s baby-sitter, is “very upset,” according to Thompson’s deposition. “She told me that she felt guilty allowing Ms. Farrow to say those things about Mr. Allen. [Groteke] said the day Mr. Allen spent with the kids, she did not have Dylan out of her sight for longer than five minutes. She did not remember Dylan being without her underwear.”
At about this time Dr. Coates, who has informed the New York City Child Welfare Administration, tells Allen of the allegation. “He sat on the edge of his chair and his eyes were very wide,” Coates testified. “He said, ‘I’m completely flabbergasted. I’m completely flabbergasted.’ He said it over and over again.”
August 9, 1992: A physical exam of Dylan shows no evidence of sexual abuse.
August 1992: Allen severs his contract with Farrow to star in Manhattan Murder Mystery, which will begin shooting in the fall.
August 13, 1992: Allen files suit against Farrow for custody of their three children. In later interviews he will say he wanted to protect them from the home’s toxic atmosphere. Farrow’s supporters call the suit frivolous and an attempted distraction from the abuse charges.
In New York, lawyers for Allen and Farrow meet for what Alan Dershowitz, retained by Farrow, calls an “exploratory” session to mediate the dispute.
August 17, 1992: Allen publicly declares, “Regarding my love for Soon-Yi: It’s real and happily all true. She’s a lovely, intelligent, sensitive woman who has and continues to turn around my life in a wonderfully positive way.” Later he will admit he never really thought about the consequences of beginning their affair.
The same day Connecticut State Police say they are investigating a case involving him.
August 17, 18, 21, 1992: In Connecticut, Dylan becomes increasingly resistant to her therapist, Dr. Nancy Schultz. During the third session, she and Satchel put glue in Dr. Schultz’s hair, cut her dress and tell her to go away. Later in the custody trial Schultz will testify that she did not believe Dylan had been sexually abused.
August 18, 1992: Allen tells the press the allegation of sexual abuse is “an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation.” In Connecticut, one of Farrow’s nannies comments, “Miss Farrow does not want the case tried in the press.”
November 1992: Vanity Fair publishes a lengthy article titled “Mia’s Story,” by Maureen Orth, for which an extensive group of Farrow’s friends and family gave their cooperation. It presents Allen as a child molester and “a chilling figure of power” whom Farrow fears.
Summer 1992: In the midst of the presidential election season Representative Newt Gingrich tells a Republican audience, “Woody Allen is currently having non-incest with a non-daughter for whom he is a non-father because they have no concept of families…it’s a weird environment out there.”
November 22, 1992: Allen appears on 60 Minutes to defend himself against the molestation claim. He recounts a conversation with Farrow several weeks before the allegation was made in which, he says, she says, “I have something very nasty planned for you.”
January 25, 1993: Monica Thompson resigns as a nanny in the Farrow household, after being subpoenaed in the custody case.
February 2, 1993: The Los Angeles Times discloses Thompson’s depositions, filed with Allen’s attorneys. It reports, “The nanny said that on several occasions the actress ‘asked me if I would be “on her side.” Ms. Farrow has tried to get me to say that I would support her with these accusations.’” Thompson also said that soon after he heard about the allegation, “Moses came over to me and said that he believes that Ms. Farrow had made up the accusation that was being said by Dylan.”
An attorney for Farrow says Thompson has recanted and notes that Allen had paid the nanny more than $40,000 a year to look after his children. Thompson could not be reached for comment; in 2014, attorneys for Allen would not respond to questions about the case.
March 18, 1993: The Yale-New Haven Hospital team investigating the abuse allegation for the Connecticut State Police inform Farrow and Allen of its conclusion that Dylan was not molested.
March 19, 1993: The Allen vs. Farrow custody trial begins in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
March 23, 1993: The court hears the position taken by Moses in the custody dispute as enshrined in a letter he handed to Allen in 1992, after learning of his affair with Soon-Yi, which reads in part: “You can’t force me to live with you…. All you did is spoil the little ones, Dylan and Satchel…. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to have an affair with your son’s sister…. I don’t consider you my father anymore. It was a great feeling having a father, but you smashed that feeling and dream with a single act.”
March 25, 1993: Mia Farrow testifies about what Dylan told her happened at the Connecticut house on August 4, 1992: “She said he took her into the attic and that he touched her in certain places, that he inserted a finger partially.”
Describing the years before the allegation, she presents an image of Allen obsessed with the child, to disturbing effect. “Hide me! Hide me!” she says Dylan would frequently scream when Allen came to visit, and twice locked herself in the bathroom. About Allen’s behavior, Farrow says, “I thought it was excessive. I was uncomfortable all along.”
March 1993: Dr. Coates testifies that from his earliest years Satchel, with whom Allen was not reportedly obsessed, would aggressively resist Allen’s attentions. “Satchel would push him away, would not acknowledge him…. If he would try to help Satchel getting out of bed or going into bed, he [Satchel] would kick him, at times had scratched his face. They were in trouble.”
March 29, 1993: Dr. Coates testifies that after seeing Farrow’s 1992 Valentine she feared that Farrow might try to harm herself or Allen: “I understood from Mr. Allen that Miss Farrow had repeatedly called him and said that she thought he should be dead, that she wanted to kill him.”
Farrow earlier in the day concludes her three days of testimony. About the Valentine, she says: “It was not a threat, it was an attempt to depict to a man who didn’t know or didn’t care what he had done” [in embarking upon an intimate relationship with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi]. “He seemed to have no concept. The morality of the situation seemed to have totally eluded him. I wanted to depict the degree of pain he had inflicted on me and my entire family.”
April 2, 1993: Letty Aronson, Allen’s sister, testifies to an occasion, after the discovery of Woody’s relationship with Soon-Yi, in which Allen is greeted by 5-year-old Satchel saying, “My mommy says I can’t love you. My mommy says you’re bad.”
April 9, 1993: Babysitter Kristi Groteke testifies that on August 4, 1992, she lost track of Dylan and Allen for fifteen to twenty minutes. She says she did not inform Farrow of this until after Dylan had made the allegation of abuse. After the trial Groteke will author a nanny’s-eye-view tell-all with a writer for People.
Irwin Tenenbaum, a lawyer for Allen, testifies that on August 13, 1992, he was at the meeting in New York with Farrow’s lawyers who, he says, said “the charges could be made to go away” and “Dylan could not be available or not cooperate” in exchange for $7–8 million toward the children’s education and medical expenses and as additional compensation for Farrow’s film work. Tenenbaum testifies that at the meeting Farrow’s lawyer Dershowitz—who will later have a three-hour shouting match with Allen’s attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, in court and deny making a monetary offer—said, “We could do a down and dirty settlement for $5 million.”
April 20, 1993: A sworn statement by Dr. John M. Leventhal, whose Yale-New Haven Hospital team interviewed Dylan nine times, is entered into evidence in the custody trial in New York.
May 3, 1993: A transcript of Dr. Leventhal’s statement, redacted for sensitivity by both sides in the custody case, is made public. It describes inconsistencies in Dylan’s accounts: “Those were not minor inconsistencies. She told us initially that she hadn’t been touched in the vaginal area, and she then told us that she had, then she told us that she hadn’t.” In interviews, he testified, she had “a rehearsed quality,” and once said, “I like to cheat on my stories.”
“We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements that were made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination.” But, he stated, “We don’t have firm evidence that Miss Farrow coached or directed Dylan to say this.”
Leventhal noted one “very striking” consistency in Dylan’s accounts of the abuse: she connected it with “one, her father’s relationship with Soon-Yi, and two, the fact that it was her poor mother, her poor mother,” who had lost a career in Allen’s films.
June 7, 1993: State Supreme Court Justice Elliott Wilk awards sole custody of Moses, Dylan and Satchel to Farrow. His thirty-three-page decision denounces Allen as “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive”; attacks him for the relationship with Soon-Yi, which he denies is “a benign relationship between two consenting adults”; undermines the conclusion of the Yale–New Haven Hospital team; rejects the opinion of Drs. Coates and Schultz as potentially being colored by loyalty to Allen; and hews to Farrow’s accounts and witnesses. Although stating, “[W]e will probably never know what occurred on August 4, 1992,” he asserts that the testimony he’s found credible “prove[s] that Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.”
[Author’s note: Since this article was first published, Judge Wilk’s decision has been widely cited as validating the claims of sex abuse; it does not. Fulminations aside, Wilk ruled on custody: Farrow was a generally good mother, and Allen was a lousy father, who lacked “familiarity with the most basic details of [the children’s] day-to-day existence,” but who could begin having clinical visits with his daughter in six months, as he “may be able to serve a positive role in Dylan’s therapy.”]
Allen will later appeal the decision and lose. Farrow will sue to undo Allen’s adoption of Moses and Dylan but will not prevail. Soon-Yi and Allen will marry in 1997 and later adopt two girls. Moses will many years later reconcile with his father; Satchel (Ronan) will not. Over the course of her parents’ dispute, little Dylan will have been questioned and examined, both psychologically and physically, numerous times by doctors, police, investigators, therapists and her mother, as a result of her memories of abuse, which will remain with her forever.
September 24, 1993: Litchfield County State’s Attorney Frank Maco issues an extraordinary five-page decision announcing that although he has “probable cause” to prosecute Allen and personally “view[s] the Wilk decision as vindicating the child’s complaint and the corresponding activities of the mother to memorialize the complaint,” he is not pursuing prosecution, for the sake of the child. Commenting afterward, William Dow III, of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, says, “It leaves him [Allen] a convicted child molester without the benefit of a trial.”
October 7, 1993: New York State’s Department of Social Services finds in the case of Dylan Farrow that “no credible evidence was found that the child named in this report has been abused or maltreated.”
May 12, 1994: In a partial dissent of the majority’s decision upholding Judge Wilks’ ruling, Appellate Court Judge J. Carro argues that visitation rules imposed by the trial judge are unduly restrictive with respect to Satchel. Citing the testimony of two independent social workers employed to oversee visitation, he reports that they described
a kind of sequence that Mr. Allen might say, I love you as much as the river, and Satchel would say something to the effect that I love you as much as New York City. Then Mr. Allen might say, I love you as much as the stars, and Satchel would say, I love you as much as the universe. Sadly, there was also testimony from those witnesses that Satchel … ‘indicated to Mr. Allen that he was seeing a doctor that was going to help him not to see Mr. Allen anymore, and he indicated that he was supposed to be seeing this doctor perhaps eight or ten times, at the end of which he would no longer have to see Mr. Allen.’
UPDATE: As of March 27, 2020, this article has been updated with a note by the author. See above in brackets.