In the 1920’s, actor/comedian Fatty Arbuckle was arrested on charges stemming from the death of a young woman who had spent the night in the company of Arbuckle. He was tried three times for the crimes – the first two trials ended in hung juries and the third jury handed down an acquittal along with a written apology for the ordeal the actor had been subjected to. None of that mattered though, because the damage to Arbuckle’s career and reputation had already been done. Most of Hollywood, his fellow actors, along with studio heads had determined that Arbuckle’s unsavory lifestyle and predilection for debauchery made him persona non grata in a town not normally known for being the picture of gentility and decorum. They set about to erase every vestige of his career, even destroying copies of every movie he made. He tried to make a comeback under an assumed name, but little came of that. In the end, the only one who remained loyal to him was Buster Keaton, who set aside a portion of his earnings to support Arbuckle until he died.
In the 90 years since Arbuckle was served up as a cautionary tale, Hollywood has evolved into a place where its stars are allowed to carry on with behaviors that should leave them out in the cold. Instead, with maybe the exception of Mel Gibson, studios and stars tend to look the other way or gloss over some very bad behaviors. If you’re really exceptional and they start calling you things like “genius”, all too often you’re rewarded, over and over. Movie and TV roles, money and accolades are heaped on you, no matter what kind of person you really are.
The latest story involving Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Dylan Farrow is a perfect example of just how Hollywood circles its wagons for the sake of one of their own. The first in the latest of volleys came from a couple of tweets during the Golden Globe Awards. As Diane Keaton gave a rather incoherent and embarrassing shout out to her favorite director in honor of his Lifetime Achievement Award, Mia Farrow tweeted that she was going to change the channel and have some ice cream. No sooner had she sent out her tweet, her son, Ronan delivered his own, more to the point tweet, asking if anyone at the awards show had mentioned Woody’s molestation of his sister, Dylan when she was 7 years old. I happened to be on Twitter at the time, and it made me catch my breath. It was bold and stunning, all at the same time.
Just this past week, Dylan wrote a letter about the things Woody had allegedly done to her when she was just a little girl. She also asked certain actors and actresses if they were willing to overlook her personal pain and continue to work the director. Since her letter first appeared, the lines have been drawn. Allen’s attorneys have responded by saying that this is just another attempt by Mia Farrow to exact some sort of retribution for the dissolution of their marriage and his subsequent marriage to his then- step-daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. There is a sense by some of Allen’s supporters that its no more than a publicity stunt designed to ruin Allen’s chances for another Oscar for his work on “Blue Jasmine”, starring Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin (both were specifically mentioned in her letter and both have commented since).
I went back and read two articles written by Maureen Orth for Vanity Fair which addressed the molestation accusations. The first was written in November, 1992*, when the matter first came to light and before there had been a decision by the authorities regarding the claims. The second appeared only this past November**, and the two stories are compelling on many levels. What struck me, when I read them back to back, was the consistency in Dylan’s version of things. Because of that, and a very simple detail she gives, I find her to be very believable. The detail I’m referring to is when she said that while Allen was molesting her in a small attic off of a closet, she would stare at a train set as a way to block out what was being done to her. This has such a ring of truth to me, for it’s often the case that any victim of a crime will work to dissociate themselves from the act by focusing on some object.
It’s a tough thing to prove when you’re talking about child molestation. We’ve seen cases where children have been coached into making wildly false claims, and ruining innocent people in the process. I’m just not seeing that in this case, though. Mia Farrow may have her own issues, and hold Woody Allen responsible for a bunch of them, but I just can’t see her using one of her children as a weapon in her battle with her ex. Add to that the fact that others noticed some very strange things about Allen every time he was in Dylan’s presence. If you take the time to read the article from 1992, it starts out by stating that Mia tried to endure that Woody was never to be left alone with Dylan for any length of time. Household help and Mia’s own mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, saw and commented on things that leave you wondering and shaking your head.
As it turns out, the State of Connecticut declined to prosecute Allen on the charges, finding that there was inadequate proof that Dylan had been molested. Experts from Yale-New Haven Hosptial and investigators from the State Police decided to close the case and the judge found that the evidence was inconclusive. That doesn’t mean that nothing happened. Former Connecticut State’s Attorney, Frank Maco, did find probable cause to arrest Allen, but in his statement from 1993, said that he decided that it was in Dylan’s best interest not to go to trial. He also said that Mia Farrow supported his decision at the time.
So, why bring this all up now? The notion that it’s just a ploy to do damage at this years Oscars doesn’t seem to hold water. That could have been done, and done on a more permanent basis, by allowing a trial. Certainly Allen would have suffered much more harm to his career and reputation if Dylan’s claims had been made in a courtroom, before a jury. Dylan has changed her name and moved to Florida, seemingly living a life out of the public eye. Maybe all she wants is for Allen to tell the truth – not to the world, but to her and her family. Maybe she just wants some sort of affirmation that she’s not some puppet, manipulated by her mother. Maybe she just wants someone to believe her so that all of the other kids who went through or are going through the same thing won’t be dismissed and ignored. That seems like a good enough reason to me. In the meantime, maybe Hollywood should take a good long look at who they idolize and lavish with praise. Some awful things happen behind closed doors, even at the hands of geniuses.