Woody Allen

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ALLEN, Woody

Nationality: American. Born: Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn, New York, 1 December 1935. Education: Attended Midwood High School, Brooklyn; New York University, 1953; City College (now City College of the City University of New York), 1953. Family: Married 1) Harlene Rosen, 1954 (divorced); 2) Louise Lasser, 1966 (divorced); 3) Soon-Yi Previn, 1997; one daughter, Bechet Dumaine; also maintained a thirteen-year relationship with actress Mia Farrow, 1979–92; one son, Satchel, and two adopted children, one son, Moses, and one daughter, Dylan). Career: Began writing jokes for columnists and television celebrities while still in high school; joined staff of National Broadcasting Company, 1952, writing for such television comedy stars as Sid Caesar, Herb Shriner, Buddy Hackett, Art Carney, Carol Channing, and Jack Paar; also wrote for The Tonight Show and The Garry Moore Show; began performing as stand-up comedian on television and in nightclubs, 1961; hired by producer Charles Feldman to write What's New, Pussycat?, 1964; production of his play Don't Drink the Water opened on Broadway, 1966; wrote and starred in Broadway run of Play It Again, Sam, 1969–70 (filmed 1972); began collaboration with writer Marshall Brickman, 1976; wrote play The Floating Light Bulb, produced at Lincoln Center, New York, 1981. Awards: Sylvania Award, 1957, for script of The Sid Caesar Show; Academy Awards (Oscars) from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (co-recipient), New York Film Critics Circle Award, and National Society of Film Critics Award, all 1977, all for Annie Hall; Britis Academy Award and New York Film Critics Award, 1979, for Manhattan; Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, New York Film Critics Award, and Los Angeles Film Critics Award, all 1986, all for Hannah and Her Sisters.Agent : Rollins and Joffe, 130 W. 57th Street, New York, NY 10009, U.S.A. Address: 930 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10021, U.S.A.

Films as Director, Scriptwriter, and Actor:


Take the Money and Run


Bananas (co-sc)


Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask




Love and Death


Annie Hall (co-sc)


Interiors (d, sc only)


Manhattan (co-sc)


Stardust Memories


A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy




Broadway Danny Rose


The Purple Rose of Cairo (d, sc only)


Hannah and Her Sisters


Radio Days (role as narrator)


September (d, sc only); Another Woman (d, sc only)


Crimes and Misdemeanors; "Oedipus Wrecks" episode in New York Stories


Alice (d, sc only)


Shadows and Fog; Husbands and Wives


Manhattan Murder Mystery


Bullets over Broadway (d, co-sc only); Don't Drink the Water (for TV)


Mighty Aphrodite


Everyone Says I Love You


Deconstructing Harry




Sweet and Lowdown


Small Time Crooks

Other Films:


What's New, Pussycat? (sc, role)


What's up, Tiger Lily? (co-sc, assoc pr, role as host/narrator);Don't Drink the Water (play basis)


Casino Royale (Huston and others) (role)


Play It Again, Sam (Ross) (sc, role)


The Front (Ritt) (role)


King Lear (Godard) (role)


Scenes from a Mall (Mazursky) (role)


Liv Ullmann scener fra et liv (Hambro) (narrator); Cannesyles 400 coups (Nadeau—for TV) (as himself); Just Shoot Me(for TV) (role)


Waiting for Woody (as himself); The Imposters (role); AntzDarnell, Guterman) (role); Wild Man Blues (Kopple) (as himself)


Picking up the Pieces (Arau) (role); Company Man (Askin,McGrath) (role); Ljuset håller mig sällskap (Light Keeps Me Company) (Nykvist) (role)


By ALLEN: books—

Don't Drink the Water (play), 1967.

Play It Again, Sam (play), 1969.

Getting Even, New York, 1971.

Death: A Comedy in One Act and God: A Comedy in One Act (plays), 1975.

Without Feathers, New York, 1975.

Side Effects, New York, 1980.

The Floating Lightbulb (play), New York, 1982.

Four Films of Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan, Stardust Memories), New York, 1982.

Hannah and Her Sisters, New York, 1987.

Three Films of Woody Allen (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, ThePurple Rose of Cairo), New York, 1987.

The Complete Prose of Woody Allen (contains Getting Even, WithoutFeathers, and Side Effects), New York, 1992.

The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader, edited by Linda Sunshine, New York, 1993.

Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman, London, 1994.

By ALLEN: articles—

"Woody Allen Interview," with Robert Mundy and Stephen Mamber, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Winter 1972/73.

"The Art of Comedy: Woody Allen and Sleeper," interview with J. Trotsky, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), Summer 1974.

"A Conversation with the Real Woody Allen (or Someone Just like Him)," with K. Kelley, in Rolling Stone (New York), 1 July 1976.

"Woody Allen Is Feeling Better," interview with B. Drew, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1977.

"Comedy Directors: Interviews with Woody Allen," with M. Karman, in Millimeter (New York), October 1977.

"Scenes from a Mind," interview with I. Halberstadt, in Take One (Montreal), November 1978.

"Vous avez dit Woody?," interview with Robert Benayoun, in Positif (Paris), May 1984.

"The Kobal Tapes: Woody Allen," interview with John Kobal, in Films and Filming (London), December 1985.

"Fears of a Clown," an interview with Tom Shales, and "Killing Joke," an interview with Roger Ebert, in Time Out (London), 1 November 1989.

Interview with Silvio Bizio, in Empire (London), August 1990.

"The Heart Wants What It Wants," an interview with Walter Isaacson, in Time, 31 August 1992.

"Unhappily Ever After," an interview with J. Adler and others, in Newsweek, 31 August 1992.

Interview with S. Bjorkman, in Cahiers du Cinema (Paris), vol. 87, 1992.

Interview with A. DeCurtis, in Rolling Stone, 16 September 1993.

"Rationality and the Fear of Death," in The Metaphysics of Death, edited by John Martin Fischer, 1993.

Interview with Studs Terkel, in Four Decades with Studs Terkel, audiocassette collection of interviews with various figures (recorded between 1955 and 1989), HighBridge Company, 1993.

"Woody Allen in Exile" (also cited as "'So, You're the Great Woody Allen?' A Man on the Street Asked Him"), an interview with Bill Zehme, in Esquire (New York), October 1994.

"Biting the Bullets," interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 5 April 1995.

"Play It Again, Man," interview with Linton Chiswick, in Time Out (London), 13 March 1996.

"Bullets over Broadway Danny Rose of Cairo: The Continuous Career of Woody Allen," an interview with Tomm Carroll, in DGA (Los Angeles), May-June 1996.

Interview with Olivier De Bruyn, in Positif (Paris), February 1999.

By ALLEN: television interviews—

Interview with Morley Safer, broadcast on the 60 Minutes television program, Columbia Broadcasting System, 13 December 1987.

Interview with Steve Croft, broadcast on the 60 Minutes television program, Columbia Broadcasting System, 22 November 1992.

Interview with Melvyn Bragg, broadcast on The South Bank Show, London, 16 January 1994.

"Woody!," an interview with Bob Costas, broadcast in two segments on the Dateline NBC television program, National Broadcasting Company, 29 and 30 November 1994.

On ALLEN: books—

Lax, Eric, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy, New York, 1975.

Yacowar, Maurice, Loser Take All: The Comic Art of Woody Allen, Oxford, 1979; expanded edition, 1991.

Jacobs, Diane, . . . But We Need the Eggs: The Magic of Woody Allen, New York, 1982.

Brode, Douglas, Woody Allen: His Films and Career, London, 1985.

Benayoun, Robert, Woody Allen: Beyond Words, London, 1987; as The Films of Woody Allen, New York, 1987.

Bendazzi, Giannalberto, The Films of Woody Allen, Florence, 1987.

de Navacelle, Thierry, Woody Allen on Location, London, 1987.

Pogel, Nancy, Woody Allen, Boston 1987.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Woody Allen, London, 1987.

Altman, Mark A., Woody Allen Encyclopedia: Almost EverythingYou Wanted to Know about the Woodster but Were Afraid to Ask, Pioneer Books, 1990.

McCann, Graham, Woody Allen: New Yorker, New York, 1990.

Hirsch, Foster, Love, Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life: The Filmsof Woody Allen, revised and updated, Limelight, 1991.

Lax, Eric, Woody Allen: A Biography, London, 1991.

Weimann, Frank, Everything You Always Wanted to Know aboutWoody Allen, New York, 1991.

Wernblad, Annette, Brooklyn Is Not Expanding: Woody Allen'sComic Universe, Rutherford, New Jersey, 1992.

Carroll, Tim, Woody and His Women, London, 1993.

Girgus, Sam B., The Films of Woody Allen, Cambridge, 1993.

Groteke, Kristi, Woody and Mia: The Nanny's Tale, London, 1994.

Spignesi, Stephen, The Woody Allen Companion, London, 1994.

Blake, Richard A., Woody Allen: Profane and Sacred, Lanham, 1995.

Hamill, Brian, Woody Allen at Work: The Photographs of BrianHamill, New York, 1995.

Lee, Sander H., Woody Allen's Angst: Philosophical Commentarieson His Serious Films, Jefferson, 1996.

Curry, Renee R., ed. Perspectives on Woody Allen, New York, 1996.

Fox, Julian, Woody: Movies from Manhattan, New York, 1997.

Nichols, Mary P., Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love, and Life in theFilms of Woody Allen, Lanham, Maryland, 1998.

Baxter, John, Woody Allen: A Biography, New York, 1999.

Meade, Marion, The Unruly Life of Woody Allen: A Biography, Boston, 2000.

On ALLEN: articles—

"Woody, Woody Everywhere," in Time (New York), 14 April 1967.

"Woody Allen Issue," of Cinema (Beverly Hills), Winter 1972/73.

Wasserman, Harry, "Woody Allen: Stumbling through the Looking Glass," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison), Winter 1972/73.

Maltin, Leonard, "Take Woody Allen—Please!," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1974.

Remond, A., "Annie Hall," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 December 1977.

Yacowar, Maurice, "Forms of Coherence in the Woody Allen Comedies," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 2, 1979.

Canby, Vincent, "Film View: Notes on Woody Allen and American Comedy," in New York Times, 13 May 1979.

Dempsey, M., "The Autobiography of Woody Allen," in FilmComment (New York), May/June 1979.

Teitelbaum, D., "Producing Woody: An Interview with Charles H. Joffe," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), April/May 1980.

Combs, Richard, "Chameleon Days: Reflections on Non-Being," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1983.

Lahr, John, in Automatic Vaudeville: Essays on Star Turns, New York, 1984.

Liebman, R.L., "Rabbis or Rakes, Schlemiels or Supermen? Jewish Identity in Charles Chaplin, Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), July 1984.

Caryn James, "Auteur! Auteur! The Creative Mind of Woody Allen," in New York Times Magazine, 19 January 1986.

"Woody Allen Section," of Film Comment (New York), May-June 1986.

Combs, Richard, "A Trajectory Built for Two," in Monthly FilmBulletin (London), July 1986.

Morris, Christopher, "Woody Allen's Comic Irony," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 15, no. 3, 1987.

Yacowar, Maurice, "Beyond Parody: Woody Allen in the Eighties," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Winter 1987.

Dunne, Michael, "Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and the Tradition of Metafiction," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Fall 1987.

Preussner, Arnold W., "Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and the Genres of Comedy," and Paul Salmon and Helen Bragg, "Woody Allen's Economy of Means: An Introduction to Hannahand Her Sisters," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 16, no. 1, 1988.

"Woody Allen," in Film Dope (London), March 1988.

Downing, Crystal, "Broadway Roses: Woody Allen's Romantic Inheritance," and Ronald D. LeBlanc, "Love and Death and Food: Woody Allen's Comic Use of Gastronomy," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 17, no. 1, 1989.

Girlanda, E., and A. Tella, "Allen: Manhattan Transfer," in CastotoCinema, July/August 1990.

Comuzio, E., "Alice," in Cinema Forum, vol. 31, 1991.

Green, D., "The Comedian's Dilemma: Woody Allen's 'Serious' Comedy," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2, 1991.

Tutt, R., "Truth, Beauty, and Travesty: Woody Allen's Well-wrought Run," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2, 1991.

Welsh, J., "Allen Stewart Konigsberg Becomes Woody Allen: A Comic Transformation," in Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2, 1991.

Quart, L., "Woody Allen's New York," in Cineaste, vol. 19, no. 2, 1992.

Mitchell, Sean, "The Clown Who Would Be Chekhov," in TheGuardian (U.K.), 23 March 1992.

Rockwell, John, "Woody Allen: France's Monsieur Right," in NewYork Times, 5 April 1992.

Corliss, Richard, "Scenes from a Breakup," in Time, 31 August 1992.

Cagle, Jess, "Love and Fog," in Entertainment Weekly, 18 September 1992.

Hoban, Phoebe, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Woody and Mia but Were Afraid to Ask," in New York, 21 September 1992.

Johnstone, Iain, "Moving Pictures Drawn from Life," in The SundayTimes (London), 25 October 1992.

Romney, J. "Husbands and Wives," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1992.

Perez-Pena, R., "Woody Allen Tells of Affair as Custody Battle Begins," in New York Times, 20 March 1993.

Marks, P., "Allen Loses to Farrow in Bitter Custody Battle," in NewYork Times, 8 June 1993.

Baumgarten, Murray, "Film and the Flattening of American Jewish Fiction: Bernard Malamud, Woody Allen, and Spike Lee in the City," in Contemporary Literature, Fall 1993.

Desser, David, "Woody Allen: The Schlemiel as Modern Philosopher," in American-Jewish Filmmakers: Traditions and Trends, University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Troncale, J. C., "Illusion and Reality in Woody Allen's Double Film of The Purple Rose of Cairo," in Proceedings of the Conferenceon Film and American Culture, edited by Joel Schwartz, College of William and Mary, 1994.

Romney, Jonathan, "Shelter from the Storm," in Sight and Sound (London), February 1994.

Davis, Robert, "A Stand-up Guy Sits Down: Woody Allen's Prose," in Short Story, Fall 1994.

McGrath, Douglas, "If You Knew Woody like I Knew Woody," in New York, 17 October 1994.

Deleyto, Celestino, "The Narrator and the Narrative: The Evolution of Woody Allen's Films," in Film Criticism (Meadville), Winter 1994–1995.

Lahr, John, "The Imperfectionist," in New Yorker, 9 December 1996.

Romney, Jonathan, "Scuzzballs like Us," in Sight and Sound (London), April 1998.

On ALLEN: film—

Woody Allen: An American Comedy (Harold Mantell), 1978.

* * *

Woody Allen's roots in American popular culture are broad, laced with a variety of European literary and cinematic influences, some of them (Ingmar Bergman and Dostoevsky, for example) paid explicit homage within his films, others more subtly woven into the fabric of his work from a wide range of earlier comic traditions. Allen's genuinely original voice in the cinema recalls writer-directors like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Preston Sturges, who dissect their portions of the American landscape primarily through comedy. In his creative virtuosity Allen also resembles Orson Welles, whose visual and verbal wit, though contained in seemingly non-comic genres, in fact exposes the American character to satirical scrutiny. Allen's landscape, though, is particular, being that of Manhattan, its generally middle-class inhabitants and their culture and neuroses, of which he is the cinema's great chronicler, much as Martin Scorsese is that of New York City's underbelly.

More often than not, Allen has appeared in his own films, resembling the great silent-screen clowns who created, then developed, an ongoing screen presence. However, Allen's film persona depends upon heard dialogue and especially thrives as an updated, urbanely hip, explicitly Jewish amalgam of personality traits and delivery methods associated with comic artists who reached their pinnacle in radio and film in the 1930s and 1940s. The key figures Allen plays in his own films puncture the dangerous absurdities of their universe and guard themselves against them by maintaining a cynical, even misogynistic, verbal offense in the manner of Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields, alternated with incessant displays of self-deprecation akin to the cowardly, unhandsome persona established by Bob Hope in, for example, his Road series.

Allen's early films emerge logically from the sharp, pointedly exaggerated jokes and sketches he first wrote for others, then later delivered himself as a stand-up comic in clubs and on television. As with the early films of Buster Keaton, most of Allen's early works depend on explicit parody of recognizable genres. Even the films of his pre-Annie Hall period, which do not formally rely upon a particular genre, incorporate references to various films and directors as commentary on the specific targets of social, political, or literary satire: political turbulence of the 1960s via television news coverage in Bananas; the pursuit by intellectuals of large religious and philosophical questions via the methods of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in Love and Death; American sexual repression via the self-discovery guarantees offered by sex manuals in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex. All these issues reappear in Allen's later, increasingly mature work, repeatedly revealing the anomaly of comedy that is cerebral in nature, dependent even in its occasional sophomoric moments upon an educated audience that responds to his brand of self-reflexive, literary, political, and sexual humor. But Allen distrusts and satirizes formal education and institutionalized discourse which, in his films, lead repeatedly to humorless intellectual preening. "Those who can't do, teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym," declares Alvy Singer in Annie Hall. No character in that film is treated with greater disdain than the Columbia professor who smugly pontificates on Fellini while standing in line waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity. Allen inflicts swift, cinematically appropriate justice. In Manhattan, Yale, a university professor of English, bears the brunt of Allen's moral condemnation as a self-rationalizing cheat who is far "too easy" on himself.

In Annie Hall, his Oscar-winning breakthrough film, Allen the writer (with Marshall Brickman) recapitulates and expands on his emerging topics but removes them from the highly exaggerated apparatus of his earlier parodies. Alvy Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton in her most important of several roles for Allen) enact an urban-neurotic variation on the mismatched lovers of screwball comedy, set against a realistic New York City mise-en-scène but slanted away from farce and toward character analysis.

Annie Hall makes indelible the Woody Allen onscreen persona—a figure somehow involved in show business or the arts and obsessive about women, his parents, his childhood, his values, his terror of illness and death; perpetually and hilariously taking the mental temperature of himself and everyone around him. Part whiner, part nebbish, part hypochondriac, this figure is also brilliantly astute and consciously funny, miraculously irresistible to women—for a while—particularly (as in Annie Hall and Manhattan) when he can serve as their teacher. This developing figure in Allen's work is both comic victim and witty victimizer, a moral voice in an amoral age who repeatedly discovers that the only true gods in a godless universe are cultural and artistic—movies, music, art, architecture—a perception pleasurably reinforced visually and aurally throughout his best films. With rare exceptions—Hannah is a notable one—this figure at the film's fadeout appears destined to remain alone, enabling him, by implication, to continue functioning as a sardonically detached observer of human imperfection, including his own. In Annie Hall, this characterization, despite its suffusion in angst, remains purely comic but Allen becomes progressively darker—and harder on himself—as variants of this figure emerge in the later films.

Comedy, even comedy that aims for the laughter of recognition based on credibility of character and situation, rests heavily on exaggeration. In Zelig, the tallest of Woody Allen's cinematic tall tales, the central figure is a human chameleon who satisfies his overwhelming desire for conformity by physically transforming himself into the people he meets. Zelig's bizarre behavior is made visually believable by stunning shots that appear to place the character of Leonard Zelig (Allen) alongside famous historical figures within actual newsreel footage of the 1920s and 1930s.

Shot in Panavision and velvety black-and-white, and featuring a Gershwin score dominated by "Rhapsody in Blue," Manhattan reiterates key concerns of Annie Hall but enlarges the circle of participants in a sexual la ronde that increases Allen's ambivalence toward the moral terrain occupied by his characters—especially by Ike Davis (Allen), a forty-two-year-old man justifying a relationship with a seventeen-year-old girl (Mariel Hemingway). By film's end she has become an eighteen-year-old woman who has outgrown him, just as Annie Hall outgrew Alvy Singer. The film (like Hannah and Her Sisters later) is, above all, a celebration of New York City, which Ike, like Allen, "idolize[s] all out of proportion."

In the Pirandellian The Purple Rose of Cairo, the fourth Allen film to star Mia Farrow, a character in a black-and-white film-within-thefilm leaps literally out of the frame into the heroine's local movie theatre. Here film itself—in this case the movies of the 1930s—both distorts reality by setting dangerously high expectations, and makes it more bearable by permitting Cecilia, Allen's heroine, to escape from her dismal Depression existence. Like Manhattan before it, and Hannah and Her Sisters and Radio Days after it,The Purple Rose of Cairo examines the healing power of popular art.

Arguably Allen's finest film to date, Hannah and Her Sisters shifts his own figure further away from the center of the story than he had ever been before, treating himself as one of nine prominent characters in the action. Allen's screenplay weaves an ingenious tapestry around three sisters, their parents, assorted mates, lovers, and friends (including Allen as Hannah's ex-husband Mickey Sachs). A Chekhovian exploration of the upper-middle-class world of a group of New Yorkers a decade after Annie Hall, Hannah is deliberately episodic in structure, its sequences separated by Brechtian title cards that suggest the thematic elements of each succeeding segment. Yet it is an extraordinarily seamless film, unified by the family at its center; three Thanksgiving dinner scenes at key intervals; an exquisite color celebration of an idyllic New York City; and music by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and Puccini (among others) that italicizes the genuinely romantic nature of the film's tone. The most optimistic of Allen's major films, Hannah restores its inhabitants to a world of pure comedy, their futures epitomized by the fate of Mickey Sachs. For once, the Allen figure is a man who will live happily ever after, a man formerly sterile, now apparently fertile, as is comedy's magical way.

Arguably his most morally provocative and ambiguous film, Crimes and Misdemeanors further marginalizes—and significantly darkens—the figure Woody Allen invites audiences to confuse with his offscreen self. The self-reflexive plight of filmmaker Cliff Stern (Allen) alternates with the central dilemma confronted by ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a medical pillar of society who bears primary, if indirect, responsibility for the murder of his mistress (Anjelica Huston). Religious and philosophical issues present in Allen's films since Love and Death achieve a new and serious resonance, particularly through the additional presence of a faith-retaining rabbi gradually (in one of numerous Oedipal references in Allen's work) losing his sight, and a Holocaust survivor-philosopher who preaches the gospel of endurance—then commits suicide by (as his note prosaically puts it) "going out the window." In its pessimism, diametrically opposed to the joyous Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors posits a universe utterly and disturbingly devoid of poetic justice or moral certainty. The picture's genuinely comic sequences, usually involving Cliff and Alan Alda as his fatuous producer brother-in-law ("Comedy is tragedy plus time!") do not contradict the fact that it is Allen's most somber major film, a comedy-melodrama that in its final sequence crosses the brink to the level of domestic tragedy. Here, the Allen figure is not only alone, as he has been in the past, but alone and in despair. In entirely contrasting visual ways, Alice and Shadows and Fog exhibit immediately recognizable Allen concerns in highly original fashion. A glossy, airy, gently satiric modern fairy tale, Alice implicitly functions as Allen's most open love letter to Mia Farrow. Her idealized title character searches for meaning in a yuppified New York City. Eventually, she finds it by leaving her husband, meeting Mother Theresa, and, especially, by discovering that her two children offer her the only genuine vehicle for romance in this romantic comedy manqué. The film's final shot displays a glowing Alice joyfully pushing them on playground swings as two former women friends, in voice-over dialogue, bemoan her self-selected maidless and nannyless condition, one which the film clearly intends us to embrace.

In Shadows and Fog, Allen employs a specific cinematic genre more directly than at any time since the 1970s. His homage to German Expressionism, Shadows and Fog is shot in black and white in a manner deliberately reminiscent of the films of Pabst, Lang, and Murnau. That visual style and the placement at the film's center of a distinctly Kafkaesque hero (played by Allen) combine to make Shadows and Fog Allen's most overtly "European" and wryly metaphysical film since Interiors fourteen years earlier. Not surprisingly, Shadows and Fog was greeted by critics much more favorably in Europe than in the United States, but left audiences on both continents less than satisfied.

As Chekhov's forgiving spirit energizes the comic tone of Hannah and Her Sisters, so the playwright August Strindberg's hostility controls the dark marital terrain of Husbands and Wives. Strindbergian gender battles frequently appear in earlier Allen films, but they are more typically rescued back from the precipice by comedy. Allen's partial attempt to attribute comic closure to Husbands and Wives pleases but inadequately convinces. While the film (which might have been more accurately titled Husbands, Wives, and Lovers) is often extremely funny, its portrait of two deteriorating marriages is as corrosive as anything in the Allen canon. Husbands and Wives contains other elements long present in Allen's films: multiple story-lines, a deliberately episodic structure covering a period of about a year, and the involvement of a central character, Gabe Roth (played by Allen), with a woman (Juliette Lewis) young enough to be his daughter. Unlike Ike Davis's relationship with Tracy in Manhattan, however, this one is consummated—and concluded—with only a kiss.

Despite the presence of familiar material, Husbands and Wives shows Allen continuing to break new ground, particularly in the film's technical virtuosity. The frequent use of a hand-held camera reinforces the neurotic, darting, unpredictable behavior of key characters. Moving beyond his use of title cards to provide Brechtian distancing in Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen here employs a documentary technique to punctuate the main action of the film. The central characters and a minor one (the ex-husband of Judy Roth, the woman played by Mia Farrow) are individually interviewed by an off-screen male voice, which appears to function simultaneously as documentary recorder of their woeful tales and as therapist to their psyches. These sequences are inserted periodically throughout the film, as the interviewees speak directly to the camera—and therefore to us, thus forcing the audience to participate in the filmmakerinterviewer's role as therapist.

Husbands and Wives deserves a place alongside Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors as representing Allen's most textured and mature work to date. But the film's visual and thematic pleasures have been obscured by audience desire to see in Husbands and Wives the spectacle of art imitating life with a vengeance; and, in fact, Husbands and Wives does contain uncanny links to the Allen-Farrow breakup even though the film was completed before their relationship came to a dramatic and controversial end, attended by a blaze of publicity that further alienated those audiences not addicted to Allen and narrowed his already selective audience base in the United States.

The type of ethical dilemma which occupies such a central place in the Allen canon (and which usually finds its most articulate definition in the mouths of characters played by Allen himself) appeared to have tumbled out of an Allen movie and onto worldwide front pages. ("Life doesn't imitate art; it imitates bad television," says Allen's Gabe Roth in Husbands and Wives.) In 1992, shortly before the release of Husbands and Wives, Allen's romantic relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow's twenty-one-year-old adopted daughter, was discovered by her mother, who made the fact public. Furious and ugly charges and countercharges ensued, resulting in Allen's loss of custody of his three children a year later, while the legal wrangling continued unabated for some considerable time. It is not too fanciful to suggest that Allen's personal crisis accounted for what, on the one hand, has appeared to be a search for new directions—imaginative, even experimental—and on the other hand, a loss of focus and a diminished coherency of goal and vision.

Nonetheless, in the eight-year period following the release of Husbands and Wives, Allen, undaunted by personal tragedy and adverse publicity, continued to work steadily, but the collected films of this period are less easy to pigeon-hole or analyze and have mostly been something of a disappointment to fans and a puzzlement to several critics. He reverted firmly to his distinctive comic universe with Don't Drink the Water, adapted from his early Broadway play and first shown in America on network television; Manhattan Murder Mystery, a comedy-mystery in the manner of The Thin Man films and the Mr. and Mrs. North radio and television series, with Diane Keaton (replacing Mia Farrow, who was originally scheduled to play Allen's wife) and Alan Alda; the breathtakingly cruel and brilliantly funny Bullets over Broadway, set in the 1920s/1930s and satirizing the marriage of theater and the underworld that was a staple of so many late 1920s and early 1930s films. At the center is a playwright (John Cusack) grappling with his first Broadway production and becoming involved with a flamboyantly fey actress (Dianne Wiest). The character could be considered as an emblem for a younger Allen, but the film as a whole is richly comical and sad in its behind-the-scenes portrait of Broadway life and work, as well as awesome in its sense of period and its gentle parody of theatrical and underworld stereotypes. Mighty Aphrodite again tempts audiences to see elements of Allen's life reflected in the central plot issue of child adoption, but, with its parodies of Greek tragedy and its broadly satiric array of characters, the film rarely strays from its identification as genuine Allen comedy. These 1990s films reveal yet again why so many actors want to work with Allen: Dianne Wiest won her second supporting actress Oscar for her role in an Allen film for Bullets over Broadway (her first was for Hannah); and Mira Sorvino won the same award for Mighty Aphrodite the following year.

But, while Allen's primary response to the tarnish on his personal reputation has been to keep making films, it might be suggested that he now needs to pause for thought and regain some perspective as to the motive force behind them. The four since Mighty Aphrodite have evidenced the lack of sure-footedness referred to above. His evident desire to spot and utilize talented actors, known and unknown, coincides with a rash of screenplays so heavily peopled as to blur the central characters, leaving audiences with far less to engage with than hitherto. The least successful, and perhaps most seriously troubled internally, of the last four of the 1990s is Deconstructing Harry, relentlessly and unattractively self-referential, and looking for its humor in fantasy and fantastical situations which have a certain farcical crudity in contrast to Allen's usually penetrating verbal wit. Celebrity, miscasting Kenneth Branagh in the central role that Allen would once have played, is not without its pleasures, but fails to cohere; Sweet and Lowdown, visiting the territory of Allen's other great love—jazz—is ambitious, entertaining, and boasts a wonderful performance from Sean Penn. If it is neither quite interesting nor quite funny enough, it is nonetheless endlessly inventive, and as good a jazz film as any in evoking the ethos of its subject. Arguably the clearest success of the four, its virtues criminally misunderstood by all but the cognoscenti, is Everyone Says I Love You, in which a now wispily aging Woody co-stars himself with the ravishing Julia Roberts, pushing the boundaries of his earlier collected oeuvre that invited us to accept his seemingly unlikely appeal for women, and almost self-parodying the nebbish aspects of his screen persona. The film, unusually, broadens Allen's physical landscape, setting the core of the Allen-Roberts romance in Venice (a city that features significantly in Barbara Kopple's documentary following Woody and his band—and his wife Soon-Yi—on a European tour) and climaxing in Paris. Too long, structurally undisciplined, and a bit of a rag-bag it may be, but Everyone Says I Love You is a blissful homage to the Hollywood musical, knowing and affectionate.

Allen has always denied that his film persona is related to his own, although it is often justifiably difficult for us to believe that. "Is it over? Can I go now?" asks Gabe Roth of the off-screen interviewer in the final shot of Husbands and Wives. Divorced from his wife, Gabe is now alone, but he chooses to be. Gabe may not be happy—rarely is any character played by Woody Allen ever actually happy—but, unlike Clifford Stern at the end of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Gabe is decidedly not in despair. Neither, hopefully, is Woody Allen. It is clear that the fertile imagination, while perhaps floundering to find a new form, is intact, and the comic spirit still present. To the question "Whither now?" must come the answer "Who knows?" But whatever path he treads in the future, Woody Allen has proved one of the few auteurs of the American cinema worthy of the over-used term, and it may well be that his great masterwork is yet to spring from the autumn of his years.

—Mark W. Estrin, updated by Robyn Karney

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ALLEN, Woody

Nationality: American. Born: Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn, New York, 1 December 1935. Education: Attended Midwood High School, Brooklyn; New York University and City College of New York, 1953. Family: Married 1) Harlene Rosen, 1954 (divorced); the actress Louise Lasser, 1965 (divorced); one son and one daughter with the actress Mia Farrow. Career: 1952—started writing for Sid Caesar's show Caesar's Hour, also wrote for the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show; 1961—having been urged by managers Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe to become a stand-up comedian, debuted at The Duplex, a Greenwich Village nightclub; 1964–65—in TV series That Was the Week That Was; 1966—first play, Don't Drink the Water, opened on Broadway; 1969–70—played the leading role of Allan Felix in his own drama, Play It Again, Sam on Broadway; 1965—film acting debut in What's New, Pussycat?, his own screenplay; 1969—film directing debut in Take the Money and Run.Awards: Sylvania Award, for script of an episode of Caesar's Hour, 1957; Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and National Society of Film Critics Award, for Annie Hall, 1977; British Academy Award and New York Film Critics Award, Best Screenplay, for Manhattan, 1979; Academy Award for Best Screenplay, Golden Globe Award, and New York Film Critics Award, for Hannah and Her Sisters, 1987; D. W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award, Directors Guild of America, 1996. Agent: Rollins and Joffe, 130 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.

Films as Actor:


What's New, Pussycat? (Clive Donner) (as Victor Shakapopulis, + sc)


What's Up, Tiger Lily? (Tanaguchi—dubbed Japanese film) (as narrator, + pr, co-sc)


Casino Royale (Huston and others) (as Jimmy Bond/Dr. Noah)


Play It Again, Sam (Aspirins for Three) (Ross) (as Allan Felix, + sc)


The Front (Ritt) (as Howard Prince)


King Lear (Godard) (as Mr. Alien)


Scenes from a Mall (Mazursky) (as Nick)


Antz (voice)

Films as Actor, Director, and Scriptwriter:


Take the Money and Run (as Virgil Starkwell, co-sc)


Bananas (as Fielding Mellish, co-sc)


Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (as Victor/Fabrizio/Fool/Sperm)


Sleeper (as Miles Monroe, co-sc, + mus)


Love and Death (as Boris Dimitrovich Grushenko)


Annie Hall (as Alvy Singer, co-sc)


Interiors (d, sc only)


Manhattan (as Isaac Davis, co-sc)


Stardust Memories (as Sandy Bates)


A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (as Andrew)


Zelig (as Leonard Zelig)


Broadway Danny Rose (title role)


The Purple Rose of Cairo (d, sc only)


Hannah and Her Sisters (as Mickey)


Radio Days (as narrator); September (d, sc only)


Another Woman (d, sc only)


"Oedipus Wrecks" ep. of New York Stories (as Sheldon Mills); Crimes and Misdemeanors (as Cliff Stern)


Alice (d, sc only)


Shadows and Fog (as Kleinman); Husbands and Wives (as Gabe Roth)


Manhattan Murder Mystery (as Larry Lipton, co-sc)


Bullets over Broadway (d, co-sc only); Don't Drink the Water (for TV)


Mighty Aphrodite (as Lenny Weinrib)


Everyone Says I Love You (as Joe)


Deconstructing Harry (as Harry Block)




Sweet and Lowdown


Small Time Crooks

Other Films:


Don't Drink the Water (Morris) (sc)


Wild Man Blues (himself)


By ALLEN: books—

Don't Drink the Water (play), New York, 1967.

Play It Again, Sam (play), New York, 1969.

Getting Even, New York, 1971.

Death (one-act play), New York, 1975.

God (one-act play), New York, 1975.

Without Feathers, New York, 1975.

Non-Being and Somethingness, New York, 1978.

Side Effects, New York, 1980.

The Floating Light Bulb (play), New York, 1982.

Four Films of Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan,

Stardust Memories), New York, 1983.

Hannah and Her Sisters, New York, 1987.

Three Films of Woody Allen (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The

Purple Rose of Cairo), New York, 1987.

Central Park West (one-act play), New York, 1995.

By ALLEN: articles—

"How Bogart Made Me the Superb Lover I Am Today," in Life (New York), 21 March 1969.

"On Love and Death," in Esquire (New York), 19 July 1975.

Interview with Anthony DeCurtis, in Rolling Stone (New York), 16 September 1993.

"So You're the Great Woody Allen . . . ?," interview with Bill Zehme, in Esquire (New York), October 1994.

"Play It Again, Man," interview with Linton Chiswick, in Time Out (London), March 13, 1996.

"Bullets Over Broadway Danny Rose of Cairo: The Continuous Career of Woody Allen," interview with Tomm Carroll, in DGA (Los Angeles), May/June 1996.

On ALLEN: books—

Lax, Eric, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy, New York, 1975.

Yacowar, Maurice, Loser Take All: The Comic Art of Woody Allen, New York, 1979; rev. ed., 1991.

Palmer, M., Woody Allen, New York, 1980.

Jacobs, Diane, . . . But We Need the Eggs: The Magic of Woody Allen, New York, 1982.

Brode, Douglas, Woody Allen: His Films and Career, New York, 1985.

Pogel, Nancy, Woody Allen, Boston, 1987.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Woody Allen, London, 1987.

McCann, Graham, Woody Allen: New Yorker, New York, 1990.

Lax, Eric, Woody Allen, New York, 1992.

Groteke, Kristi, Mia & Woody, New York, 1994.

Björkman, Stig, Woody Allen on Woody Allen, New York, 1995.

Blake, Richard Aloysius, Woody Allen: Profane and Sacred, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1995.

Perspectives on Woody Allen, edited by Renee R. Curry, New York, 1996.

Fox, Julian, Woody: Movies from Manhattan, Overlook Press, New York, 1996.

Lee, Sander H., Woody Allen's Angst; Philosophical Commentaries on His Serious Films, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, 1997.

Nichols, Mary P., Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love, & Life in the Films of Woody Allen, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, 1998.

On ALLEN: articles—

"Comedians: His Own Boswell," in Time (New York), 13 February 1963.

Mee, Charles L., "On Stage Woody Allen," in Horizon (New York), May 1963.

Zinsser, William K., "Bright New Comic Clowns toward Success: Woody Allen," in Saturday Evening Post (New York), 21 September 1963.

Schickel, Richard, "The Basic Woody Allen Joke," in New York Times Magazine, 7 January 1973.

Gilliatt, Penelope, "Profiles: Guilty, with an Explanation," in New Yorker, 4 February 1974.

Trow, George W. S., "A Film about a Very Funny Man," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1977.

Gelmis, Joseph, "An Allen Overview" (plus critics's evaluations of three of his films), in National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy, New York, 1977.

Current Biography 1979, New York, 1979.

Gittleson, Natalie, "The Maturing of Woody Allen," in New York Times Magazine, 22 April 1979.

Didion, Joan, "Review of Annie Hall, Interiors, and Manhattan," in New York Review of Books, August 1979.

McMurtry, Larry, "Woody Allen: Neighborhood Filmmaker," in American Film, September 1979.

Maslin, Janet, "Woody Allen: Shunning Mastery?," in New York Times, 16 July 1982.

Liebman, R. L., "Rabbis or Rakes, Schlemiels or Supermen? Jewish Identity in Charles Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, and Woody Allen," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 12, no. 3, July 1984.

Neibaur, James L., "Woody Allen," in Movie Comedians: The Complete Guide, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1986.

Zoglin, Richard, "Manhattan's Methuselah," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1986.

Morris, Christopher, "Woody Allen's Comic Irony," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 15, no. 3, 1987.

White, Armond, "Class Clowns," in Film Comment (New York), April 1987.

Blansfield, Karen C., "Woody Allen and the Comic Tradition in American," in Studies in American Humor (San Marcos, Texas), vol. 6, 1988.

Minowitz, Peter, "Crimes and Controversies: Nihilism from Machiavelli to Woody Allen," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 19, no. 2, 1991.

Gabler, Neal, "Film View: Chaplin Blazed the Trail, Woody Allen Follows," in New York Times, 27 September 1992.

Combs, Richard, "Little Man, What Now?," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1993.

Gopnik, Adam, "The Outsider," in New Yorker, 25 October 1993.

Siegel, Scott, and Barbara Siegel, "Woody Allen," in American Film Comedy (New York), 1994.

McGrath, Douglas, "Woody's World," in New York, 17 October 1994.

Jefferson, Margo, "Tapping the Funny Bone of American Comics," in New York Times, 14 January 1996.

Krohn, Bill, "Spielberg et le fait divers," in Cahiers Du Cinéma (Paris), February 1998.

Romney, Jonathan, "Scuzzballs Like Us," in Sight and Sound (London), April 1998.

* * *

Approaching his sixties after enacting more than 20 important or leading roles, Woody Allen portrays the middle-aged sports writer Lenny Weinrib in Mighty Aphrodite. This 1995 film reveals some characteristics of his part in a minor role playing opposite Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole in the 1967 What's New, Pussycat? The dimension of the character and the maturity of Allen's acting skills, however, proved to be worlds apart from the earlier film. In his first appearance he portrayed a bumbling eccentric, Victor Shakapopulis, a role executed with a narrow range of the comedian's acting skills. Giving an elaborate interview conducted by Stig Björkman for the book, Woody Allen on Woody Allen, this writer-director-actor claimed that since he was directed by another person, he was allowed to see the results of his acting but never was allowed to redo scenes to correct the faults he saw in his work. The same he claimed was true of the role of the childishly temperamental, girl-chasing Jimmy Bond, a spoof of the famous Bond secret agent series in a film called Casino Royale (1967). Not until he was able to be his own director and writer for the 1969 Take the Money and Run would Allen control his own performance.

Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite still displays the features of the bumbler he created in his initial performance in What's New, Pussycat? This is revealed when he meets a prostitute named Linda Ash, enacted by Mira Sorvino. Her opening conversation with him produces confusion, frustration, and inadequacy—a typical pattern of reaction that Woody established in many of his film characterizations when faced with an aggressive or independent woman. Her sexual vulgarisms and blunt talk about various forms of physical encounters make him squirm. When he acts in such a scene, the audience can almost visualize an aura of perspiration radiating about his body.

Mighty Aphrodite also displays another variation on Woody's acting talents tied to a stressful situation. As Lenny, the sportswriter in this move, he is threatened by a sadistic thug, Linda Ash's pimp, because Lenny tries to steer Linda away from prostitution. The wimp Allen had played before in so many of his films can be noticed at this point of the movie, but he gives a twist that reveals his maturity as an actor. Faced with a brute who has him by the throat, Allen covers his fear with bravado as he promises the hulk he can get him tickets for a sporting event. Another feature of the comedian's use of character traits emerges. When pressed physically or when he wants to influence someone to take action, this nerd will con people. In Mighty Aphrodite, the juxtaposition of a variety of contrasting emotions makes this one of his most deft acting performances.

To understand the acting style of Woody Allen, it should be realized that he was a writer for many television comedians and hosts of talk shows such as Sid Caesar, Art Carney, Carol Channing, Jack Paar, and Garry Moore. His agents urged him to become a performer, and he made his debut as a stand-up comedian in 1961 at the Duplex nightclub in Greenwich Village. After moving to a number of clubs in New York City, he traveled to Chicago and San Francisco. Consequently, his fame as a performer spread throughout the nation. In the early 1960s he continued his writing because he could get more money. According to a Time article (15 February 1963): "He now gets $1,500 for supplying a comedian with a five-minute bit." His film writing reveals the stand-up comedy influence: the monologue as narration and the one-liner became an intrinsic part of many of his films.

The monologue-narration also relates directly to Allen's published humorous essays and to his stand-up comedian days and his acting in a number of films. Risible narration exists in Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Love and Death (1975), Annie Hall (1977), Zelig (1983), and Radio Days (1986).Woody Allen's ability as a stand-up comedian has been transferred to the screen as he plays a character in the comic drama. In Take the Money and Run Woody describes his own inadequacy as a bank robber in the character of Virgil Starkwell. This offscreen commentary is delivered in an offhand, dry manner that makes this comedian's acting endearing to his fans. Overstatement and understatement may exist in the script, but Allen gives a matter-of-fact delivery to punctuate the absurdity of the situation. The same can be said for the frame narration—especially in the beginning and ending of the film drama—of the award-winning Annie Hall. As Alvy Singer, the comedian rationalizes his struggle in this battle of the sexes.

A more direct use of the stand-up comedian's role is created when Allen plays the role of Court Jester in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972). Woody portrays an appointed fool for royalty who fails as he tries his jokes on an audience that does not respond. When one of his weak one-liners falls flat, he says, with a breathy, frustrated voice, "I know you're out there: I can hear you breathing."

One-liners are, of course, the stock-in-trade gimmick for the stand-up comedian. In Mighty Aphrodite, the protagonist, face to face with a towering, amply endowed prostitute, declares whimsically, "At my age, if I made love to you, they'd have to put me on a respirator."

Even monologues are sprinkled with one- and two-liners. In Annie Hall's opening narrative, Allen as Alvy Singer, faces the camera that uses this device. In a vague attempt to look on the bright side of turning 40 as he develops a bald spot, he uses a set-up line followed by a comic reversal: "I think I'm going to get better as I get older—you know, I think I'm going to be the balding, virile type." Allen's delivery is low-keyed with a clear-cut self-depreciating agony because he has broken up with his lover, Annie. In the closing remarks of Love and Death, filmed two years earlier, he faces the camera as he used to face an audience as a stand-up comic, and sums up his philosophy of life: "If it turns out there is a God, I don't think he's evil. The worst you can say is—he's an underachiever."

It should be noted that the quality of these one- and two-liner examples almost stand on their own because of Allen's innovative sense of humor. He received an Oscar nomination for acting in 1977 for Annie Hall. In addition, he received two other awards for writing and directing this film. Actresses he has groomed to excel in the cinema art have received kudos from the critics while his talent as an actor seems to be taken for granted. Woody's low-level intensity of acting not only fits his character, it also complements the characters of the other actors and actresses that play opposite him, to benefit the total production. His sharp timing from one joke to another possibly reflects his admiration for the ability of Bob Hope to deliver his lines (from Björkman's Woody Allen on Woody Allen).

While some critics believe Allen repeats the same comic portrait, they fail to see some of the complexities the actor has developed. The self-destructive whimp who is the target of bullies, both male and female, remains the principal focus of the character that Allen enacts with such skill. Often overlooked is the adeptly handled whining con man frequently employed when his faults are the aim of a detractor. Also, as the writer and director of his films, Allen places his protagonist in different plots, settings, and dramatic modes. As an actor this provides variety and nuances as he enacts each role. For example, his Everyone Says I Love You (1996) evolves into a nostalgic, romantic, comic musical, developing a sympathetic variation of his persona and gives Woody a chance to play light humor. By contrast he is comically close to a despicable character in Deconstructing Harry (1997) when he plays a man who receives the wrath of a series of harpies—his former wives. Here Allen, the writer, has given himself a part much darker than his previous work, Everyone Says I Love You. As a counter-punching con man he plays the role more aggressively and a stronger, more laughable portrait is created. In Deconstructing Harry, the dramatic mode moves to dark satire with some surrealistic scenes similar to the Pirandello stage play, Six Characters in Search of an Author. A third dramatic mode, the motion picture cartoon, allows another dimension of Allen's acting. This is revealed in the 1998 Antz. With a voice-over performance of an abstract ant drawing, his one liner gags take on a sharper, more noticeable quality and show his thespian talent in almost all film modes, even in a cartoon.

Woody Allen remains as no imitator of other comedians. Since he plays a little man plagued by a variety of pretenders and bullies, some evaluators have compared his character and his control of his total work to those qualities of Chaplin's. "I can't tell you what I am, but I can tell you what I'm not: Chaplinesque," he is quoted in an entry for World Film Directors. Merely competent as a storyteller, Chaplin was a genius as a director and a master filmmaker in a different way: a titan as actor and director. Allen's acting, as important as it is to many of his films, remains only distinctive and effective. Time will tell if his acting will be considered by critics to be worthy of a higher rank.

—Donald W. McCaffrey

views updated

Woody Allen

Woody Allen (born 1935) has been one of America's most prominent filmmakers, with a series of very personal films about the subjects that have always obsessed him: sex, death and the meaning of life.

"If I sat down to do something popular, I don't think I could," Woody Allen told interviewer Stephen Farber in 1985. "I'm not making films because I want to be in the movie business. I'm making them because I want to say something." When Allen was one of America's most popular stand-up comedians, his fans might have mocked those words, coming from a man whose first role models were Bob Hope and Groucho Marx.

Allen's own films have been made on modest budgets in New York City, where he lives, with no concessions to studio taste or control. Despite the growing seriousness of his work, audiences have never lost sight of Allen the performer and the character he created for himself in his days as a comedian: a nerdy neurotic whose only defense against a hostile universe is his sense of the absurd, which he fearlessly directs at any and all targets, beginning with himself. A very private man, Allen has reluctantly become a public figure, but through all the changes and controversies, "The Woodman" has remained a symbol of uncompromising integrity to his loyal fans. On that subject, he told Farber, "I never hold them cheaply … I never write down to them … I always assume that they're at least as smart as I am, if not smarter, and … I try to do films that they will respect."

Woody Allen was born Allen Konigsberg on December 1, 1935, in the Bronx and grew up in Brooklyn. He changed his name to Woody Allen when at age 17 he began submitting jokes to a newspaper column, eventually attracting the attention of a publicist who hired him to write gags for his clients. After graduation, Allen enrolled in New York University as a motion picture major and then in night school at City College, but dropped out of both to pursue his career as a comedy writer. Years later he told his biographer Eric Lax that when a dean recommended he "seek psychiatric help" if he ever wanted to get a job, he replied that he was already working in show business. "Well, if you're around other crazy people," the dean conceded, "may be you won't stand out."

Fortunately, Allen had a remarkable gift for his chosen profession. In a recent New Yorker article, Adam Gopnik recalled, "Woody was famous among his contemporaries for possessing a pure and almost abstract gift for one-liners … that could be applied to any situation, or passed on to any comic, almost impersonally." Before he turned 20 Allen had sold 20,000 gags to the New York tabloids, married his childhood sweetheart Harlene Rosen and landed a job in the writer's development program at NBC. By the time he turned 23 he was writing for the network's biggest comedy star, Sid Caesar, and had signed with talent managers Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, who would later produce his films. He had also hired a tutor from Columbia University to teach him literature and philosophy at home.

At the urging of his new managers, Allen began performing his own material in a small New York nightclub in 1960. Honing his craft in painful encounters with the audience night after night, six nights a week, he struck a gold mine of comedy material when he and Rosen divorced in 1962. (His jokes about his ex-wife eventually led to a law suit from Rosen that was settled out of court.) By this time Allen was beginning to appear on network television and was a hit at Greenwich Village's legendary coffee house, The Bitter End.

Unlike other comics of the time, who favored political humor, Allen made jokes about his own comic persona, the little guy tormented by big philosophical issues and his unfailing hard luck with women. This fact was appreciated by a New York Times reviewer, who called him "the freshest comic to emerge in many months."

National recognition was not long in coming. Success in clubs and on television led to a Grammy-nominated comedy album, Woody Allen, in 1964, followed by Woody Allen, Volume Two in 1965 and The Third Woody Allen Album in 1968. Allen's humor found a more up-scale outlet when he began writing humorous essays in the style of S. J. Perelman for the New Yorker in 1966. Three collections of these essays have been published: Getting Even, Without Feathers, and Side Effects.

Allen had long been a lover of movies, American and foreign, but the first one he wrote and acted in, What's New, Pussycat? (1965), was a bad experience. Recruited to write a comedy for hip young audiences, he found the experience of sixties-style, big-budget improvisational filmmaking appalling. "I fought with everybody all the time," he told Cinema magazine. "I hated everyone, and everyone hated me. When that picture was over, I decided I would never do another film unless I had complete control of it." But the film made a fortune and established Woody Allen as a "bankable" movie talent.

True to his word, he made his directorial debut with a film so modest that no one ever thought to tamper with it. Released by AIP, a company specializing in low-budget action and horror films, What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) was a Japanese James Bond movie with new dialogue composed of dream-like one-liners put into the characters' mouths by Allen and some friends. "All we did was put five people in a room and keep them there improvising as the film ran," Allen told Rolling Stone. Truly for the young and hip, Tiger Lily didn't make as much money as Pussycat, but it acquired an enduring cult following.

Besides the release of Tiger Lily, 1966 was also the year of Allen's marriage to actress Louise Lasser, who supplied one of the voices for Tiger Lily, and the Broadway opening of his first play, Don't Drink the Water, a comedy about an Jewish American family on vacation who get in hot water behind the Iron Curtain. Don't Drink the Water ran for over a year and spawned a movie directed by Howard Morris; Allen directed a television remake of Don't Drink the Water in December 1994. The marriage to Lasser ended in divorce after three years, but they remained friends, and she acted in Allen's first three hit comedies: Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972).

Allen's early comedies, made for United Artists—a company that gave him complete control of his work as writer-director—recall the messy, anything-goes style of classic American comedies built around such free-wheeling talents as the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields. Like the Marx Brothers, a reviewer for Time magazine wrote, Allen was ready "to subordinate everything—plot, plausibility, people—to the imperative of a good joke."

Perhaps because it demanded a more controlled style, he entrusted the film version of his second Broadway hit, Play It Again, Sam (1972), to veteran director Herbert Ross. But he played the lead himself, as he had done in the stage version of this romantic comedy about a man who fulfills his dream: to play the last scene of his favorite movie, Casablanca, in real life, with himself in the Bogart role. His co-star on stage and in the film was his new off-screen friend and romantic partner, Diane Keaton.

Keaton and Allen also co-starred in the two films written and directed by Allen which mark the end of his "early, funny" period. In Sleeper (1973), Allen's character wakes up from a cryogenic sleep to find himself trapped in a future society that looks suspiciously like Los Angeles. And in Love and Death (1975), which Allen considers his best comedy, he takes on his favorite themes in an epic satire of all of Russian literature.

It was Keaton's talents as an actress that inspired Allen to make his first serious film, a bittersweet comedy about a failed romance between two neurotics, and it was undoubtedly her personality that inspired him to create the title character, Annie Hall (1977). (She won an Oscar for her performance; the film won a total of four of the prized gold statuettes.) "What is Woody Allen doing starring in, writing and directing a ruefully romantic comedy that is at least as poignant [distressing] as it is funny and may be the most autobiographical film ever made by a major comic?" asked Time magazine. "What he is doing is growing, right before our eyes, and it is a fine sight to behold."

Keaton went on to star for Allen in Interiors (1978), and Manhattan (1979), a somber black-and-white film about cheating New Yorkers which ends with a salute to the last scene of Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. His career as a serious filmmaker had definitely begun.

Annie Hall also marked the beginning of a nine-picture collaboration with cinematographer Gordon Willis in which Allen's growing mastery of film-making techniques enabled him to create a new style for each new film. He imitated the style of Italian director Federico Fellini in his next, most controversial film, Stardust Memories (1980), in which he plays a filmmaker who seems to hate his fans. Despite the ensuing hue and cry, Allen told an Esquire interviewer in 1987, "The best film I ever did, really, was Stardust Memories."

When the executives who had given him artistic control of his work left United Artists and founded Orion Pictures, Allen worked off his contract with UA and joined them. Coincidentally, the move to Orion also marked the beginning of his collaboration with his new off-screen partner, actress Mia Farrow. Their first four films together all have a fairy-tale quality: A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) mixes fairies and moonstruck lovers on a country estate; Zelig (1983) uses special-effects wizardry to tell the story of a human chameleon who achieved a peculiar kind of fame in the 1920s; Broadway Danny Rose (1984) transforms present-day New York into a never-neverland of show-business losers for a poignant romance between a brassy beauty and a hapless agent, and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) darkens the fairy-tale mood when a hero of the silver screen steps down into real life, with tragic consequences for a Depression-era housewife, touchingly played by Farrow.

Hollywood bestowed three Oscars on their next collaboration, Hannah and Her Sisters, in which Hannah (Farrow) is divorced from a hypochondriac, played by Allen, and married to a philanderer, played by Michael Caine. "Tracking the career of Woody Allen is exhausting but exhilarating," began the New York Times review of Hannah. "Just when we reach the top, another peak appears." But Allen, who told Eric Lax that "the whole concept of awards is silly," was worried by the film's success. "When I put out a film that enjoys any acceptance that isn't mild or grudging," he explained to Lax, "I immediately become suspicious of it."

After Radio Days (1987), a light-hearted look at Allen's childhood and the Golden Age of radio, the mood of his films darkened again. September (1987) replays the grim psychological dramas of Interiors, and Another Woman (1988) pairs Farrow with one of America's greatest actresses, Gena Rowlands, in a story of mid-life crisis. Allen briefly returned to comedy in the short Oedipus Wrecks (1989), about a man whose problems with his mother take a supernatural turn. He then made his most pessimistic film to date, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), in which a respectable married man (Martin Landau) murders his mistress (Anjelica Huston) and gets away with it, while Allen's character loses the woman he loves (Farrow) to a shallow fool (Alan Alda).

Before their off-screen relationship ended in a bitter child-custody suit, Allen and Farrow made three more films together: Alice (1990), a fairy tale recalling their early collaborations, in which a neglected housewife discovers love and life with the help of a Chinese herbalist who dispenses magic potions; Shadows and Fog (1992), a comic salute to the novels of Franz Kafka set in a Middle European country out of some German silent film, and Husbands and Wives (1992).

Released in a firestorm of publicity over the custody battle, Allen's last film with Farrow had the press looking for parallels to Allen's real-life romance with Farrow's 21-year-old adopted-daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn. It also marked another new beginning for Woody Allen the film-maker. Orion's impending bankruptcy obliged him to make the film for Tri-Star, while a less controlled style of filming, with a hand-held camera scampering to keep up with the actors, brought a new sense of life to this savagely funny contemporary look at marriage and infidelity. "It's a good movie," observed the reviewer for New York magazine, "yet a decade or so may have to pass before anyone can see it in itself."

The hand-held camera still wobbles noticeably in Manhattan Murder Mystery, which reunites him with Diane Keaton, playing a married couple who suspect their next-door neighbor of murder. A pure comedy, Allen's first in many years, Manhattan Murder Mystery was a pit-stop for the filmmaker and his loyal fans before his 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway, the critically acclaimed melodrama set in the 1920s that focuses on a group of old Broadway stereotypes. He continued with comedy in 1995, releasing Mighty Aphrodite, a contemporary tale of a man obsessed with his adopted son's mother interspersed with scenes parodying Greek tragedy. The next release, Everyone Says I Love You, surprised his cast and fans alike, marking the director's first foray into musicals. Reports noted that he waited until two weeks after the film's stars signed their contracts to mention that he was making a musical, and that he chose actors who were not necessarily musically trained on purpose in order to evoke more honest emotion in the songs. Reviews were mixed.

Allen's interest in music extended to his off-screen life as well—starting in 1997, he regularly began playing clarinet for the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band every Monday at a club in New York City. Despite his diverse talents, however, Allen in real life can demonstrate his neurotic tendencies that are trademarks in his films. He told Jane Wollman Rusoff on the "Mr. Showbiz" web site, "I've never made a movie where scholars sat around and said, 'This ranks with the greatest.' … It's a goal, but the trick is to have a great vision. That's not so easy."

Further Reading

Lax, Eric, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy, New York, 1975.

Yacowar, Maurice, Loser Take All: The Comic Art of Woody Allen, New York, 1979; rev. ed., 1991.

Palmer, M., Woody Allen, New York, 1980.

Jacobs, Diane, … But We Need the Eggs: The Magic of Woody Allen, New York, 1982.

Brode, Douglas, Woody Allen: His Films and Career, New York, 1985.

Pogel, Nancy, Woody Allen, Boston, 1987.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Woody Allen, London, 1987.

McCann, Graham, Woody Allen: New Yorker, New York, 1990.

Lax, Eric, Woody Allen, New York, 1992.

Groteke, Kristi, Mia & Woody, New York, 1994.

Björkman, Stig, Woody Allen on Woody Allen, New York, 1995.

Blake, Richard Aloysius, Woody Allen: Profane and Sacred, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1995.

Perspectives on Woody Allen, edited by Renee R. Curry, New York, 1996.

Christian Science Monitor, January 24, 1997.

Life (New York), 21 March 1969.

Esquire (New York), 19 July 1975.

Rolling Stone (New York), 16 September 1993.

Esquire (New York), October 1994. □

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Woody Allen-Mia Farrow Custody Trial:

Defendant: Woody Allen
Plaintiff: Mia Farrow
Plaintiff Claim: Custody of three children Allen Shared with Mia Farrow
Chief Defense Lawyers: Alan M. Dershowitz, Eleanor B. Alter
Chief Lawyer for the Plaintiff: Elkan Abramowitz
Judge: Elliot Wilk
Place: New, York, New York
Date of Trial: March 19-June 7, 1993
Verdict: Petition for custody was denied

SIGNIFICANCE: This custody battle between two very public figures revealed just how painful such fights can be for all involved.

Woody Allen and Mia Farrow are not Hollywood starsthey stay away from the glamour of tinseltown. They are, nevertheless, famous film people, and millions flock to see their movies. The couple was never married, nor did they live together: During their relationship they inhabited separate apartments on opposite sides of Central Park in New York City. Together they had children and they were a family.

On August 13, 1992, the public gasped when Woody Allen filed suit against Mia Farrow for custody of their three children. Although the three children lived with Farrow, Allen was a frequent household visitor. Farrow adopted Moses Amadeus Farrow, 14, a Korean boy, after her divorce from noted symphony director Andre Previn. Later, Allen also adopted the boy. Dylan O'Sullivan Farrow, 7, a girl, was adopted as a baby by Farrow and Allen together in 1985. The couple's natural son, Satchel O'Sullivan Farrow, was 4 and one-half on that fateful day.

While the legal documents in the suit were immediately sealed, an excited public got the details from the celebrities themselves. Two New York newspapers, The Daily News and The New York Post reported that for the past eight months Allen had been having an affair with Farrow's 21-year-old daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn, a Korean whom the actress had adopted when she was married to Previn. (Altogether, Farrow has 11 children, seven of whom are adopted.) Responding to these reports, Allen put out a press release saying, "It's real and happily all true." About the same time that Allen filed the custody suit, Connecticut State Police disclosed that they were investigating Allen's alleged sexual abuse of Dylan at Farrow's country home in Bridgewater. The well-known movie maker vehemently denied the allegation. He said it was a weapon used by Farrow to counter his efforts to win custody of the children.

Life Imitating Art?

The battle was joined. Legions of fans were both confused and disappointed. The news media, while proclaiming that all its major sources in the story were the principals themselves, also chased every rumor and interviewed whoever had an opinion. Film buffs wondered how tarnished the reputation of their idol, Allen, would become. Cashing in on the publicity, Allen's studio advanced the opening date of his new movie, Husbands and Wives, in which he starred with Farrow and which, according to advance notices, mimicked their real-life breakup and custody battle. The studio announced that the film would be released nationally, rather than in only eight cities, as had previously been scheduled.

At a preliminary hearing, New York Supreme Court Justice Phyllis B. Gangel-Jacob turned down Allen's request for visitation rights with the children. She also refused to accept, from Farrow's lawyers, Allen's photographs of Soon-Yi in the nudepictures that Farrow had found on the mantel-piece in her home and that had tipped her off that the affair was going on.

By October 1992, the case had become fuel for the raging political fires of the U.S. presidential election yearone of whose themes was family values. U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, quoting an Allen interview in Time, said, "After all, he [Allen] said 'the heart wants what the heart wants.' There you have it. In seven words, Allen epigrammatically captures the essence of contemporary moral philosophy." U.S. Representative Newt Gingrich, known for preaching family values as a Republican strength, told a Georgia audience, "Woody Allen is currently having nonincest 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."

Next came a wave of hearings and rulings. Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Elliott Wilk ruled that television cameras would be allowed into the court during future hearings and during the trial. Both sides immediately appealed, so Administrative Judge Stanley S. Ostrau barred both TV and radio coverage in his courtroom. Meanwhile, Farrow sued in Surrogate's Court to nullify Allen's adoption of Moses and Dylan.

In a December 15, 1992, hearing, Justice Wilk ruled that Farrow must provide Allen a copy of a videotape in which Dylan reportedly said Allen molested her. Wilk also turned down Farrow's request that Allen's suit for sole custody be put on hold pending the outcome of her suit in Surrogate's Court.

On March 18, 1993, a team of psychological investigators at Yale-New Haven Hospital cleared Woody Allen of sexually molesting Dylan. The findings, which were the results of repeated interviews with Allen, Farrow, Dylan, the child's psychologist, and household servants, were not made public. However, Allen's lawyers reported that the videotape on which Farrow had based the accusation was a result either of the child's imagination or of someone else's manipulation.

The Custody Trial Begins

The next day, on March 19, 1993, the custody trial began before Acting Justice Wilk. Allen testified that after Farrow learned of his affair with Soon-Yi, she cut his head out of family pictures and that "she [Farrow] called me dozens of times a night, raging and screaming, threatening to kill me." He testified further that he once found a note she left by an open window saying, "I've jumped out the window because of what you've done to the children."

The nude photos of Soon-Yi were admitted as evidence in court. Farrow's attorney, Eleanor B. Alter, suggested they were pornographic. Allen testified they were a matter between consenting adults and were intended to be erotic. Attorney Alter read a letter from Moses Farrow, 15, to Allen that said, "You have done a horrible, unforgivable, ugly, stupid thing. I hope you get so humiliated you commit suicide. Everyone knows not to have an affair with your son's sister, including that sister, but you have a special way to get that sister to think that that is O.K." Questioned by Elkan Abramowitz, his own lawyer, Allen responded that Moses was manipulated by his mother and used the same words and phrases that she had used only days earlier.

Farrow then testified that Dylan told her the preceding summer that her father had sexually molested her. Farrow conceded, however, that the child, in her shyness, would not tell doctors of the abuse and that a medical examination produced no signs of it. She explained that she had videotaped the girl's statement because, "I wanted this documented because it had happened before. He would creep up in the morning and lay beside her bed and wait for her to wake up. I thought it was excessive. I was uncomfortable all along." Farrow added that when Allen came to visit, Dylan screamed, "Hide me! Hide me!" to her brothers and sisters.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Coates, who had treated Satchel and met often with both parents, testified that she had been convinced by Farrow's behaviorincluding sending Allen a Valentine with skewers through the hearts of her childrenthat she might harm herself or Allen.

More than two weeks went by in the stuffy, crowded New York City courtroom where the paint was peeling from the walls and ancient chairs creaked constantly. Dr. Coates testified that Allen should be allowed unsupervised visits with Satchel but was less certain about his seeing Dylan. The children's nanny testified that Farrow was not always a good mother and had once slapped an adopted son across the face for not finding a dog leash. Allen's sister testified that Farrow taught the children to hate him. Allen produced a surreptitious recording of a phone call from Farrow's Connecticut housekeeper that disparaged Farrow's abilities as a mother. Allen's lawyer, Abramowitz, accused the Connecticut State Police of aiding Farrow's case by allowing her lawyers to see the Dylan videotape but refusing his request to see it. A baby sitter testified that she saw Allen kneeling before Dylan "in a way that bothered" her. In a three-hour shouting match between Farrow's attorney, Alan M. Dershowitz, and Allen's attorney Abramowitz, Dershowitz denied allegations by Abramowitz that he had asked Allen to pay millions of dollars to get Farrow to call off the molestation charge. Justice Wilk criticized New York investigators for subjecting Dylan to the trauma of a second sex-abuse investigation. A doctor who headed the Connecticut investigation said that Dylan's story had "a rehearsed quality" and that Farrow might have encouraged the child to fabricate because she liked to perform.

On June 7, 1993, Justice Wilk, in a stinging 33-page decision, called Allen a "self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive father. It is clear," he continued, "that the best interests of the children will be served by their continued custody with Ms. Farrow." The judge denied Allen immediate visitation rights with Dylan, ruling that a further review be held after Dylan received psychological therapy. Supervised visits, however, with Satchel would be allowed. The judge also acceded to Moses's request not to be forced to see his father and ordered Allen to pay Farrow's legal fees. Finally, the judge questioned the findings of the Yale-New Haven Hospital investigators, noting that whether or not molestation took place, "Mr. Allen's behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate."

In September 1993, Connecticut State Attorney Frank Maco announced that, while he had "probable cause" to prosecute Allen on charges of sexual molestation of Dylan, he was dropping the case to spare her the trauma of appearing in court. Allen filed complaints asking the state bar counsel to disbar Maco and requesting that the State Criminal Justice Commission discipline Maco for making an accusation without producing an indictment. In October, the New York State Department of Social Services dropped its investigation into the child molestation charge. It concluded "that no credible evidence was found that the child named in this report has been abused or maltreated." In November, the Connecticut Criminal Justice Commission voted unanimously to dismiss Allen's complaint against Maco. It said that after four hours of deliberation it could find no evidence that Prosecutor Maco had violated the canon of ethics for lawyers in his remarks during the September news conference in which he announced that he was dropping the charges against Allen. In January 1994, the Connecticut bar's disciplinary panel criticized Maco's handling of the case and found that he might have prejudiced the celebrities' custody battle, but that he did not violate the state's code of conduct for lawyers.

The Aftermath

Over the following year, Allen continued to date Soon-Yi, dining with her in the exclusive Manhattan restaurant, Elaine's, where he and Farrow had often been seen in earlier days. Farrow no longer visited the restaurant. Meanwhile, Farrow informally renamed two of her children, calling Dylan by the name Eliza. Satchell became Seamus. On October 5, 1994, Allen lost an appeal for relief from the custody ruling that forbade his seeing Dylan (Eliza) and Moses and allowed court-supervised visits only with Satchel (Seamus). Both Farrow and Allen went on with their film making. In 1994 Farrow starred with Joan Plowright and Natasha Richardson in Widows Peak, which met with some critical acclaim. Meanwhile, Allen released Bullets Over Broadway, which went on to be heavily nominated for Academy Awards.

Allen and Soon-Yi Previn married in 1997. In April 1999, the couple had their first child, a daughter. However, neither Allen nor Soon-Yi would publicly say whether the child was adopted or if Soon-Yi had given birth to the baby girl.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Hewitt, Bill. "No Laughing Matter." People Weekly, (June 21, 1993): 85-86.

Marks, Peter. "Allen Loses to Farrow in Bitter Custody Battle." New York Times (June 8, 1993): Al, B4.

Seligmann, Jean and Mary Talbot. "A Game for the Whole Family." Newsweek (April 12, 1993): 66.

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Woody Allen

Born: December 1, 1935
Brooklyn, New York

American filmmaker, actor, author, and comedian

Woody Allen is one of America's most prominent filmmakers. He has made many comedies and serious films that deal with subjects that have always interested himthe relationships of men and women, death, and the meaning of life.

The early years

Woody Allen was born Allen Stewart Konigsberg on December 1, 1935, in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, New York, into a family that he described as "typical noisy ethnic." His father, Martin, held a variety of jobs including bartending, and his mother, Nettie, worked as a bookkeeper. His only sibling is a sister. As a teenager Woody did not show much intellectual or social interest and spent long hours in his bedroom practicing magic tricks. He started using the name Woody Allen at age seventeen when he began submitting jokes to a local newspaper. People noticed his jokes and asked him to write for other comedians.

After Allen graduated from high school, he enrolled in New York University as a motion picture major and, later, in the night school at City College, but he was unhappy. He dropped out of both schools to pursue his career as a comedy writer.

Before Allen turned twenty he had sold twenty thousand gags (short jokes) to the New York newspapers. By the time he turned twenty-three he was writing for one of television's biggest comedy stars, Sid Caesar (1922). He also hired a tutor from Columbia University to teach him literature and philosophy (the study of knowledge).

Allen began performing his own material in a small New York City nightclub in 1960. He worked six nights a week and learned how to work with an audience. He began to be noticed and started to appear on network television. Unlike other comics who favored political humor, Allen made jokes about his own comic character whom he had invented, a little guy tormented by the big questions about life issues and his hard luck with women. Success in clubs and on television led to a comedy album that was nominated for a Grammy (a recording industry award) in 1964.

Begins film career

Allen had long been a lover of movies, American and foreign, but the first one he wrote and acted in, What's New, Pussycat? (1965), turned out to be a very bad experience for him. He was so unhappy that he said he would never do another movie unless he was given complete control of the cast and how it looked in the end. Fortunately, What's New, Pussycat? was so successful that Allen was given his wish for future movies.

Allen was successful in writing and directing films such as Take the Money and Run (1969), and Bananas (1971). His Broadway play Don't Drink the Water was also made into a movie in 1969, although Allen neither directed it nor acted in it. His success continued with Play It Again, Sam (1972) (also based on a play he wrote), Sleeper (1973), and Love and Death (1975).

First serious film

Allen made his first serious film, Annie Hall, in 1977. It was a bittersweet (having both pleasure and pain) comedy about a romance that ends sadly. The movie won four Academy Awards (Oscars) including Best Screenplay (script) for Allen. He followed Annie Hall with Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1979), both of which were more serious than comedic. His career as a serious film-maker had definitely been recognized.

Annie Hall also marked the beginning of a nine-picture collaboration with movie cameraman Gordon Willis. Allen continued to use different filmmaking techniques to create a new style for each new film. He imitated the style of Italian director Federico Fellini (19201993) in his next film, Stardust Memories (1980). In that movie he plays a film-maker who does not like his fans. During an interview with Esquire magazine in 1987, Allen said, "The best film I ever did, really, was Stardust Memories. "

Leading ladies

Allen has been married to or has been romantically involved with the women who have starred in his movies. These include Louise Lasser (1939), Diane Keaton (1946), and Mia Farrow (1945). Lasser acted in several of Allen's earlier films. Keaton appeared not only in Annie Hall, but also in Bananas; Play It Again, Sam; Sleeper; Love and Death; Interiors; Manhattan; and Radio Days (1987). Each relationship ended unhappily, but each actress received very favorable recognition for her roles in Allen's films.

In 1982 Allen began working with his new off-screen partner, actress Mia Farrow, in a film that was loosely based on Shakespeare's (15641616) A Midsummer's Night Dream. Farrow also starred in Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Hollywood gave three Oscars to the next movie they made, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). They worked on several more films but ended their personal life together in 1992.

Later work

Allen continued to write and direct many films, including Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), which reunited (brought together again) him with Diane Keaton. It was pure comedy. Bullets Over Broadway (1994) was a critically-acclaimed (liked by reviewers) comedy and melodrama (a play or film relying on highly sensational events) set on Broadway in the 1920s.

Allen continued with another comedy in 1995, making Mighty Aphrodite, a modern story that includes scenes parodying (comically imitating) Greek tragedy. The next release, Everyone Says I Love You, (1996) marked Allen's first attempt at a musical. Reports said that he waited until two weeks after the film's stars signed their contracts to mention that he was making a musical. On purpose he chose actors who were not necessarily musically trained in order to get more honest emotion in the songs. (Allen himself is a very accomplished musician. He plays clarinet in the style of old New Orleans jazz every week at a club in New York City and has performed music for several of his own films.)

Woody Allen's most recent films are Small Time Crooks (2000), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), and Hollywood Ending (2002). Most of Allen's films have been made on modest budgets in New York City. Of the many film writers and directors, he is one of the few who has complete control of his films.

Woody Allen has grown beyond his beginnings as a comedian. Today he is regarded as one of the most versatile (capable of doing many things) movie makers in America.

For More Information

Baxter, John. Woody Allen: A Biography. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000.

Lax, Eric. Woody Allen: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Meade, Marion. The Unruly Life of Woody Allen: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 2000.

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ALLEN, Woody

(b. 1 December 1935 in Brooklyn, New York), prominent filmmaker who evolved during the 1960s from a stand-up comic and writer of humorous sketches to an actor, director, and writer of an ongoing body of film reflecting his unique vision of modern life in general and New York City in particular.

Allen was born Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the only child of Martin Konigsberg, a waiter and jewelry engraver, and Nettie Cherry, a housewife. His early passions included magic and card tricks, the clarinet (which he continues to play), movies, and sports. While a student at Brooklyn's Midwood High School (1949–1953), Allen sent jokes to columnists such as Earl Wilson and Walter Winchell, who paid him per joke and then attributed them to public personalities. This was also the period in which he dropped his birth name for "Woody Allen," a nickname given to him because he always brought the stick to neighborhood stickball games.

Allen was a notably poor student, both in high school and later during brief stints in 1953 at New York University and at City College (now the City University of New York). His early writing was deemed "dirty" by his high school teachers, and his mother was often called to the principal's office because of her son's truancy, bad marks, and habit of causing disturbances. New York University expelled him for poor marks, and he dropped out of City College.

In 1952, while still in high school, Allen had joined the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) as a staff writer. Two years later he married his childhood sweetheart, Harlene Rosen (they divorced in 1960), and left home to make a living from peddling one-liners and writing for a variety of television shows, including Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows (1950–1954) on NBC, where Allen competed for attention with the likes of Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. The freewheeling atmosphere was not congenial to the characteristically shy Allen. He was in much more control working as a comedian in Greenwich Village nightclubs, where he began performing in 1960 and developed his comic persona as a bumbling, anxiety-ridden loser. Allen's bespectacled, sad countenance was a perfect match for his neurotic observations about life. His early models were Mort Sahl, a satiric commentator on the political scene, and Bob Hope, a joke teller with impeccable timing.

Allen peppered his stand-up routines with observations about how guilt-ridden he was. He would describe, for example, stealing second base in a ball game and then, overwhelmed by remorse, returning to first. Rather than working as a "stand-up" comic, Allen usually performed—like Sahl—by sitting on a high stool and moving nervously from one bit of autobiographical confession to another. Many wrongly confused this persona, the "mask," with Allen himself. He was meticulous about his material, just as he was later meticulous about his films. Above all else, Allen the artist was in control, even if his character often seemed on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Allen's comedy struck a chord that was just right for the early 1960s: hip, irreverent, and packing just enough psychic truth to make it interesting. If the tall tales of nineteenth-century American humor featured characters who were long on boast and brag, Allen's persona turned those exaggerated claims on their head. Instead of evoking a swaggering frontiersman who could outrun, outride, out-shoot, and beat up any man in the house, Allen boasted that he was the weakest, most sensitive person on the planet. In addition, he was often characterized as a man who was the architect of his own misfortune in the mold of the classical schlemiel.

During the mid-1960s Allen began writing humorous sketches for The New Yorker, and a collection of those pieces appeared as Getting Even in 1971. Comic revenge was crisply parceled out to those who had bedeviled his childhood and early adolescence. A wide range of authority figures, from parents and teachers to the culture in general, was lambasted. Parody was one of Allen's favorite techniques because it allowed him to play against a recognizable target. In the lexicon of prizefighters, he was a counterpuncher—someone who waited for his opponent's punch and then nailed him with an unexpected right cross.

In 1964 Allen was discovered by the producer Charles Feldman and given a chance to write the screenplay for the film What's New, Pussycat? (1965). It is the story of a man who cannot stay faithful to the woman he loves and seems, in retrospect, the perfect fit for Allen's temperament and talent. The film marked Allen's acting debut, as a psychiatric patient, and further enhanced his growing reputation as an overly sensitive, screwed-up plant.

What's New, Pussycat? was a financial success, but Allen was not pleased with the finished project. The problem, largely the same one that had plagued his days as a staff writer for television shows, was control. In 1964 he acquired the rights to a dreadful Japanese spy film (Dagi no Kagi), reedited it, and dubbed in a sound track written and performed by himself, Louise Lasser (whom he married on 2 February 1966 and divorced in 1969), Frank Buxton, and Len Maxwell. The result may technically have been a collaborative effort, but its signature thumbprint was all Allen. In What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), written and performed by Mickey Rose, the quest is for the perfect egg-salad recipe. Over the ensuing years, the film became a cult classic and remains a lively, very funny example of Allen's early years as a filmmaker.

Much the same can be said of Take the Money and Run (1969), a mock documentary about Virgil Starkwell (played by Allen), a flop as a criminal. In one scene, Virgil hands a bank teller a note demanding money that ends with, "I have a gun." Unfortunately Virgil, ever the schlemiel, has such poor penmanship that the teller thinks he has written, "I have a gu b." In another scene, he fashions a gun from a bar of soap (shades of the legendary bank robber Willie Sutton) and is almost free, when a sudden downpour turns his fake gun into soapsuds. During the 1960s, Allen also wrote for the Broadway stage, with Don't Drink the Water, opening in 1966, and Play It Again, Sam, opening in 1969.

Allen's career as one of America's most impressive auteur filmmakers continued from the 1970s into the early 2000s, with a new film nearly every year. In terms of box office success, most were on the modest side—with the notable exception of Annie Hall (1977), which won an Academy Award for best picture. In the 1990s Allen's cinematic efforts were often overshadowed by drama in his personal life. His long-term relationship with the actress Mia Farrow, which produced a son in 1987, ended bitterly in 1992. He married Soon-Yi Previn, one of Farrow's adopted daughters, in 1997. In the new century, Allen continued to follow his own creative instincts and to exercise unparalleled control over his many artistic projects.

Useful books about Allen's life and career include: Bill Adler and Jeff Feinman, Woody Allen: Clown Prince of American Humor (1975); Eric Lax, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy (1975); Lee Guthrie, Woody Allen: A Biography (1978); and Foster Hirsch, Love, Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life: Woody Allen's Comedy (1981).

Sanford Pinsker

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ALLEN, WOODY (originally Allen Stewart Konigsberg ; 1935– ), U.S. comedian, filmmaker. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Allen started selling one-liners to gossip columns at the age of 15. He began his career writing jokes for television comedians, such as Garry Moore and Steve Allen. He then appeared as a stand-up comedian and in comedy sequences based on the theme of failure. Short, slight of build, and wearing heavy glasses, he developed what he called "formless farce," exemplified by his film scripts for What's New, Pussycat? and What's Up, Tiger Lily? His play Don't Drink the Water opened on Broadway in 1966. He played the lead in the film Take the Money and Run in 1969. Allen soon emerged as one of the most notable figures in the film industry. From 1969, he directed and scripted an average of one film per year. His most successful was Annie Hall (1977), which won an Oscar for the best picture of the year; in addition, he took two other prizes for best director and best screenwriter. In 1978 he produced his first serious drama, Interiors. It has been compared in style and tone to the films of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, whose work has influenced Allen greatly. In 1987 Allen won the best screenplay Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters, as well as the American Comedy Award for Funniest Lead Actor. That year the American Comedy Awards also presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy.

Allen's other films include Bananas (1971), Play It Again, Sam (1972), Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975), Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987), September (1987), Another Woman (1988), New York Stories (1989), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Alice (1990), Shadows and Fog (1992), Husbands and Wives (1992), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), Bullets over Broadway (1994), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Celebrity (1998), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Small Time Crooks (2000), Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Hollywood Ending (2002), Anything Else (2002), and Melinda and Melinda (2004).

In 1990, along with such fellow filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, Allen helped establish the Film Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving the heritage of American films.

In 1992 Allen caused a stir when it was discovered that he had been having a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his long-time girlfriend, actress Mia Farrow. In 1997 Allen, who was 62, and Soon-Yi, 27, were married in Venice.

Allen caused another stir in 1998, this time among the Jewish community, when he wrote an op-ed article in the New York Times (January 28) saying that he was appalled by Israel's treatment of the rioting Palestinians (during the first Intifada). He expressed incredulity at what he understood from the media to be "state-sanctioned brutality and even torture." Stressed Allen, "I can't believe it, and I don't know exactly what is to be done, but I'm sure pulling out my movies is again not the answer … to bring this wrongheaded approach to a halt."

As the perennial onscreen personification of angst and neurosis, Allen projects a love-hate relationship with himself and with his fellow Jews. Taking more of an amiable swipe than a nasty jibe, he peoples his films and peppers his dialogues with more Jewish wiseacres and wisecracks than most American directors or screenwriters ever have. A New Yorker to the core, Allen bases most of his films in his beloved hometown.

His dour, deadpan humor is just as funny off-screen as it is in his films. He is quoted as saying, "Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I don't have any fun at all." And "If my film makes one more person miserable, I'll feel I've done my job."

Capturing that humor in print, Allen has written a number of books and plays as well. They include his short story collections Getting Even (1971) and Without Feathers (1975); his essays Side Effects (1980); and in addition to his theatrical fare Don't Drink the Water, such plays as Death Knocks (1971), Death: A Comedy in One Act (1975), God: A Comedy in One Act (1975), The Floating Light Bulb (1982), and Three One-Act Plays: Riverside Drive, Old Saybrook, and Central Park West. He also published Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Björkman (1995).

Another of Allen's creative talents, his clarinet playing, is highlighted in the 1997 documentary film Wild Man Blues, directed by Barbara Koppel. The film follows Allen and his New Orleans jazz band on their European tour. A serious jazz musician, Allen has been performing for more than 25 years at a downtown club in New York.

add. bibliography:

E. Lax, Woody Allen: A Biography (1991); S.B. Girgus, The Films of Woody Allen (20022); S. Lee, Woody Allen's Angst (1997); R. Blake, Woody Allen: Profane and Sacred (1995); F. Hirsh, Love, Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life in the Films of Woody Allen (1992); M.P. Nichols, Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love and Life in the Films of Woody Allen (1982).

[Jonathan Licht and

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

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Woody Allen, 1935–, American actor, writer, and director, one of contemporary America's leading filmmakers, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Allen Stewart Konigsberg. Allen began his career writing for television comedians and performing in nightclubs. His early film comedies, which often depict neurotic urban characters preoccupied with sex, death, and psychiatry, include Sleeper (1973) and Annie Hall (1977; Academy Award, best picture). Much of Allen's later work in comedy and drama explores these themes as well as a sophisticated New Yorker's various other preoccupations.

A prolific filmmaker, he has made more than 40 motion pictures. Among his later films are the stylish Manhattan (1979); Broadway Danny Rose (1984), a New York comedy; the probing family drama Hannah and Her Sisters (1986; Academy Award, best screenplay); the 1930s comedy Radio Days (1987); the searing Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989);the bittersweet domestic drama Husbands and Wives (1992); the romantic and partly musical Everyone Says I Love You (1996); and the fictional jazz biography Sweet and Lowdown (1999). Several subsequent films failed to achieve the critical and popular plaudits earned by many of his earlier films, but Match Point (2005), a tale of wealth, lust, crime, and luck set in London, did much to revive his flagging reputation. Allen turned to Catalonia, Spain, for his sensual, melancholy-tinged comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), and to Paris for his atmospheric Midnight in Paris (2011; Academy Award, best original screenplay). Blue Jasmine (2013), the story of a rich matron fallen on hard times, echoes Tennessee Williams's Streetcar Named Desire, and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) replays the debate between rationalism and superstition in a period romantic comedy. Allen also has written humorous prose pieces and plays. In 1992, in a bitter public dispute, Allen left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, and then sued the actress for custody of their children and lost (1993).

See his The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose (2007); biographies by E. Lax (1991), J. Baxter (1999), and M. Meade (2000); E. Lax, Conversations with Woody Allen (2007); studies by D. Jacobs (1982), F. Hirsch (rev. ed. 1990), S. B. Girgus (1993), and D. Brode (1997); Woody Allen on Woody Allen (1995); documentary film Wild Man Blues (1998), dir. by B. Kopple.

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Allen, Woody (1935– ) US film director, actor and screenwriter, b. Allen Stewart Konigsberg. Allen made his debut as an actor and screenwriter in What's New Pussycat? (1965). His directorial debut was Take the Money and Run (1969). During the 1970s, he established his trademark style of urbane, angst-ridden New York-based comedies. Allen won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director for Annie Hall (1977). He gained an Oscar nomination for his first serious drama, the Bergman-like Interiors (1978). His next film, Manhattan (1979), marked a return to the semi-autobiographical format. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) won Allen an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Other films include Zelig (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and Mighty Aphrodite (1996). His separation (1992) from Mia Farrow, his long-standing partner and co-star, was acrimonious and litigious.

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ALLEN, Woody

ALLEN, Woody. American, b. 1935. Genres: Novels, Plays/Screenplays. Career: Comedian, actor, writer, and film director. Former staff writer for NBC. Publications: SCREENPLAYS: What's New, Pussycat, 1965; What's Up, Tigerlily, 1967; Take the Money and Run, 1969; Bananas, 1970; Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask, 1972; Sleeper, 1974; Love and Death, 1975; Annie Hall, 1978; Interiors, 1978; Manhattan, 1979; Stardust Memories, 1980; A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, 1982; Zelig, 1983; Broadway Danny Rose, 1984; The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985; Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986; Radio Days, 1987; September, 1988; Another Woman, 1988; Oedipus Wrecks, 1989; Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989; Alice, 1990; Husbands and Wives, 1992; Shadow and Fog, 1992; Manhattan Murder Mystery, 1993; Bullets over Broadway, 1995; Mighty Aphrodite, 1995; Everyone Says I Love You, 1996; Deconstructing Harry, 1997; Small Time Crooks, 2000. PLAYS: Don't Drink the Water, 1967; Play It Again, Sam, 1969, screenplay, 1972; Getting Even, 1971; Death Defying Acts: 3 One-Act Comedies, 1995. OTHER: Without Feathers, 1975; Side Effects, 1980; The Floating Light Bulb, 1982; Woody Allen on Woody Allen, 1994. Address: c/o Jack Rollins, Rollins & Joffe, 1775 Broadway Ste 708, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.