Woody Allen

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Woody Allen
Woody Allen Cannes 2016.jpg
Allan Stewart Konigsberg

(1935-12-01) December 1, 1935 (age 83)
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
OccupationDirector, writer, actor, comedian
Years active1950–present
Children5, including Ronan Farrow
RelativesLetty Aronson (sister)
AwardsSee Awards and Nominations
Comedy career
MediumStand-up, film, television, theatre, books
GenresObservational comedy, satire, black comedy, self-deprecation, deadpan
SignatureWoody Allen signature.svg

Heywood "Woody" Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg; December 1, 1935) is an American director, writer, actor, and comedian whose career spans more than six decades. He began his career as a comedy writer in the 1950s, writing jokes and scripts for television and publishing several books of short humor pieces. In the early 1960s, Allen began performing as a stand-up comedian, emphasizing monologues rather than traditional jokes. As a comedian, he developed the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish, which he maintains is quite different from his real-life personality.[1] In 2004, Comedy Central ranked Allen fourth on a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians,[2][3] while a UK survey ranked Allen as the third-greatest comedian.[4]

By the mid-1960s, Allen was writing and directing films, first specializing in slapstick comedies before moving into dramatic material influenced by European art cinema during the 1970s, and alternating between comedies and dramas to the present. He is often identified as part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmakers of the mid-1960s to late 1970s.[5] Allen often stars in his films, typically in the persona he developed as a standup. Some of the best-known of his over 50 films are Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). In 2007 he said Stardust Memories (1980), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Match Point (2005) were his best films.[6] Critic Roger Ebert described Allen as "a treasure of the cinema".[7]

Allen has received many accolades and honors throughout his career. He has won four Academy Awards: three for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Director. He also garnered nine British Academy Film Awards. His screenplay for Annie Hall was named the funniest screenplay by the Writers Guild of America in its list of the "101 Funniest Screenplays".[8] In 2011, PBS televised the film biography Woody Allen: A Documentary on the American Masters TV series.[9]

Early life[edit]

Allen as a high school senior, 1953

Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg[10] in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York. He and his sister, Letty (b. 1943), were raised in Midwood, Brooklyn.[11] He is the son of Nettie (née Cherry; November 8, 1906 – January 27, 2002), a bookkeeper at her family's delicatessen, and Martin Konigsberg (December 25, 1900 – January 8, 2001),[12] a jewelry engraver and waiter.[13] His family was Jewish, and his grandparents immigrated to the US from Russia and Austria and spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, and German.[14][15] Both of Allen's parents were born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.[16]

His childhood was not particularly happy; his parents did not get along, and he had a rocky relationship with his stern, temperamental mother.[17] Allen spoke German quite a bit in his early years.[18] He would later joke that when he was young he was often sent to inter-faith summer camps. While attending Hebrew school for eight years, he went to Public School 99 (now the Isaac Asimov School for Science and Literature)[19] and to Midwood High School, where he graduated in 1953. Unlike his comic persona, he was more interested in baseball than school and his strong arms ensured he was first to be picked for a team.[20][21] He impressed students with his extraordinary talent with cards and magic tricks.[22]

For pay, he wrote jokes (or "gags") for agent David O. Alber, who sold them to newspaper columnists. At the age of 17, he legally changed his name to Heywood Allen[23] and later began to call himself Woody Allen. According to Allen, his first published joke read: "Woody Allen says he ate at a restaurant that had O.P.S. prices—over people's salaries."[24] He was earning more than both his parents combined.[20] After high school, he attended New York University, studying communication and film in 1953, before dropping out after failing the course "Motion Picture Production". He studied film at City College of New York in 1954 but left before the end of the first semester.[25] He taught himself rather than in the classroom.[21] He taught at The New School and studied with writing teacher Lajos Egri.[21]p.74


Comedy writer[edit]

Allen began writing short jokes when he was 15,[26] and the following year began sending them to various Broadway writers to see if they'd be interested in buying any. He also began going by the name "Woody Allen".[27]:539 One of those writers was Abe Burrows, coauthor of Guys and Dolls, who wrote, "Wow! His stuff was dazzling." Burrows then wrote Allen letters of introduction to Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and Peter Lind Hayes, who immediately sent Allen a check for just the jokes Burrows included as samples.[27]:541

As a result of the jokes Allen mailed to various writers, he was invited, then age 19, to join the NBC Writer's Development Program in 1955, followed by a job on The NBC Comedy Hour in Los Angeles. He was later hired as a full-time writer for humorist Herb Shriner, initially earning $25 a week.[24] He began writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, specials for Sid Caesar post-Caesar's Hour (1954–1957), and other television shows.[21]p.111 By the time he was working for Caesar, he was earning $1,500 a week; with Caesar, he worked alongside Danny Simon, whom Allen credits for helping form his writing style.[24][28] In 1962 alone he estimated that he wrote twenty thousand jokes for various comics.[27]:533 Allen also wrote for the Candid Camera television show, and appeared in some episodes.[29]

He wrote jokes for the Buddy Hackett sitcom Stanley and The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. And in 1958 he co-wrote a few Sid Caesar specials with Larry Gelbart.[27]:542 After writing for many of television's leading comedians and comedy shows, Allen was gaining the reputation for being a "genius", says composer Mary Rodgers. When given an assignment for a show he would leave and come back the next day with "reams of paper", according to producer Max Liebman.[27]:542 Similarly, after writing for Bob Hope, Hope called him "half a genius".[27]:542

His daily writing routine could go as long as fifteen hours, and he could focus and write anywhere necessary. Dick Cavett was amazed at Allen's capacity to write: "He can go to a typewriter after breakfast and sit there until the sun sets and his head is pounding, interrupting work only for coffee and a brief walk, and then spend the whole evening working."[27]:551 When Allen wrote for other comedians, they would use eight out of ten of his jokes. When he began performing as a stand-up, he was much more selective, typically using only one out of ten jokes. He estimated that to prepare for a 30-minute show, he spent six months of intensive writing.[27]:551 He enjoyed writing, however, despite the work: "Nothing makes me happier than to tear open a ream of paper. And I can't wait to fill it! I love to do it."[27]:551

Allen started writing short stories and cartoon captions for magazines such as The New Yorker; he was inspired by the tradition of New Yorker humorists S. J. Perelman, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, and Max Shulman, whose material he modernized.[30][31][32][33][34] His collections of short pieces includes Getting Even, Without Feathers, Side Effects, and Mere Anarchy. His early comic fiction was influenced by the zany, pun-ridden humor of S.J. Perelman. In 2010, Allen released audio versions of his books in which he read 73 selections. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.[35]

Stand-up comedian[edit]

Allen in the 1960s

From 1960 to 1969, Allen performed as a stand-up comedian to supplement his comedy writing. His contemporaries during those years included Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Mort Sahl, his personal favorite. Comedy historian Gerald Nachman notes that Allen, while not the first to do stand-up, would eventually have greater impact than all the others in the 1960s, and would redefine the meaning of stand-up comedy: "He helped turn it into biting, brutally honest satirical commentary on the cultural and psychological tenor of the times."[27]:525

After Allen was taken under the wing of his new manager, Jack Rollins, who had recently discovered Nichols and May, Rollins suggested he perform his written jokes as a stand-up. Allen was resistant at first, but after seeing Mort Sahl on stage, he felt safer to give it a try: "I'd never had the nerve to talk about it before. Then Mort Sahl came along with a whole new style of humor, opening up vistas for people like me."[27]:545 Allen made his professional stage debut at the Blue Angel nightclub in Manhattan in October 1960, where comedian Shelley Berman introduced him as a young television writer who would perform his own material.[27]:545

His early stand-up shows with his different style of humor were not always well received or understood by his audiences. Unlike other comedians, Allen spoke to his audiences in a gentle and conversational style, often appearing to be searching for words, although his style was well rehearsed. He acted "normal", dressed casually, and made no attempt to project a stage "personality". And he did not improvise: "I put very little premium on improvisation," he told Studs Terkel.[27]:532 His jokes were created from life experiences, and typically presented with a dead serious demeanor which made them funnier: "I don't think my family liked me. They put a live teddy bear in my crib."[27]:533

The subjects of his jokes were rarely topical, political or socially relevant. Unlike Bruce and Sahl, he did not discuss current events such as civil rights, women's rights, the Cold War, or Vietnam. And although he was described as a "classic nebbish", he did not tell Jewish jokes. Comedy screenwriter Larry Gelbart compared Allen's style to Elaine May: "He just styled himself completely after her," he said.[27]:546 Like Nichols and May, he often made fun of intellectuals.

Television talk show host Dick Cavett, who was among the minority who quickly appreciated Allen's unique style, recalls seeing the audience at the Blue Angel mostly ignore Allen's monologue: "I recognized immediately that there was no young comedian in the country in the same class with him for sheer brilliance of jokes, and I resented the fact that the audience was too dumb to realize what they were getting."[27]:550 It was his subdued stage presence, while initially unappreciated, that eventually became one of Allen's strongest traits, explains Nachman: "The utter absence of showbiz veneer and shtick was the best shtick any comedian had ever devised. This uneasy onstage naturalness became a trademark."[27]:530 When he was finally noticed by the media, writers like New York Times' Arthur Gelb would describe Allen's nebbish quality as being "Chaplinesque" and "refreshing".

Allen developed an anxious, nervous, and intellectual persona for his stand-up act, a successful move that secured regular gigs for him in nightclubs and on television. Allen brought innovation to the comedy monologue genre and his stand-up comedy would be considered influential.[36] Allen first appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on November 1, 1963 and over nine years his guest appearances included seventeen in the host's chair. He subsequently released three LP albums of live nightclub recordings: the self-titled Woody Allen (1964), Volume 2 (1965), and The Third Woody Allen Album (1968) recorded at a fund-raiser for Senator Eugene McCarthy's presidential run.[37]

In 1965, Allen had his own TV special in Great Britain called The Woody Allen Show. In 1967 he hosted an episode of The Kraft Music Hall where he would intersperse humor with interviews of famous people, including conservative writer William F. Buckley.[38] In 1969 he hosted his first American special for CBS television which included a humorous spot with The Rev. Billy Graham.[39][40] He also performed stand-up comedy on other series including The Andy Williams Show and The Perry Como Show where he would interact with other guests and occasionally sing.[41] In 1971 Allen hosted one of his final Tonight Shows, which included as guests Bob Hope and James Coco.[42]

For its March 21, 1969, issue, Life put Allen on its cover.[43]


Allen with the Broadway cast of Play It Again, Sam (1969).

In 1966, Allen wrote the play Don't Drink the Water. The play starred Lou Jacobi, Kay Medford, Anita Gillette and Allen's future movie co-star Tony Roberts.[44] A film adaptation of the play, directed by Howard Morris, was released in 1969, starring Jackie Gleason. Because he was not particularly happy with the 1969 film version of his play, in 1994, Allen directed and starred in a second version for television, with Michael J. Fox and Mayim Bialik.[45]

The next play Allen wrote for Broadway was Play It Again, Sam, in which he also starred. The play opened on February 12, 1969, and ran for 453 performances. It featured Diane Keaton and Roberts.[46] The play was significant to Keaton's budding career, and she has stated she was in "awe" of Allen even before auditioning for her role, which was the first time she met him.[47] During an interview in 2013, Keaton stated that she "fell in love with him right away," adding, "I wanted to be his girlfriend so I did something about it."[48] After co-starring alongside Allen in the subsequent film version of Play It Again, Sam, she would later co-star in Sleeper, Love and Death, Interiors, Manhattan and Annie Hall. "He showed me the ropes and I followed his lead. He is the most disciplined person I know. He works very hard," Keaton has stated.[48]

In 1981, his play The Floating Light Bulb premiered on Broadway and ran for 65 performances.[49] While receiving mixed reviews, it gave an autobiographical insight into Allen's childhood, specifically his fascination with magic tricks. He has written several one-act plays, including Riverside Drive and Old Saybrook exploring well-known Allen themes.[50][51]

On October 20, 2011, Allen's one-act play Honeymoon Motel opened as part of a larger piece entitled Relatively Speaking on Broadway, with two other one-act plays, one by Ethan Coen and one by Elaine May.[52]

Early films[edit]

His first movie was the Charles K. Feldman production What's New Pussycat? in 1965, for which he wrote the screenplay. He was disappointed with the final product, which inspired him to direct every film that he would later write.[9] Allen's first directorial effort was What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966, co-written with Mickey Rose), in which an existing Japanese spy movie—Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no kagi (1965), "International Secret Police: Key of Keys"—was redubbed in English by Allen and friends with fresh new, comic dialogue. In 1967, Allen played Jimmy Bond in the 007 spoof Casino Royale.

Allen directed, starred in, and co-wrote (with Mickey Rose) Take the Money and Run in 1969, which received positive reviews. He later signed a deal with United Artists to produce several films. Those films eventually became Bananas (1971, co-written with Rose), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (1972), Sleeper (1973), and Love and Death (1975).[9] Sleeper was the first of four screenplays co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman.[53][54]

In 1972, Allen wrote and starred in the film version of Play It Again, Sam, directed by Herbert Ross and co-starring Diane Keaton. In 1976, he starred as cashier Howard Prince, in The Front, directed by Martin Ritt. The Front was a humorous and poignant account of Hollywood blacklisting during the 1950s; Ritt, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and three of Allen's cast-mates, Samuel "Zero" Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough, had themselves been blacklisted.

I don't like meeting heroes. There's nobody I want to meet and nobody I want to work with—I'd rather work with Diane Keaton than anyone—she's absolutely great, a natural.


Then came two of Allen's most popular films. Annie Hall won four Academy Awards in 1977, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Diane Keaton, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for Woody Allen. Annie Hall set the standard for modern romantic comedy and ignited a fashion trend with the clothes worn by Diane Keaton in the film. In an interview with journalist Katie Couric, Keaton does not deny that Allen wrote the part for her and about her.[55] The film is ranked at No. 35 on the American Film Institute's "100 Best Movies" and at No. 4 on the AFI list of "100 Best Comedies."

Manhattan (1979), is a black-and-white film often viewed as an homage to New York City. As in many Allen films, the main protagonists are upper-middle class writers and academics. The love–hate opinion of cerebral persons found in Manhattan is characteristic of many of Allen's movies, including Crimes and Misdemeanors and Annie Hall. Manhattan focuses on the complicated relationship between middle-aged Isaac Davis (Allen) with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), and co-stars Diane Keaton.

Keaton, who made eight movies with Allen during her career, tries to explain why his films are unique:

He just has a mind like nobody else. He's bold. He's got a lot of strength, a lot of courage in terms of his work. And that is what it takes to do something really unique. Along with a genius imagination.[55]


Allen's 1980s films, even the comedies, have somber and philosophical undertones, with their influences being the works of European directors, specifically Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Stardust Memories was based on , which it parodies, and Wild Strawberries. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy was adapted from Smiles of a Summer Night. In Hannah and Her Sisters, part of the film's structure and background is borrowed from Fanny and Alexander. Amarcord inspired Radio Days. September resembles Autumn Sonata. Allen uses many elements from Wild Strawberries. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen references a scene from Wild Strawberries.[56]

Stardust Memories (1980) features Sandy Bates, a successful filmmaker played by Allen, who expresses resentment and scorn for his fans. Overcome by the recent death of a friend from illness, the character states, "I don't want to make funny movies any more" and a running gag has various people (including visiting space aliens) telling Bates that they appreciate his films, "especially the early, funny ones."[57] Allen believes this to be one of his best films.[58]

Mia's a good actress who can play many different roles. She has a very good range, and can play serious to comic roles. She's also very photogenic, very beautiful on screen. She's just a good realistic actress... and no matter how strange and daring it is, she does it well.

Woody Allen (1993)[59]

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) was the first movie Allen made starring Mia Farrow, who stepped into Diane Keaton's role when Keaton was shooting Reds.[60] He next produced a vividly idiosyncratic tragi-comical parody of documentary, Zelig, in which he starred as a Leonard Zelig, man who has the ability to transform his appearance to that of the people who surround him.[61]

Allen has combined tragic and comic elements in such films as Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), in which he tells two stories that connect at the end. He also made three films about show business: Broadway Danny Rose, in which he plays a New York show business agent, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a movie that shows the importance of the cinema during the Depression through the character of the naive Cecilia, and Radio Days, a film about his childhood in Brooklyn and the importance of the radio. The film co-starred Farrow in a part Allen wrote specifically for her.[59] The Purple Rose of Cairo was named by Time as one of the 100 best films of all time.[62] Allen called it one of his three best films with Stardust Memories and Match Point [63] By "best" he means they came closest to his vision. In 1989, Allen and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese made New York Stories, an anthology film about New Yorkers. Allen's short, Oedipus Wrecks, is about a neurotic lawyer and his critical mother. Film critic Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised Allen's segment of the anthology.[64]


His 1991 film Shadows and Fog is a black-and-white homage to the German expressionists and features the music of Kurt Weill.[65] Allen then made his critically acclaimed comedy-drama Husbands and Wives (1992), which received two Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actress for Judy Davis and Best Original Screenplay for Allen. His film Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) combined suspense with dark comedy and marked the return of Diane Keaton, Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston.

He returned to lighter movies like Bullets over Broadway (1994), which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, followed by a musical, Everyone Says I Love You (1996). The singing and dancing scenes in Everyone Says I Love You are similar to musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The comedy Mighty Aphrodite (1995), in which Greek drama plays a large role, won an Academy Award for Mira Sorvino. Allen's 1999 jazz-based comedy-drama Sweet and Lowdown was nominated for two Academy Awards for Sean Penn (Best Actor) and Samantha Morton (Best Supporting Actress). In contrast to these lighter movies, Allen veered into darker satire toward the end of the decade with Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Celebrity (1998).

During this decade, Allen also starred in the television film The Sunshine Boys (1995), based on the Neil Simon play of the same name.[66]

Allen made one sitcom "appearance" via telephone on the show Just Shoot Me! in a 1997 episode, "My Dinner with Woody", which paid tribute to several of his films. Allen provided the voice of Z in DreamWorks' first animated film, Antz (1998), which featured many actors he had worked with; Allen's character was similar to his earlier neurotic roles.[67]


Small Time Crooks (2000) was Allen's first film with the DreamWorks studio and represented a change in direction: Allen began giving more interviews and made an attempt to return to his slapstick roots. The film is similar to the 1942 film Larceny, Inc. (from a play by S.J. Perelman).[68] Allen never commented on whether this was deliberate or if his film was in any way inspired by it. Small Time Crooks was a relative financial success, grossing over $17 million domestically but Allen's next four films foundered at the box office, including Allen's most costly film, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (with a budget of $26 million). Hollywood Ending, Anything Else, and Melinda and Melinda were given "rotten" ratings from film-review website Rotten Tomatoes and each earned less than $4 million domestically.[69] Some critics claimed that Allen's early 2000s films were subpar and expressed concern that Allen's best years were behind him.[70] Others were less harsh; reviewing the little-liked Melinda and Melinda, Roger Ebert wrote, "I cannot escape the suspicion that if Woody had never made a previous film, if each new one was Woody's Sundance debut, it would get a better reception. His reputation is not a dead shark but an albatross, which with admirable economy Allen has arranged for the critics to carry around their own necks."[71]

Allen in 2006

Match Point (2005) was one of Allen's most successful films of the decade, garnering positive reviews.[72] Set in London, it starred Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. It is markedly darker than Allen's first four films with DreamWorks SKG. In Match Point, Allen shifted focus from the intellectual upper class of New York to the moneyed upper class of London. The film earned more than $23 million domestically (more than any of his films in nearly 20 years) and over $62 million in international box office sales.[73] Match Point earned Allen his first Academy Award nomination since 1998, for Best Writing – Original Screenplay, with directing and writing nominations at the Golden Globes, his first Globe nominations since 1987. In a 2006 interview with Premiere Magazine, Allen stated this was the best film he has ever made.[74]

Allen reached an agreement to film Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Avilés, Barcelona, and Oviedo, Spain, where shooting started on July 9, 2007. The movie starred Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall and Penélope Cruz.[75][76] Vicky Cristina Barcelona won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe awards. Penélope Cruz received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

"In the United States things have changed a lot, and it's hard to make good small films now," Allen said in a 2004 interview. "The avaricious studios couldn't care less about good films—if they get a good film they're twice as happy but money-making films are their goal. They only want these $100 million pictures that make $500 million."[77]

In April 2008, he began filming Whatever Works,[78] a film focused more toward older audiences, starring Larry David, Patricia Clarkson,[79] and Evan Rachel Wood.[80] Released in 2009 and described as a dark comedy, it follows the story of a botched suicide attempt turned messy love triangle. Whatever Works was written by Allen in the 1970s, and the character played by David was written for Zero Mostel, who died the year Annie Hall came out.

Allen was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.[81]


Woody Allen at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, filmed in London, stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Anupam Kher, Freida Pinto and Naomi Watts. Filming started in July 2009. It was released theatrically in the US on September 23, 2010, following a Cannes debut in May 2010, and a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2010. Allen announced that his next film would be titled Midnight in Paris[82] starring Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Gad Elmaleh and Carla Bruni, the First Lady of France at the time of production. The film follows a young engaged couple in Paris who see their lives transformed. It debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2011. Allen said he wanted to "show the city emotionally," during the press conference. "I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris – Paris through my eyes," he added.[83] The film was praised by critic Stephanie Zacharek.[84] Midnight in Paris won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and became his highest-grossing film, making $151 million worldwide on a $17 million budget.[85]

His next film, To Rome with Love, was a Rome-set comedy released in 2012. The film was structured in four vignettes featuring dialogue in both Italian and English. It marked Allen's return to acting since his last role in Scoop.[86]

Blue Jasmine debuted in July 2013.[87] The film is set in San Francisco and New York, and stars Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, and Peter Sarsgaard.[88] Opening to critical acclaim, the film earned Allen another Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay,[89] and Blanchett went to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress.[90] Allen co-starred with John Turturro in Fading Gigolo, written and directed by Turturro, which premiered in September 2013.[91] In 2013, Allen shot the romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight in Nice, France. The film, set in the 1920s on the French Riviera.[92]

It’s really cool to work with a director who’s done so much, because he knows exactly what he wants. The fact that he does one shot for an entire scene—[and] this could be a scene with eight people and one to two takes—it gives you a level of confidence... he’s very empowering.

Blake Lively, on acting in Café Society[93]

From July through August 2014, Allen filmed the mystery drama Irrational Man in Newport, Rhode Island, with Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley.[94] Allen has said that this film, as well as the next three he has planned, have the financing and full support of Sony Pictures Classics.[95] Allen's next film, Café Society, starred an ensemble cast, including Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Blake Lively.[96] Bruce Willis was set to co-star, but was replaced by Steve Carell during filming.[97] The film is distributed by Amazon Studios, and opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2016, marking the third time Allen has opened the festival.[98]

On January 14, 2015, it was announced Allen will write and direct a TV series of half-hour episodes for Amazon Studios, marking the first time he has developed a television show. It will be available exclusively on Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Amazon Studios has already ordered a full season. Allen said of the series, "I don't know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I'm not sure where to begin. My guess is that Roy Price [the head of Amazon Studios] will regret this."[99][100][101] At the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Allen said, in reference to his upcoming Amazon show, "It was a catastrophic mistake. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm floundering. I expect this to be a cosmic embarrassment."[102] On September 30, 2016, Amazon Video debuted Allen's first television series production, titled Crisis in Six Scenes. The series is a comedy which takes place during the 1960s. It focuses on the life of a suburban family after a surprise visitor creates chaos among them. It stars Allen alongside Elaine May and Miley Cyrus. Cyrus plays the part of a radical hippie fugitive who sells marijuana.[103][104]

In September 2016, Allen started filming Wonder Wheel, set in the 1950s in Coney Island, and starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake.[105] The film served as the closing night selection at the 55th New York Film Festival on October 15, 2017,[106] and was theatrically released on December 1, 2017,[107] as the first movie self-distributed to theaters by Amazon Studios.[108]

His film A Rainy Day in New York, starring Timothée Chalamet, Selena Gomez, Elle Fanning, Jude Law, Diego Luna and Liev Schreiber began production in New York in September 2017.[109] However Chalamet, Gomez and Hall announced, in the light of the #MeToo movement, that they would be donating their salaries to various charities.[110] The film has not been put on release; doubts were raised as to whether Amazon would proceed with the other three films in their deal with Allen in the light of reasserted allegations of sexual abuse made by Allen's adopted stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow. This would mean the first year for many years that Allen has not worked on a film.[111]


Life-size statue of Woody Allen in Oviedo, Spain

While best known for his films, Allen has enjoyed a successful career in theatre, starting as early as 1960, when he wrote sketches for the revue From A to Z. His first great success was Don't Drink the Water, which opened in 1968, and ran for 598 performances for almost two years on Broadway. His success continued with Play It Again, Sam, which opened in 1969, starring Allen and Diane Keaton. The show played for 453 performances and was nominated for three Tony Awards, although none of the nominations were for Allen's writing or acting.[112]

In the 1970s, Allen wrote a number of one-act plays, most notably God and Death, which were published in his 1975 collection Without Feathers. In 1981, Allen's play The Floating Light Bulb opened on Broadway. The play was a critical success and a commercial flop. Despite two Tony Award nominations, a Tony win for the acting of Brian Backer (who won the 1981 Theater World Award and a Drama Desk Award for his work), the play only ran for 62 performances.[113] After a long hiatus from the stage, Allen returned to the theatre in 1995, with the one-act Central Park West, an installment in an evening of theatre known as Death Defying Acts that was also made up of new work by David Mamet and Elaine May.[114]

For the next few years, Allen had no direct involvement with the stage, yet notable productions of his work were staged. A production of God was staged at The Bank of Brazil Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro,[115] and theatrical adaptations of Allen's films Bullets Over Broadway[116] and September[117] were produced in Italy and France, respectively, without Allen's involvement. In 1997, rumors of Allen returning to the theatre to write a starring role for his wife Soon-Yi Previn turned out to be false.[118] In 2003, Allen finally returned to the stage with Writer's Block, an evening of two one-acts—Old Saybrook and Riverside Drive—that played Off-Broadway. The production marked the stage-directing debut for Allen.[119] The production sold out the entire run.[120] Also in 2003, reports of Allen writing the book for a musical based on Bullets Over Broadway surfaced, and it opened in New York in 2014.[121] The musical closed on August 24, 2014, after 156 performances and 33 previews.[122]

In 2004, Allen's first full-length play since 1981, A Second Hand Memory,[123] was directed by Allen and enjoyed an extended run Off-Broadway.[120] In June 2007, it was announced that Allen would make two more creative debuts in the theatre, directing a work that he did not write and directing an opera—a reinterpretation of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi for the Los Angeles Opera[124]—which debuted at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on September 6, 2008.[125] Commenting on his direction of the opera, Allen said, "I have no idea what I'm doing." His production of the opera opened the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, in June 2009.[126]

In October 2011, Woody Allen's one-act play called Honeymoon Motel premiered as one in a series of one act plays on Broadway titled Relatively Speaking.[127] Also contributing to the plays are Elaine May and Ethan Coen with John Turturro directing.[128] It was announced in February 2012 that Allen would adapt Bullets over Broadway into a Broadway musical. It opened on April 10, 2014 and closed on August 24, 2014.[129]


Woody Allen with Jerry Zigmont and Simon Wettenhall performing at Vienne Jazz Festival, Vienne, France, September 20, 2003

Allen is a passionate fan of jazz, featured prominently in the soundtracks to his films. He began playing the clarinet as a child and took his stage name from clarinetist Woody Herman.[130] He has performed publicly at least since the late 1960s, notably with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the soundtrack of Sleeper.[131]

Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band have been playing each Monday evening at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan for many years[132] specializing in New Orleans jazz from the early twentieth century.[133] He plays songs by Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone and Louis Armstrong.[134] The documentary film Wild Man Blues (directed by Barbara Kopple) documents a 1996 European tour by Allen and his band, as well as his relationship with Previn. The band has released two CDs: The Bunk Project (1993) and the soundtrack of Wild Man Blues (1997). In a 2011 review of a concert by Allen's jazz band, critic Kirk Silsbee of the Los Angeles Times suggested that Allen should be regarded a competent musical hobbyist with a sincere appreciation for early jazz: "Allen's clarinet won't make anyone forget Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard or Evan Christopher. His piping tone and strings of staccato notes can't approximate melodic or lyrical phrasing. Still his earnestness and the obvious regard he has for traditional jazz counts for something."[135]

Allen and his band played the Montreal International Jazz Festival on two consecutive nights in June 2008.[136] For many years, Allen wanted to make a film about the origins of jazz in New Orleans. The film, tentatively titled American Blues, would follow the vastly different careers of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. Allen stated that the film would cost between $80 and $100 million and is therefore unlikely to be made.[137]

Personal life[edit]

Allen has been married three times: to Harlene Rosen (m. 1956–1959), Louise Lasser, (m. 1966–1970) and Soon-Yi Previn (m. 1997–present). He had a 12-year relationship with actress Mia Farrow and relationships with Stacey Nelkin and Diane Keaton.

Early marriages and relationships[edit]

Allen married 17-year-old Harlene Rosen when he was 20 in 1956; the marriage lasted until 1959.[138] Rosen, whom Allen referred to in his standup act as "the Dread Mrs. Allen", sued him for defamation as a result of comments he made during a television appearance shortly after their divorce. In his mid-1960s standup album Standup Comic, Allen said that Rosen had sued him because of a joke he made in an interview. Rosen had been sexually assaulted outside her apartment. According to Allen, the newspapers reported that she had been "violated". In the interview, Allen said, "Knowing my ex-wife, it probably wasn't a moving violation." In an interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Allen repeated his comments and said he had been sued for "$1 million."[139]

Allen married Louise Lasser in 1966. They divorced in 1970. Lasser appeared in three Allen films shortly before and after the divorce—Take the Money and Run, Bananas, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)—and later briefly appeared in Stardust Memories. In 1969 Allen cast Diane Keaton in his Broadway show, Play It Again, Sam. During the run she and Allen became romantically involved. Although they broke up after a year, she continued to star in his films, including Sleeper as a futuristic poet and Love and Death as a composite character based on the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Annie Hall was very important in Allen's and Keaton's careers. It is said that the role was written for her, as Diane Keaton's birth name was Diane Hall. She then starred in Interiors as a poet, followed by Manhattan. In 1987, she had a cameo as a nightclub singer in Radio Days, and she was chosen to replace Mia Farrow in Manhattan Murder Mystery after Allen and Farrow began having problems with their relationship. As of 2004 Keaton and Allen remained close friends.[140] According to the Los Angeles Times, Manhattan was based on Allen's romantic relationship with actress Stacey Nelkin.[141] Her bit part in Annie Hall ended up on the cutting room floor, and their relationship, although never publicly acknowledged by Allen, reportedly began when she was 17 and a student at New York's Stuyvesant High School.[142][143][144]

Mia Farrow[edit]

Allen and Mia Farrow met in 1979 and began a 12-year relationship in 1980;[145] Farrow starred in 13 of Allen's films from 1982 to 1992.[146] Throughout the relationship they lived in separate apartments on opposite sides of Central Park in Manhattan. Farrow had seven children when they met; there were three biological sons from her marriage to composer André Previn, three adopted girls (two Vietnamese and one Korean, Soon-Yi Previn), and one adopted Korean boy, Moses Farrow.[145]

In 1984 she and Allen tried to have a biological child together; Allen agreed to this on the understanding that he need not be involved in the child's care. When the effort to get pregnant failed, Farrow adopted a baby girl, Dylan Farrow, in July 1985. Allen was not involved in the adoption, but when Dylan arrived he assumed a parental role toward her and began spending more time in Farrow's home.[147] On December 19, 1987, Farrow gave birth to their son Satchel Farrow (later known as Ronan Farrow).[148][149] In 1991 Farrow wanted to adopt another child. According to a 1993 custody hearing, Allen told her he would not object to another adoption so long as she would agree to his adoption of Dylan and Moses; that adoption was finalized in December 1991.[147] Eric Lax, Allen's biographer, wrote in The New York Times in February 1991 that Allen was "there before they [the children] wake up in the morning, he sees them during the day and he helps put them to bed at night".[145]

Soon-Yi Previn[edit]

Soon-Yi Previn and Allen, 2009

In 1978, Mia Farrow and André Previn adopted Soon-Yi Previn, who had been abandoned in the slums of Seoul. At the time of the adoption, her passport said that she was seven years of age; a bone scan in the U.S. determined that she was between five and seven years old.[a] According to Previn, her first friendly interaction with Allen took place when she was injured playing soccer during her junior year of high school and Allen offered to transport her to school. After her injury, she began attending New York Knicks basketball games with Allen.[151] They attended more games and by 1991 had become closer.[147] In September 1991, she began her studies at Drew University in New Jersey.[152]

In January 1992, Farrow found nude photographs of Soon-Yi Previn in Allen's home. Allen, then 57, told Farrow that he had taken the photos the day before, approximately two weeks after he first had sex with Previn.[153] Both Farrow and Allen contacted lawyers shortly after the photographs were discovered.[147][150] Previn was asked to leave summer camp because she was spending too much time taking calls from a "Mr. Simon", who turned out to be Allen.[152]

Allen described his relationship with Previn as a "fling" that developed into a more significant relationship.[154] He described his role in their adult relationship as "paternal" while denying any parental or paternal role in Previn's life during her upbringing.[155] He issued a statement on August 17, 1992, saying that he was in love with Soon-Yi.[156] His relationship with Previn became public and "erupted into tabloid headlines and late-night monologues in August 1992."[157]

Allen and Previn were married in Venice, Italy on December 23, 1997[158] and adopted two children, Bechet and Manzie.[159][160] They live in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan's Upper East Side.[161]

Sexual assault allegation[edit]

According to court testimony, on August 4, 1992, Allen visited the children at Mia Farrow's home in Bridgewater, Connecticut, while she was out shopping with a friend.[150] The following day, that friend's babysitter told her employer that she had seen Allen behaving inappropriately with Dylan.[162] When Farrow asked Dylan about it, Dylan alleged that Allen had touched Dylan's "private part" while they were alone together in the attic.[150] One woman employed to care for Farrow's children said that for about 20 minutes that afternoon she had not known where Dylan was, while a second said that, at one point, Dylan had been wearing no underwear under her dress.[162] Farrow told Dylan's pediatrician, who informed authorities.[163][164]

Allen strongly denied the allegation, calling it "an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation of innocent children for vindictive and self-serving motives".[165] Allen then began proceedings in New York Supreme Court for sole custody of his and Farrow's son Satchel, as well as Dylan and Moses, the two adopted children of Farrow that Allen had adopted as well.[166] A months-long investigation by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale–New Haven Hospital concluded in March 1993 that Dylan had not been sexually assaulted.[167] In June 1993, the judge rejected Allen's bid for custody. He said that the Yale–New Haven team's unwillingness to testify in court, except through a deposition, together with the destruction of its notes, had rendered its report "sanitized and, therefore, less credible".[168] In September of that year, the state prosecutor announced that, despite having "probable cause," he would not pursue charges, in order to spare Dylan from the ordeal.[169]

When Allen received a Golden Globe Award for lifetime achievement in 2014, the issue returned to the forefront of media attention. On February 1, 2014, columnist Nicholas Kristof, with Dylan's permission, published an editorial in the New York Times that included excerpts from a letter Dylan had written to Kristof about her memories and feelings about the initial episode, public reaction to the issue, and Allen's award.[170] On May 23, 2018, a blog post by Moses Farrow defended Allen against the allegations leveled against him by Mia and Dylan Farrow.[171]


Theatrical works[edit]

In addition to directing, writing, and acting in films, Allen has written and performed in a number of Broadway theater productions.

Year Title Credit Venue
1960 From A to Z Writer (book) Plymouth Theatre
1966 Don't Drink the Water Writer Coconut Grove Playhouse, Florida
1969 Play It Again, Sam Writer, Performer (Allan Felix) Broadhurst Theatre[172]
1975 God Writer
1975 Death Writer
1981 The Floating Light Bulb Writer Vivian Beaumont Theater
1995 Central Park West Writer Variety Arts Theatre
2003 Old Saybrook Writer, Director Atlantic Theatre Company
2003 Riverside Drive Writer, Director Atlantic Theatre Company
2004 A Second Hand Memory Writer, Director Atlantic Theater Company
2011 "Honeymoon Motel" (segment of 3-part anthology play Relatively Speaking) Writer Brooks Atkinson Theatre
2014 Bullets Over Broadway Writer (Book) St. James Theatre


Works about Allen[edit]

Apart from Wild Man Blues, directed by Barbara Kopple, there are other documentaries featuring Woody Allen, including the 2001 cable-television documentary Woody Allen: a Life in Film, directed by Time film critic Richard Schickel, which interlaces interviews of Allen with clips of his films, and Meetin' WA, a short interview of Allen by French director Jean-Luc Godard. In 2011 the PBS series American Masters co-produced the documentary Woody Allen: a Documentary, directed by Robert B. Weide.[9]

Eric Lax authored the book Woody Allen: A Biography.[173] From 1976 to 1984, Stuart Hample wrote and drew Inside Woody Allen, a comic strip based on Allen's film persona.[174]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maureen Orth (Vanity Fair, November 1992): "Nobody knows how old Soon-Yi really is. Without ever seeing her, Korean officials put her age down as seven on her passport. A bone scan Mia had done on her in the U.S. put her age at between five and seven. In the family, Soon-Yi is considered to have turned 20 this year [1992], on October 8.[150]


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