Woody: The Biography

  • Review
By – November 24, 2015

David Evanier’s por­trait of Woody Allen will be large­ly famil­iar to read­ers who have fol­lowed Allen’s career close­ly, though it also con­tains much that will be con­tro­ver­sial. He devotes ample space to explor­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between Allen’s actu­al per­son­al­i­ty and the famil­iar stereo­typed per­sona he was known for, espe­cial­ly ear­ly in his career — the neu­rot­ic, anhe­do­nic schlemiel who could bare­ly make toast, much less a movie, and would have a hard time sum­mon­ing up the courage to say hel­lo to such shik­sa god­dess­es as Diane Keaton or Mia Far­row. Evanier’s Woody Allen is not the neb­bishy Field­ing Mel­ish of Bananas but the Alvy Singer of Annie Hall—self-assured, sex­u­al­ly accom­plished, and scorn­ful of pre­ten­sion. Above all, Evanier por­trays Allen as a seri­ous artist and intel­li­gent — but far from intel­lec­tu­al — man of the world.

Evanier treats the basic facts of Allen’s life in a straight­for­ward man­ner. Read­ers will wel­come his treat­ment of Allen’s rela­tion­ships with his father and with Jack Rollins, the man­ag­er who pushed Allen into becom­ing an artis­tic force and whom Evanier sees as the mod­el for Allen’s fabled tal­ent agent, Dan­ny Rose. 

The most fiery con­tro­ver­sies in Evanier’s book will arise, inevitably, from his dis­cus­sion of Allen’s rela­tion­ship with Mia Far­row, includ­ing his affair and even­tu­al mar­riage to Farrow’s adopt­ed daugh­ter, Soon-Yi Previn, and the more seri­ous charges that Allen had molest­ed his and Farrow’s daugh­ter, Dylan, as a child. Evanier presents con­vinc­ing evi­dence that in both cas­es Allen was far more sinned against than sin­ning. He sees Far­row as a preter­nat­u­ral­ly unsta­ble woman and Allen as a man who lacked the skills (and per­haps the desire) to nav­i­gate the treach­er­ous waters in which he found him­self. But the read­er may well feel that a less zeal­ous fan would have pre­sent­ed a more bal­anced account. 

Despite the promise implied by the def­i­nite arti­cle in its sub­ti­tle, Evanier’s book is far from a defin­i­tive biog­ra­phy of Woody Allen. It is, rather, a breezy, anec­do­tal appre­ci­a­tion of Allen’s life and career. Evanier’s book has the virtue of being more recent — and there­fore more com­plete — than more for­mal biogra­phies that have gone before, but it relies heav­i­ly on those works and oth­er sec­ondary sources. As Evanier him­self makes clear, Allen nev­er autho­rized or for­mal­ly coop­er­at­ed with his effort, but nei­ther did he try to dis­cour­age it.

Evanier’s appraisal of Allen’s body of work, which he regards far more high­ly than Allen him­self does, may also raise some eye­brows, but this is to be expect­ed in a book like this. Broad­way Dan­ny Rose and Crimes and Mis­de­meanors are cer­tain­ly impor­tant films, though the por­ten­tous­ness of Crimes and Mis­de­meanors may mark it as less mature than the con­sis­tent­ly under­rat­ed Han­nah and Her Sis­ters. But it is hard to swal­low Evanier’s list­ing of such tri­fles as Alice, Mighty Aphrodite, and Decon­struct­ing Har­ry as among Woody’s Best.” 

Relat­ed Content:

David Evanier’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

What I Learned About Woody

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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