David Evanier recent­ly authored an unof­fi­cial biog­ra­phy of Woody Allen, and will be shar­ing what he learned about the famed come­di­an and direc­tor all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

When I start­ed writ­ing my biog­ra­phy of Woody Allen in 2012, a writer I had­n’t heard from in years wrote me excit­ed­ly, Tell! Tell!” I was­n’t sure I got her drift, so I wrote back ask­ing her what was it exact­ly she want­ed me to tell. She wrote back, I was shocked! Shocked!”

Many years before she had sat at a table next to Woody’s at Elaine’s. She told me that he was seat­ed with two oth­er male friends and they were talk­ing about sex and women. (Not that she was eaves­drop­ping, of course.) Well, I wrote back gen­tly that my life expe­ri­ence has been that when guys get togeth­er, this is a pret­ty nor­mal top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion for us. That was the end of our correspondence.

When I began Allen’s biog­ra­phy I decid­ed that I would drop in on Woody and tell him about my book and also make it clear that I was­n’t writ­ing the sort of thing that my shocked cor­re­spon­dent hoped for. So I rang his door­bell. I held a let­ter in my hand for him. A staff mem­ber looked down at me from the upper bal­cony and told me he’d be right down. He took my let­ter, smiled and said Per­fect.”

Well, that was nice, I was in. Not quite.

Allen answered me the next day. And many times more, while stat­ing again and again that this was not an autho­rized bio. And it isn’t. That was even bet­ter from my point of view, since I did not want any­one peer­ing over my shoul­der check­ing what I was writ­ing. This turned out well, espe­cial­ly since he real­ly was a men­sch, answer­ing my emails (plead­ing with me not to leave more let­ters at his house) and final­ly meet­ing with me at the end.

At the start I was only a pry­ing stranger to him and he respond­ed war­i­ly, espe­cial­ly since he was com­mit­ted to anoth­er biog­ra­ph­er — I would come to learn that he is deeply loy­al. And how many requests of this kind had he received over the years?

He bris­tled at my praise of Crimes and Mis­de­meanors and Zelig in that first let­ter. He was con­cerned that I would praise him for all the wrong rea­sons. He is extreme­ly self-crit­i­cal and cer­tain he has nev­er writ­ten a mas­ter­piece on the lev­el of a Rosseli­ni, Felli­ni, or De Sica. As a true artist, he does­n’t care about his past work or about how his work is reviewed. He cares only about what he is doing now and what he will do next. Yet he answered me, again and again, and cared about my strug­gles as a writer.

His achieve­ments — 46 films in 46 years, with a wide range of sub­ject mat­ter, from laugh-out-loud fun­ny to poignant­ly, star­tling­ly mov­ing — are almost Shake­speare­an. Allen is a clas­sic sto­ry­teller, not abstract or cere­bral. He gives every­thing to his films, even the lousy ones. His con­ti­nu­ity and high rate of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty are unprece­dent­ed. He may be the most amaz­ing phe­nom­e­non in the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can show busi­ness. He has cre­at­ed indeli­ble films that will stay with us the rest of our lives. And in all of these films Allen has been the writer, direc­tor and actor.

What did I dis­cov­er about Woody in writ­ing my biog­ra­phy? His boy­hood pals from Brook­lyn told me what a trick­ster and prankster he was, and that he was even fun­nier in per­son than he was on screen. His moth­er was hyper-emo­tion­al and ortho­dox; his father was a hap­py-go-lucky, good-time Char­lie who played the num­bers, was a gofer for Albert Anas­ta­sia, and car­ried a gun.

Allen is not a shlep­per at all; he is a total­ly con­cen­trat­ed, focused writer with an inde­fati­ga­ble work eth­ic. He lives for his writ­ing. He has said that Writ­ing is cul­mi­na­tion, it is being whol­ly alive.” He is not doing it for the mon­ey: Mon­ey in any way has nev­er been an issue with me,” he wrote me. He has nev­er tak­en the big, con­trol­ling mon­ey that would kill him as an artist. He nev­er stopped pay­ing his for­mer man­ag­er, Jack Rollins, or cred­it­ing Rollins in his films, although Rollins had retired many years ago. Rollins had been Woody’s men­tor in the begin­ning, urg­ing him to do standup com­e­dy. Allen was ter­ri­fied of per­form­ing, and Rollins was always by his side, not even tak­ing a com­mis­sion from him. That was the sort of thing Woody nev­er forgot.

David Evanier was the found­ing edi­tor of the lit­er­ary mag­a­zine Event and the for­mer fic­tion edi­tor of The Paris Review. Now pub­lish­ing his eighth book, he has received the Aga Khan Fic­tion Prize and the McGin­nis-Ritchie Short Fic­tion Award.

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