Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fade Out, Fade In

The Manhattan skyline from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. 8:00 AM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, September 20, 2018.  On Tuesday we got the end of Florence depositing her detritus, leftover from the Carolinas. By the end of the day it was sunny, with the temps were in the low to mid 70s. Ditto yesterday in New York with the temperatures reaching up to 80 and still very pleasant.
Florence left us New Yorkers a sensational sunset over the East River on Tuesday early evening.)
Fade Out, Fade In. The Daphne Merkin interview in New York Magazine with Soon-Yi and Woody Allen got the talkers talking as soon as it hit the stands Monday morning. Daphne is an old friend of Woody’s. She got the idea to get Soon-Yi’s side of the story when the new “charges” against Woody were splashed on the tabloids both print and web recently. In the history of their now long relationship, Soon-Yi has never spoken about the story or her life.

I’d read Soon-Yi’s “brother” Moses Farrow’s recollections and feelings about growing up as the children/charges of Ms. Farrow. In it he disproved the possibility of Woody’s alleged passing involvement with another “daughter” of Mia’s. His experience of being one of her adoptees turned out to be very alienating because of her behavior toward him and the other children.

I had read Daphne’s piece because I admire her insight. She is a sensible thinking individual who is most interested in family dynamics and their effect on the children. Knowing what she knew as a longtime friend of Woody, the interview was intended to set the record straight on the relationship between the man and his wife, and its history.

In it Soon-Yi discusses with Daphne her memories of living in Mia’s “family.” She recounts how Mia had picked her out after a one-on-one interview with her in a South Korean orphanage when the child was six or seven. Her experiences living with Mia echo the experiences Moses Farrow wrote about. I’ve known several people adopted in childhood. Their relationships with their adoptive parents varied although several were alienated and even hated their parents.

I’d read Moses’ piece because I had an instinct of what was coming. I tend to outrage when it comes to adult/child abuse. This is present in the lives of all us to one degree or another. I tend to believe children over parents when it comes to matters of abuse. Well-treated children do not go around publicly reporting mental and physical abuse. Even poorly treated children don’t. “Where there’s smoke, there’s (often) fire.” Furthermore, these memories are deeply etched in the child/adult’s consciousness.

Conversely, there is often disappointment with the child on the parents’ side. Much depends on the emotional content of the parent/child relationship. The best possibility is a hands on mother who enjoys the process of parenting and has empathy for the experience of childhood. And can accept the genetic differences. This is the toss of a coin in almost any family, adopted or not, and is very often complicated by the parents’ personal issues.

In a way Soon-Yi Previn Allen was fortunate to have been taken in by Mia Farrow because it gave an her opportunity to make more of the life she was handed as a small child  of poverty in Seoul.  She acknowledges this. She’s been with Woody Allen for more than twenty years now. She’s very verbal and her thoughts and opinons about herself and her life are expressed with a self-confidence that reveals a natural Common Sense. She acknowledges the advantage that came from Mia’s choice of her, and despite those aspects of the woman which she hated, she expresses her admiration Ms. Farrow’s ambitious best intentions.
Mia Farrow with Soon-Yi (r) in 1981. Photo by John Barrett-PHOTOlink
All adopted children arrive at the home of their adoptive parents with some other adult’s DNA. Think about it. It could even be your next door neighbor, even some idiot you know and loathe. That DNA doesn’t go away as the child grows. Environment only changes things superficially – and sometimes in the case of adoption, not at all. The popular notion that a child can be reared and groomed to fit an adopter’s image and/or hope, has no bearing in reality.

As children we definitely can be taught language and social behavior, and we can learn to adjust in ways that is required in any family by any child -- if given the opportunity. But our adopters cannot be like birth mother and father because they aren’t their parents’ biological children. Both Moses Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn Allen are classic examples of the phenomenon which is actually commonplace.

As to their personal relationship, Soon-Yi points out that she was already growing up when Woody came into the family as Mia’s boyfriend and then husband. It wasn’t until Soon-Yi was in college that she found Woody attractive. He was not made aware of it, at first. Nor did he pay much attention to her except for his obligatory role as (step)father. You can see in this how the young Soon-Yi cleverly used to her feminine wiles. The interview reveals a very strong personality. If you wanted to bet on who was the boss around the Allen residence, I’d put my money on Soon-Yi.

The careers of both Woody and Mia – and especially Woody  -- were so time-demanding that he was often rarely around. In the article he also adds that he and Mia had always lived in separate apartments to accommodate his work as one of the most (if not the most) prolific filmmakers.

Soon-Yi and Woody at Lincoln Center. Photo: Presley Ann/©Patrick McMullan
Daphne Merkin’s piece provoked quite a bit of outrage about Woody, implying that his relationship with Soon-Yi was borne out of what we call “sexual abuse” and a “husband” cheating on his “wife” with their girl child. Or (very vaguely) incest. In the interview Soon-Yi makes it clear that that was not in any way related to their circumstances. Woody was a man who by the time she came to young womanhood, struck her as a great potential future for herself. And besides, she liked him.

Outside the drama of the “scandal” the public eats up, you could see she was ambitious for herself. She was attracted to a very successful and famous writer/filmmaker. Did you ever hear of that happening to a young woman before? This is a natural result of her being adopted by Mia and her first husband composer/conductor Andre Previn. By age 20, having grown up in the world of Mia and Andre and Mia and Woody – which is a Big Big World in the scheme of things – Soon-Yi went after a prize.

Time has borne this out. She had the right idea for herself as a young girl. She acknowledges the great advantage of being adopted by Mia; and she acknowledges that Mia’s reaction was not unreasonable and to be expected under the circumstances: Woody was her “husband” and Soon-Yi was her “daughter.” Even though Soon-Yi never accepted Mia her as “mother,” and the relationship between Woody and Mia had already begun to “fade to black” (although they did work together on Woody’s film when the “scandal” was splashing twenty years ago).

What always interests me about these publicized relationships in the world of movies and celebrities or billionaires and pretty young things, is how the public takes the role of moral judge with little interest in understanding the motivation of the characters in the drama.

“There’s no business like Show Business, Like no business I know….” Wrote Irving Berlin (for Ethel Merman back in the 1950s) and what was intended as a popular American song is really about life amongst us mere mortals.

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