A Tribute to Woody Allen

Woody Allen - A Portrait by Nick Azar

For the uninitiated, Woody Allen is America’s one of the most loved and respected comedians. But he is more than just a comedian. He is a writer, director, actor, musician and playwright, born on December 1, 1935 in New York City, US. His family was Jewish while his grandparents were German speaking immigrants.

Most of Allen’s work has revolved around complicated relationships. This can be attributed to the troubled and complicated relationships he has been part of,  all his life. His parents never got along and he had a troubled relationship with his temperamental mother. At the age of 19 he married Harlene Rosen and this relationship lasted for 5 “nettling, unsettling years.” He next married Louise Lasser in 1966 and this relationship lasted all of three years. Next in line was Diane Keaton. Though their relationship lasted only for a year and they never got married it proved inspirational for Allen who based his multiple Oscar winning movie Annie Hall (starring Allen and Diane in the lead) on his real life relationship with Diane. Another relationship Allen never publicly acknowledged was with Stacey Nelkin. Allen allegedly got involved with Stacey when she was 17 years old and a high school student. His movie Manhattan, is said to be based on his relationship with Stacey. Allen shared the longest relationship with actress, Mia Farrow, about 12 years, after with he got involved with Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Allen and Farrow also never got married, but when they separated had to undergo a long legal battle for the custody of their adopted children.

Woody Allen & Soon-Yi Previn

Although Allen was not the legal stepfather of Previn, their relationship was termed as a “father dating his septdaughter” and was the subject of much debate and witty comments from fellow comedians. New York Times reported that “they are constantly in touch with each other and not many fathers spend as much time with their children as Allen does.” When asked whether their age difference (Allen was 52 and Previn was 22) was conducive to a “healthy relationship, he replied matter-of-factly, “The heart wants what it wants. There’s no logic to these things. You meet someone and you fall in love and that’s that.” No wonder most of the relationships in his movies don’t have much logic behind them, as it generally is, in real  life.

Don’t you think dealing with so many complexities in reel and real life will take a toll on one’s mind? I guess it did in case of Allen because he sought psychiatric counseling for almost 40 years! In 2001 when Allen announced that he had finally stopped seeing his psychiatrist, Jay Leno (the host of Tonight Show) quipped, “if after forty years you’ve married your own daughter, you can figure the counseling isn’t working.” David Letterman, another popular talk show host, once joked, “Soon-Yi was so young when they started dating that she bragged to her friends that she and Woody were napping together.”

Woody Allen’s phobias are legendary. Even after all his counseling he still suffers from Claustrophobia and agoraphobia. He is so claustrophobic that once he took a detour of 100 miles just to avoid passing through a tunnel. He also went to great lengths to avoid crossing bridges. And he is a self confessed “anti social” person. He is no phobic to bright colours that he always dresses blandly, even in his films. “There have been times,” he once declared, “when I would buy a newspaper or a magazine prior to a five-flight elevator ride because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts in the elevator for 30 seconds.”

Whatever anyone says about Allen’s personal life, no one can deny his talent as a comedian and a film maker par excellence. His films have won Oscar and all the major European film awards. Annie Hall was not only the best film of his career, but also a land film in the history of Hollywood. It started the trend of modern romantic comedy. Manhattan and The Purple Rose of Cairo won a bunch of European awards including BAFTA for best film. His most recent film Vicky Christina Barcelona won the Golden Globe for best film. Some of his other major hits include Match Point, Hannah and Her Sisters, Husband and Wives. He was awarded the lifetime achievement in 1995 in Venice Film Festival and in 1996 by the Director’s Guild of America and in 2002 his life-size statue was erect in the city of Oviedo in Spain. In the same year he got the lifetime achievement award in Cannes Film Festival. In 2005 poll, The Comedian’s Comedian, Allen was voted the third greatest comedy act ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. In the Academy Awards Woody Allen has won three awards, and has been nominated 21 times: 14 as a screenwriter, six as director and one as actor.

Statue of Woody Allen in Oviedo, Spain

Interestingly, despite his success in the Academy Awards, Allen never attended the ceremony or acknowledged the awards, until 2002 when he made a special and surprise appearance at the awards ceremony. It was his gesture of solidarity after the 9/11 attacks.

There he said, “I didn’t have to present anything. I didn’t have to accept anything. I just had to talk about New York City.” Even then he charmed everyone with his humor.

Explaining to the audience as to why he was selected to unveil a montage of films on New York, he said,

“I said, ‘You know, God, you can do much better than me. You know, you might want to get Martin Scorsese, or, or Mike Nichols, or Spike Lee, or Sidney Lumet…’ I kept naming names, you know, and um, I said, ‘Look, I’ve given you fifteen names of guys who are more talented than I am, and, and smarter and classier…’ And they said, ‘Yes, but they were not available.'”

He got a standing ovation at the ceremony after his speech.

With Woody Allen even tragedies have their moments of humor. Once Woody was shocked to find out that his Manhattan apartment had been burglarized. But to his good fortune and amusement, he noticed that the burglars had not stolen anything. Instead they had left behind a brand new television! (Robin Williams, another fantastic Hollywood comedian once joked, “We had gay burglars the other night. They broke in and rearranged the furniture.”)

When asked once whether he liked the idea of living on on the silver screen, he remarked, “I’d rather live on in my apartment.” On another occasion he had quipped, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve through not dying.”

“Most of the times, I don’t have much fun.” Allen once said, “The rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all.” But Allen, we all have hell lot of fun watching your movies, and watching you. Keep up the good work!


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