And More, Much More Than This, Ronan Farrow Will Do It His Way
Do the Woody Allen-family paternity revelations signal the end of the nebbishy übermensch?
Hey, everybody! Tattler’s back from the holiday hiatus with a bang (literally?). Thanks to the article in the latest Vanity Fair in which Mia Farrow coyly—or OK, not so coyly—suggests that her son Ronan Farrow, the human rights activist/journalist wunderkind previously believed to be the only known biological offspring of Woody Allen (not that they’re on such great terms) may in fact be the son of her former husband Frank Sinatra, with whom she “never really broke up.”
I know. It’s so perfect, so juicy, so identical to something out of a Jacqueline Susann novel that you think it couldn’t possible be true. Then you look at one of those side-by-side Ronan/Frank screengrabs currently circulating around the Internet, and oh my God, how could it possibly be not?
In the paternity sweepstakes that is life, not everybody gets to swap one 20th-century cultural icon for another of equal or arguably greater value, but Ronan Farrow has always been an outlier. An honest-to-God child prodigy who graduated from college at 15 and Yale Law School at 21, he is a now special adviser to Hillary Clinton (and possible MSNBC host) at an age when most of us are still stumbling drunkenly around Bushwick wondering where we left our Spanx. And that brain, that big, incredible brain that due to cultural self-regard one assumed must have been the Woodman’s bequeath, resides inside a body of dazzling gorgeousness, and not, like, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gorgeousness, if you catch my drift. Brad Pitt gorgeousness. Robert Redford gorgeousness. The kid who sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” in the beer garden scene in Cabaret gorgeousness, if that’s your sort of thing. The brain of Albert Einstein in the body of Friedrich von Trapp, Ronan Farrow is—was—the single greatest rebuke to any lingering anxiety, on either side, about mixing the gene pool. A bespectacled meeskite like Woody Allen has an estranged kid who hates him but who looks like that? In some tiny, horrible, shameful way, you had to think that was good for the Jews.
But now, that sense of promise, perhaps best encapsulated in the lament of the infirm King David in Joseph Heller’s novel God Knows, that with just a slightly different accident of genes we could all today be “as blonde and gorgeous as Danish schoolchildren,” has been snatched away, and all we’ve learned (yet again!) not to invest too much of ourselves in the murky personal lives of Jewish men who came of age sexually in the 1970s. Because the paternity of the divine Ronan is just the tip of the iceberg; the Vanity Fair story also conjures up the far more sinister aspects of that horrible period in 1992. Time, matrimony, and various semantic rationalizations (she wasn’t his daughter! He and Mia were never married! The heart wants what it wants!) have tempered the residual creepiness of the whole Soon-Yi thing, but the harrowing testimony of the adult Dylan Farrow, who Allen was alleged to have molested in the attic of a barn when she was 7 years old isn’t shrugged off so easily. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but the shadow remains, and every time they’re trotted out, we all shift uncomfortably in our movie seats.
What’s interesting isn’t so much the question of his guilt as the desperation we feel for him not to be guilty. Woody Allen, unlike Roman Polanski, his contemporary and compatriot in the squicky world of ephebophilia is not so much a filmmaker as an icon, not so much an artist who happens to be Jewish but a potent, and somewhat self-appointed, symbol of a particular strain of Judaism. Polanski is unabashedly a decadent European hedonist whose various personal traumas, perhaps understandably, have left him with a somewhat … different internal compass than other people. But Allen, in Mia Farrow’s estimation at least, had always presented himself as a highly moral person, an intellectual and sensitive man constantly grappling with the meaning of existence, the quest to know thyself, replacing the old rituals of Jewish orthodoxy with the new ablutions of psychoanalysis. If Allen is illegitimate, the reasoning might go, than so is the entire project of being a charmingly neurotic, erudite, funny, bespectacled urban Jew who despite his hypochondria and lack of visible muscle tone still has a better-than average chance of conceiving a gorgeous blond genius with a waifish shiksa.
And maybe it finally should be. Woody Allen is very old. Ronan Farrow is probably not his kid. Leather arm-patches and jokes about how you can’t work the toaster are only going to get you so far in our globalized world, and as any psychoanalyst worth his cigar will tell you, we’re all only responsible for our own actions. As Socrates said, to do is to be; as Kant said, to be is to do; and as Sinatra said, do be do be do.
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The renowned writer, who plumbed Jewish identity and became an American master, adds the biggest laurel to his crown