Strange Facts About Woody Allen's Marriage

Iconic filmmaker Woody Allen has been married to Soon-Yi Previn for decades, which in itself is unusual because most Hollywood marriages don't last half of that time. But there are a lot of even stranger aspects to this marriage ... and some of them are also slightly disturbing. 

Considering Allen's wife is his ex-girlfriend's daughter, this coupling gives new meaning to the term "blended family." We can explain: Before dating Allen, actress Mia Farrow and pianist Andre Previn adopted Soon-Yi from Korea. After Farrow and Andre split, Allen dated Farrow from 1980 to 1992. Though Allen and Farrow never lived together nor married, they shared one biological child, son Satchel (now Ronan Farrow), as well as adopted daughter Dylan Farrow and adopted son Moses Farrow. Mia and Allen's relationship ended when she discovered him taking up with Soon-Yi in a very shocking moment. 

There's much more on that and everything else you need to know about this headline-making match as we analyze Woody Allen's strange marriage to Soon-Yi Previn.

Woody Allen didn't think dating his ex's kid was a big deal

Woody Allen supposedly saw no problem dating Soon-Yi Previn, because she wasn't a biological child and because he and Mia Farrow had never married. He told Time, "I am not Soon-Yi's father or stepfather. I've never even lived with Mia. I've never in my entire life slept at Mia's apartment, and I never even used to go over there until my children came along ... I was not a father to her adopted kids in any sense of the word." The filmmaker added, "There's no downside to it. The only thing unusual is that she's Mia's daughter. But she's an adopted daughter and a grown woman. I could have met her at a party or something."

Previn echoed that rationale, telling Time, "To think that Woody was in any way a father or stepfather to me is laughable. My parents are Andre Previn and Mia, but obviously they're not even my real parents. I came to America when I was 7. I was never remotely close to Woody."

Soon-Yi Previn's siblings suspected the romance

Priscilla Gilman, who dated Matthew Previn (son of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn) and was reportedly like a daughter to Farrow, told Vanity Fair that Farrow's other children noticed something was up with a teenage Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen. "All of a sudden she started wearing these incredibly sexy clothes, and putting on these black, really slinky shirts and little skirts and these pumps and stuff," Gilman recalled. "She would say, 'Don't tell Mom. I'm going to a friend's house.' And I said to Matthew, 'I think she has a secret boyfriend, and I think we should find out who this is.' And Matthew said, 'Oh, no, just let her do her own thing.'"

According to Vanity Fair, "Moses [Farrow] told a family member he had seen Woody looking up Soon-Yi's skirt right in the apartment, and Daisy [Previn] was surprised to find him another time touching Soon-Yi's hips, but the two kids didn't dwell on these things."  

One of Soon-Yi's long-time tutors, Audrey Seiger, also had suspicions about Woody's influence on Soon-Yi. "Those last six months of high school, there was a definite change. I have no idea when her relationship started with him," Seiger told Vanity Fair. "He was helping her to show her how to dress and prepare herself to be a model, and he arranged for her to have professional pictures taken. When I saw the professional pictures, I was very surprised, because Soon-Yi looked so glamorous."

Woody Allen's ex Mia Farrow found out in the worst way

The story of how Mia Farrow discovered Woody Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn is harrowingVanity Fair reported that Farrow found a stack of nude photos of her daughter at Allen's home, hidden under a box of tissues. Allen reportedly took the photos of Soon-Yi, claiming they were a tool to kick-start her modeling career.

Allen told Time, "Soon-Yi had talked about being a model and said to me would I take some pictures of her without her clothes on. At this time we had an intimate relationship, so I said sure, and I did. It was just a lark of a moment ... [Farrow] hit the ceiling [when she found out]. I said, 'Look, our relationship has been over for some time. We should go our separate ways. The important thing is that we do what is right for our children.'"

What was right for their children, at least according to the New York State Supreme Court, was to award custody to Farrow in 1993. According to The New York Times, Acting Justice Elliott Wilk described Allen as a "self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive" father. The Times said Wilk issued a "scathing 33-page decision" that "denounced Mr. Allen for carrying on an affair with [Soon-Yi Previn], trying to pit family members against one another and lacking knowledge of the most basic aspects of his children's lives."

He didn't think the relationship would affect his kids

In terms of his children's thoughts on his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Woody Allen seems equally baffled by any resistance. When asked about his kids' feelings, the filmmaker told Time: "I don't think they think of 'sleeping with.' They only know what is constantly drummed into them. And I don't think my children feel any lack of affection or any rivalry. Soon-Yi and I will be very, very cognizant of their situation and feelings."

"At the very outset, it didn't occur to me that this would be anything but a private thing. I felt nobody in the world would have any idea," Allen said in a 1993 court hearing (via The New York Times). When the judge asked Allen about the consequences of sleeping with someone his children may view as a sister, the filmmaker replied, "I didn't see it that way. I'm sorry."

Woody Allen claimed Farrow initially encouraged a relationship

In 1992, Woody Allen told Time that Mia Farrow was the one who prompted him to forge a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn — though likely not the kind of relationship that ultimately transpired.

"One night, just fortuitously, I was over at Mia's, and I had no one to go to the basketball game with. And Soon-Yi said, 'I'll go.' And so I took her, and I found her interested and delightful," he said. "Mia had encouraged me to get to know her. She would say, 'Take a walk with Soon-Yi, do something with her. Try and make friends with her, she's not really as hostile to you as you might think.' Mia thought it was fine I took her to the game ... I took her to a game again, maybe a month later. And this happened on a few occasions. And we struck up a relationship. It was strictly — I don't want to say an intellectual relationship, because I'm not saying we were discussing Kant or anything, but we chatted about different things."

He reportedly got Soon-Yi Previn fired from a summer job

The New York Post reported that after Mia Farrow found out about Woody Allen's relationship with her daughter, she sent Soon-Yi to work at a children's summer camp in Maine in June 1992. The job didn't last, but Farrow didn't know that.

According to the Post, Farrow later found out that Previn had been fired from the camp because Allen was "bombarding her with calls." Farrow supposedly didn't even know where her daughter was until she saw paparazzi photos of Previn outside Allen's apartment.

Woody Allen predicted the marriage would be a 'fling'

Woody Allen told Time that the reason he kept his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn a secret from Mia Farrow, at least initially, was because he didn't necessarily think it would last. "I wanted to make sure this thing was going to take off," he said. "For all I knew I might have just been a little footnote in Soon-Yi's life, and then she would later say, 'Well, I had a little flirtation with my mother's boyfriend at the end of their relationship.'"

He told NPR, "I started the relationship with her and I thought it would just be a fling. It wouldn't be serious, but it had a life of its own. And I never thought it would be anything more. Then we started going together, then we started living together, and we were enjoying it. And the age difference didn't seem to matter. It seemed to work in our favor actually."

Just how big is that age difference? According to History, Previn was 27 years old and Allen was 62 when they wed in 1997. News of their intimate relationship broke in 1992. "I'm 35 years older, and somehow, through no fault of mine or hers, the dynamic worked," the filmmaker told NPR. "I was paternal. She responded to someone paternal."

Soon-Yi Previn slammed her mom in the press

When news of their relationship broke, Soon-Yi Previn issued a statement to Newsweek defending her romance with Woody Allen and alleging that Mia Farrow abused her.

Previn said, in part: "I think Mia would have been just as angry if [Allen] had taken up with another actress or his secretary. Mia was always very hot-tempered and given to rages which terrified all the kids ... I have a terrific relationship with Woody and realize it's full of dramatic overtones, but it's really quite simple. It revolves around conversations, film talk, sports talk, books and art. He's very quiet and hardworking and finds it amazing and ironic that our relationship is of such interest to people."

She added, "I'm a psychology major at college who fell for a man who happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Mia. I admit it's offbeat, but let's not get hysterical. The tragedy here is that, because of Mia's vindictiveness, the children must suffer. I will always have a feeling of love for her because of the opportunities she gave me, but it's hard to forgive much that followed."

Soon-Yi Previn's aforementioned statement was powerful, but some insiders believe those eloquent words actually belonged to Allen. One source told Vanity Fair, "Soon-Yi doesn't know half those words, what they mean." 

Woody Allen didn't think Farrow would be so mad

Woody Allen seemed baffled at the backlash he faced over his romance with Soon-Yi Previn, and he was especially taken aback at the notion that Mia Farrow may not adapt well to the relationship. "I didn't find any moral dilemmas whatsoever," he told Time. "...[Mia] would have thought more or less the same thing if it had been my secretary or an actress. There is a different psychodynamic here ... but the difference is one of small degree." (Did you notice that Allen's language sounds very similar to the wording used in Previn's aforementioned statement?)

Bizarrely, after Farrow found out about Allen's relationship with Previn, sources told Vanity Fair that he broke down sobbing and asked Farrow to marry him, allegedly saying the affair with her daughter was "probably good for Soon-Yi's self esteem." Playwright pal Leonard Gershe, who was Farrow's next-door neighbor in New York, told the magazine that Allen's "whole attitude about it was as though it were a breach of etiquette ... [Farrow] couldn't believe what was coming out of him. And then she slapped him."

Allen takes credit for his wife's 'enormous opportunities'

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, Woody Allen talked about his wife's past: "She had a very, very difficult upbringing in Korea: She was an orphan on the streets, living out of trash cans and starving as a 6-year-old. And she was picked up and put in an orphanage."

He seemingly left out the part about Mia Farrow adopting Soon-Yi Previn, opting to give himself a lot of credit instead: "And so I've been able to really make her life better. I provided her with enormous opportunities, and she has sparked to them. She's educated herself and has tons of friends and children and got a college degree and went to graduate school, and she has traveled all over with me now. She's very sophisticated and has been to all the great capitals of Europe. She has just become a different person. So the contributions I've made to her life have given me more pleasure than all my films."

Soon-Yi Previn's not a fan of husband Woody Allen's work

In 2011, Woody Allen told The Guardian that his wife isn't a fan of his work. "She's never taken me seriously really," he said. "And to this day ... she sees me as a complainer, a hypochondriac, a kind of idiot savant. She thinks that I'm very good at what I do and absolutely terrible at everything else. And she's probably not far off."

Allen added, "People thought when I first married her that, because of this big age difference, I'd married someone who'd idolize me. But that wasn't the case at all. She hadn't seen 90 percent of my movies, and to this day she hasn't seen 60 percent of them. She's just not that interested in them."

Woody Allen admits there's an imbalance in his marriage

Woody Allen acknowledged the inequality in his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn in a 2005 interview with Vanity Fair, but he said he believed that imbalance was a positive thing. The filmmaker claimed that before Previn, "All the women that I went out with were basically my age. Two years younger. Ten years was the maximum. Now, here, it just works like magic." According to Allen, "The very inequality of me being older and much more accomplished, much more experienced, takes away any real meaningful conflict. So when there's disagreement, it's never an adversarial thing. I don't ever feel that I'm with a hostile or threatening person."

Allen may not have been entirely truthful about his relationship past. According to the New York Post, Allen dated high school student Stacey Nelkin when he was in his forties. It was Nelkin who reportedly inspired his iconic 1979 film Manhattan.

It's a 'good-luck thing'

Unconventional and controversial as it may be, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn's marriage has outlasted the unions of many of their entertainment industry peers. 

"It was just a good-luck thing," Allen told NPR. A then-79-year-old Allen described it like this in his 2015 interview: "...I'm a big believer in luck. I feel that you can't orchestrate those things. Two people come along, and they have a trillion exquisite needs and neuroses and nuances, and they have to mesh. And if one of them doesn't mesh, it causes a lot of trouble. It's like the trace vitamin not being in your body. It's a tiny little thing, but if you don't have it, you die."

Previn has also described their love story in grand fashion, via an email to Vulture. "I think Woody liked the fact that I had chutzpah when he first kissed me and I said, 'I wondered how long it was going to take you to make a move,'" she wrote. "From the first kiss I was a goner and loved him."

Woody Allen reportedly didn't want wife Soon-Yi Previn to do press

After Soon-Yi Previn spoke with Vulture about her marriage to Woody Allen and her estrangement from adoptive mother Mia Farrow, the author of the 2018 profile spoke out and claimed that Allen would have preferred the story not to run at all. "I think his view was, 'Ignore this; don't get involved,'" writer Daphne Merkin told the New York Post. "There was no influence [from Allen on the story], other than he told me more than once to pull the piece. He just thought: 'Don't.'" 

Merkin happens to be a friend of Allen's, but New York Magazine (Vulture's parent publication) released in a statement, "This was always meant to be told as Soon-Yi's account. We knew from the time that we got the first draft that other people involved would dramatically disagree; we worked carefully to represent their perspective in the story." 

In the end, Merkin was heavily criticized for the piece, which was perceived by some as biased. "I felt I was opening the door on their townhouse and showing us an odd but affecting couple," she told the New York Post. "It's strange how critics don't think Soon Yi deserves to be heard, that the abuse she suffered, because it was at the hands of a woman and not a man, is somehow less valid. My intention was to let a silenced woman's voice be heard."