Woody and Mia. No last names, please, for the king and queen of Manhattan's glitterati. For a decade they were the wax-doll couple atop a cake at the wedding of popular art and social responsibility. He made, and she starred in, movies that played like fantasies of their partnership. Offscreen, their liaison produced the portrait of an ideal postmodern family. Unmarried, they lived apart yet loved together. While nurturing a rainbow coalition of privileged American kids and children salvaged from the Third World, Mom and Dad lived the city's most public private lives. Tout New York was their movie set, Madison Square Garden their all-star playground, the chic eatery Elaine's their kitchen. Central Park was their shared backyard. From their respective apartment windows on opposite sides of the park, they would wave love at each other.
That patch of green is now their DMZ. Woody Allen, America's most revered and introspective filmmaker, and Mia Farrow, the waif who matured into a madonna in reel and real life, are at war. What began as a skirmish over custody rights of three children escalated early last week when Allen declared that he was in love with one of Farrow's adopted daughters, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn. Then the tabloid artillery went ballistic. The Connecticut police were investigating a complaint of child molestation against Allen. It was revealed that Farrow discovered the infidelity when she found nude photos of Soon-Yi that Allen had taken. Farrow was mobilizing her loyal kids, sending them to newspapers and TV shows, to defend her motherhood. Those close to Allen charged Farrow with beating Soon-Yi upon learning of the affair, and of mistreating her adopted brood. Each day's accusations were grotesque -- and, as they say, growing tesquer.
This was not mere celebrity dish; this was rancid food for thought. The clash raised troubling questions for every nouveau Brady Bunch family, every jerry-built alliance of siblings who are more like classmates and parents who may be only lovers. What is incest? How affectionate can a man be to those in his care? What is a father? How much distance must he put between himself and his unofficial children before he is free to date one of them?
The battle of Woody and Mia has already claimed casualties, real and figurative. Allen's life and eminence seem permanently branded; the only major filmmaker since Charlie Chaplin to be commonly referred to by his first name is now likely to be remembered in part, as Chaplin is, as a despoiler of young women. Manhattan divorce attorney Raoul Felder, alluding to another disgraced director, says of Allen, "He can put his career in an envelope and mail it to Roman Polanski."
Farrow's reputation as an All-World Mother, selflessly adopting children to show them a good life and maternal love, is shrouded in suspicion. Soon-Yi, who says she is 21, has tumbled at least in her siblings' eyes from child- woman to Other Woman. Dylan, the seven-year-old girl adopted by Farrow and Allen, is scarred by the accusations of child abuse. And the other children must be suffering psychic retinal damage from the blinding heat of the infotainment dragon. Another casualty is the fond notion -- held by many otherwise cynical folk on both coasts and by not a few people in between -- that the Woody-Mia story was a liaison for the ages. This was the last light that failed.