Woody Allen, one of the world’s greatest comedians, has become persona non grata, after a lingering though unproven allegation of child molestation. (His adopted daughter, Dylan, told her doctor in 1992 that Allen had groped her; Allen claims that her mother, Mia Farrow, coached her to lie.) Allen’s autobiography, Apropos of Nothing, has sold surprisingly well despite the controversy and some absurdly vitriolic reviews. (It was compared to Mein Kampf in the New York Post, and a column in The Washington Post was headlined “If you’ve run out of toilet paper, Woody Allen’s memoir is also made of paper”.)
In the book, Allen gives a detailed—though, naturally, one-sided—account of the ensuing custody case. For example, in his summing up, judge Elliott Wilk wrote: “The evidence suggests that it is unlikely that [Allen] could be successfully prosecuted for sexual abuse. I am less certain, however, than is the Yale-New Haven [child psychology] team, that the evidence proves conclusively that there was no sexual abuse.” Allen quotes only the first sentence. He also paints Farrow as “an unhinged and dangerous woman” and insinuates bias on the part of the prosecution, while glossing over the judge’s criticisms of his own parenting.
To borrow a line from Stardust Memories, the best parts of Allen’s autobiography are the “early, funny ones.” (I say parts because there are no chapters or headings.) When he’s writing about happier times (especially his childhood and his relationship with Diane Keaton), the jokes come thick and fast. But his account of his recent films feels much more perfunctory.