We do not know them

As a child I was a devoted fan of Bill Cosby’s comedy records, and a fan of Alexander Scott, his character on I Spy.  Later I saw him and Irene Cara as guests on a talk show. Cara was newly famous from the film Fame, but she knew Cosby from her time on The Electric Company. Cosby starred as Hank when she was a twelve year old in The Short Circus.

Cara had performed a brief – and pathetic – nude scene in Fame, and right after she sat down, Cosby started teasing her about suddenly having breasts. She laughed it off but looked uncomfortable, and the way he looked at her made me wonder what sort of history was there.

I was reminded of that when I found out later that Cosby had settled with two women who had accused him of drugging and assaulting them:

Lauer: Why didn’t you call the police …?

Green: Well let me tell you, and I understand this about the current victim. The first thing you feel is stupid, and then you feel that no one will believe you. This is the great Bill Cosby, he has tremendous wealth, power, a p.r. machine, a reputation, he is Mr. Jell-O, but the worst thing you feel is stupid. There’s a shame element involved.

Another woman was convicted of trying to extort money from Cos, claiming to be his daughter from an affair. He had settled that with the mother and denied paternity. I have to admit that while I remembered the tragedy of Ennis Cosby, I had forgotten about the accusations against old Silver Throat.

As a young man I became a devoted fan of Woody Allen’s comedy films. His love life was complicated from Louise Lasser to Diane Keaton to Mia Farrow, but so was mine. I suppose I believed that he really was the good-hearted nebbish he played so often,and that I was, too. The affair and marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, Mia’s adopted daughter, changed all that for a lot of people. While I still enjoyed the wit and humor in his films, I couldn’t really empathize with his naive characters anymore. Watching The Front on TCM didn’t quite work for me.

Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine, is reportedly excellent. Cate Blanchett has been nominated for Best Actress, Sally Hawkins has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and Allen has been nominated for Writing. Those nominations and Allen’s Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award led to dismissive tweets from Mia and Allen’s biological son Ronan (once Satchel) Farrow. A few days later Nick Kristof gave An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow a huge pulpit in his NY Times column:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. …

On dagblog, my former coblogger Michael Maiello posted Yes, You Can Still Watch Woody Allen Movies and Ignore Nick Kristof, a self-explanatory title if ever I heard one. Except for my former coblogger Ramona and me, most dag commenters seemed to agree with Michael, but in the larger world there was enough of a media furor that Allen felt it necessary to respond, and was given his own OpEd, Woody Allen Speaks Out:

TWENTY-ONE years ago, when I first heard Mia Farrow had accused me of child molestation, I found the idea so ludicrous I didn’t give it a second thought. We were involved in a terribly acrimonious breakup, with great enmity between us and a custody battle slowly gathering energy. The self-serving transparency of her malevolence seemed so obvious I didn’t even hire a lawyer to defend myself. It was my show business attorney who told me she was bringing the accusation to the police and I would need a criminal lawyer. …

When I read Allen’s piece, there were almost two hundred comments. Some agreed with one side or the other; some despaired of ever knowing the truth in such a complicated situation. Two comments stood out:

As a former assistant states attorney who spent several years prosecuting child molestation cases I can tell you that it is very difficult to obtain a conviction. Without physical evidence and a prompt outcry most cases are summarily dismissed or never charged. Prosecutors try to obtain confessions but without them the odds of winning are low. Certainly Woody Allen would have the upper hand in convincing a tribunal of his innocence. He is brilliant after all. But, a decision not to charge is not an acquittal. And even an acquittal does not necessarily settle the argument. … I have interviewed so many child molesters who could look me in the eye and deny their crimes without a hint of remorse. I have spoken to priests who could deny their sins without batting an eye. Woody Allen is a genius. He may in fact be innocent. We will never know. But, I recognize something in him that has nothing to do with his fame.

Another comment linked to Vanity Fair’s 33 page PDF of the opinion of Judge Elliott Wilk in evaluating Allen’s petitions for custody of Dylan, Satchel and Moses. Even though Allen had been indifferent to Mia’s other children, preferring to live apart from them, he became fascinated with Dylan:

Dr Coates observed: I understood why she was worried, because it {Mr Allen’s relationship with Dylan} was intense, … I did not see it as sexual, but I saw it as inappropriately intense because it excluded everybody else, and it placed a demand on a child for a kind of acknowledgement that I felt should not be placed on a child …

Wilk did not see Allen as any sort of parent:

Mr Allen’s response to Dylan’s claim of sexual abuse was an attack on Ms Farrow, whose parenting ability and emotional stability he impugned without the support of any significant credible evidence. His trial strategy has been to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother; to divide adopted children from biological children … His self-absorption, his lack of judgement and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries that he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.

From reading Wilk’s opinion, it seems to me that whether Allen physically molested Dylan or not, he was certainly stalking her emotionally, and grooming her as a future victim. Malcolm Gladwell described the pedophile’s MO in a New Yorker piece about Jerry Sandusky:

One of the most remarkable and disturbing descriptions of the grooming process comes from a twenty-two-page autobiography (published as a chapter in a book about pedophilia) by a convicted pedophile named Donald Silva. After graduating from medical school, Silva met a family with a nine-year-old named Eric. He first sexually molested Eric on a ski trip that the two of them took together. But that came only a year after he befriended the family, patiently insinuating himself into the good graces of Eric’s parents.

Allen’s pursuit of Soon-Yi seems to have been mutual, but Dylan was far too young to have made that choice. Allen seems to have been so preoccupied with his own needs to ever consider what was best for the little girl.

Update 2014028: At Vanity Fair, Maureen Orth has posted a list of 10 undeniable facts:

This week, a number of commentators have published articles containing incorrect and irresponsible claims regarding the allegation of Woody Allen’s having sexually abused his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. As the author of two lengthy, heavily researched and thoroughly fact-checked articles that deal with that allegation—the first published in 1992, when Dylan was seven, and the second last fall, when she was 28—I feel obliged to set the record straight.

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4 responses to “We do not know them”

  1. cmaukonen says :

    A friend and I would memorize Woody Allen comedy records and Cosby comedy records. None of this was known at the time. But you cannot really “know” somebody, I think. All the presumably crazy acts that have happened show this to be true.

    Even my mother has said – just before her death – of my father that she never really knew the man.

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  2. constantcommoner says :

    Ramona here. (I’m using my WordPress account since it’s already here.) This is very fair-minded and brings up a lot of good points. I guess in the end there will never be a resolution, but I appreciate you recognizing and being sensitive to Dylan’s issues, both as a child and as a woman.

    The ups and downs and ins and outs of this story are exhausting–not that I have to really feel anything or even try to keep up. But that’s what happens in our celebrity-worshipping society. We think we actually know these people and have a stake in their lives.

    The other side of it is that if we advocate for children there isn’t an instance where we can stand to see them victimized, which Dylan has obviously been. Nobody writes an impassioned letter like that unless there are ghosts of the past that won’t leave her alone. That’s good enough for me.

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    • Donal says :

      Thanks Ramona. I’m sorry to tell you that I’m done with dagblog. I have a lot of other commitments so someone else will have to feed the trolls.

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      • constantcommoner says :

        I’m sorry to hear that. It can get frustrating, and I’m as guilty as anyone about feeding them. I know you’ll be lurking now and then so I’ll wave to you. And come back whenever the mood hits.

        Good luck with whatever is keeping you busy these days.

        Ramona

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