February 9, 1945 – María de Lourdes Villiers Farrow:
“I get it now; I didn’t get it then. That life is about losing and about doing it as gracefully as possible… and enjoying everything in between.”
Gone is the romance that was so divine.
When I began to work on a #BornThisDay post about Mia Farrow, I considered leading with my opinion about her big controversy, then I came to realize that Farrow, so underrated as an actor, has lived a life filled with controversy. Where to start…
When most people hear her name, they think of her allegations against actor/ filmmaker Woody Allen. I feel that one accuser does not an abuser make, but maybe the conversation around their relationship is particularly hard for me because, as a pair, they are responsible for one of my top films of all time, The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985), a movie so lovely and heartbreaking that I still can’t shake it 33 years later.
Farrow was in a relationship with Allen from 1979 to 1992, for me, Allen’s most fertile filmmaking period. Farrow appeared in thirteen of his fourteen films during that era, including Zelig (1983), the nearly perfect Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Hannah And Her Sisters (1986), the wistful Radio Days (1987), the tragic comedy Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989), Alice (1990), and one of Allen’s most autobiographical movies, Husbands And Wives (1992).
But, instead of the controversy having to do with Allen, I am going to really dig my own critical grave by admitting that I have a thing for the 1973 film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The great novel has been adapted to a ballet, opera, and several stage versions, plus five versions,1926,1949, 2000 and the 2013 dud by Baz Luhrmann starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire.
The 1973 film with Robert Redford and Farrow, directed by Jack Clayton from a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola is my favorite version. It has that distant gossamer feeling, like we are witnessing a better time, distant memories, something lost. Redford and Farrow were never more beautiful than in this film. It was a hit at the box-office and an influence on fashion that year, with its scrumptious costumes designed by Theoni V. Aldredge (who won an Academy Award), with a little assistance from Ralph Lauren.
The supporting cast includes a young, sleek Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Scott Wilson and Lois Chiles.
Farrow is excellent as Daisy Buchanan, full of vain flutter and the seductive instant intimacy of the careless rich. In some ways, her ethereal looks work against her; but she is ultimately believable as the kind of passive femme fatale who could inspire Gatsby to take on an epic re-invention. Redford underplays to a fault: and he sometimes makes Farrow seem like she is going too big in their scenes together. But, it is a tough task to portray American literature’s ultimate object of desire. Maybe Redford and Farrow should have switched roles.
The rights to the novel were purchased by Robert Evans in 1971 so that his wife Ali MacGraw could play Daisy. But, MacGraw left Evans for Steve McQueen, and Evans looked at Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen, Natalie Wood, Katharine Ross, and Cybill Shepherd, before casting Farrow. Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson were considered for Gatsby, but Beatty wanted to direct Evans as Gatsby and Nicholson didn’t think that Farrow was right for Daisy. Farrow was pregnant during filming and she was shot wearing loose, flowing dresses and in tight close-ups.
Truman Capote was the original screenwriter, but he was replaced by Francis Ford Coppola, with some scenes re-written by Vladimir Nabokov. Coppola commented: ”Not that the director paid any attention to it. The script that I wrote did not get made.”
The film won two Academy Awards, for Best Costume Design and Best Music for Nelson Riddle. It also won three BAFTA Awards for Best Art Direction (John Box), Best Cinematography (Douglas Slocombe) and Best Costume Design. It won a Golden Globe Award for Karen Black and received nominations for both Dern and Waterston and won Most Promising Newcomer (!) for Waterston.
Okay, that controversy put aside, back to Farrow. She was born in sunny Los Angeles, the daughter of writer/director John Farrow and actor Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane in the Tarzan films starring Johnny Weissmuller). When her daughter became involved with Allen professionally and romantically, she appeared in Hannah And Her Sisters, playing Farrow’s mother.
John Farrow was an Australian man’s man who wrote and directed mostly war pictures, noir and westerns. 1933, while dancing at the Cocoanut Grove, he was arrested for breach of his visa, as part of a crackdown against illegal immigrants in the film industry. He was charged with making a false statement while entering the USA. Well connected, he was given a five-year probation before being acquitted of the charges in 1934.
Farrow had a bit part in her father’s film John Paul Jones (1959), but her career really began in 1963 in an Off-Broadway production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Earnest. In 1964, she became a huge television star, playing Alison Mackenzie in Peyton Place (1964 -1969), opposite Dorothy Malone as her mother. The series also launched the careers of young Ryan O’Neal, Barbara Parkins, and David Canary. I was only 10-years-old when it debuted, but I would watch transfixed with my mother.
After two years on Peyton Place, Farrow left to make movies and her character left the town without saying goodbye.
Farrow excelled at playing vulnerable characters. In her most famous role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Farrow starred as a young married woman who moves into a new apartment and finds herself surrounded by Satanists and impregnated by the Prince of Darkness, and I don’t mean Stephen Miller. It is one of the greatest horror film of all time and features John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon (Oscar win), Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, and, in his film debut, Charles Grodin.
Polanski saw Rosemary as a robust, full-figured girl and he wanted Tuesday Weld or Sharon Tate for the role. Producer Robert Evans felt a bigger name was needed for the lead, and Farrow, with her role on Peyton Place and her surprise marriage to Frank Sinatra, was very famous.
Despite her waif-like appearance, Polanski agreed to cast her. Farrow’s look became an advantage as Rosemary becomes frailer as her pregnancy progresses.
When she took the role, Sinatra fumed. He had demanded Farrow quit her career when they got married, and she was served with divorce papers via a lawyer in front of the cast and crew of Rosemary’s Baby. To salvage her marriage, Farrow asked Evans to release her from her contract, but he persuaded her to remain with the project after showing her a rough cut and assuring her she would receive an Academy Award nomination for her performance. Farrow was not nominated.
Farrow stated that she was an “impossibly immature teenager” when she married Sinatra. They remained friends until Sinatra’s passing in 1998.
After Sinatra, she married composer/conductor Andre Previn in 1970; she was 25-years-old and he was 41. Previn was still married to songwriter Dory Previn when he began an affair with Farrow. When Farrow became pregnant, Previn divorced Dory. Farrow gave birth to twin sons in February 1970, and the Previn’s divorce became final in July 1970. Dory Previn wrote a scathing song, Beware Of Young Girls, about Farrow.
Previn and Farrow divorced in 1979. Farrow and Allen have one child together, and Allen also adopted two more children with her. They split in 1992 after Farrow discovered that Allen and her adopted daughter with Previn, were in a relationship. Allen and Farrow have been estranged since Allen and Soon-Yi Previn became a couple. They have been married now for 22-years. People need to get over it.
After their relationship ended, Farrow and Allen had a bitter custody battle that was played out in the press, with Farrow eventually winning sole custody of their children and Allen paying her $3 million. Besides her children with Previn and Allen, Farrow has also adopted 211 children on her own.
Farrow has lived with much tragedy. She lost a brother in a plane crash when he was 19-years-old, another brother, artist Patrick Farrow, was found dead in his NYC art gallery in 2009, and a third went to prison for sexually abusing young boys. Her adopted daughter, Tam Farrow, died after a lengthy illness at 19-years-old. In 2008, her adopted daughter, Lark Song Previn, died from HIV. In 2016, her 27-year-old adopted son Thaddeus Wilk Farrow took his own life.
In October 2013, Farrow was back in the headlines when she said that Sinatra could possibly be the father of her openly gay son, Ronan Farrow, her only official biological child with Allen. She also claimed that Sinatra was the great love of her life, saying: “We never really split up”. Ronan is an investigative journalist and lawyer, who in late 2017, wrote series of articles for The New Yorker that exposed the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. He tweeted:
”Listen, we are all possibly Frank Sinatra’s son.”
In 1992, Farrow said that her daughter Dylan Farrow, then seven-years-old, told Farrow that she had been sexually abused by Allen. In 2014, Dylan Farrow publicly renewed claims of sexual abuse against Allen. Allen has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Following the new allegations, her son Moses Farrow claimed Farrow had physically abused him. Moses also asserts that Farrow coached her children into believing stories she made up about Allen.