Apropos of Nothing
“I tried to be a magician but found I could only manipulate cards and coins and not the universe.”
“I tried to be a magician but found I could only manipulate cards and coins and not the universe.” With this, Woody Allen sets the tone of his memoir, Apropos of Nothing. As a self-appointed Jack of all trades and master of none, Allen gives voice to his work and his life with his own occasionally warped, often dismal so-called sense of humor, particularly when making comedy of a concentration camp.
Woody Allen was born Allan Konigsberg on December 1, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York, to parents who did not get along—a prevailing theme in many of his movies. His father often had connections to the underworld and rarely held a job for long. He had one sister, several years younger, who became a producer.
When he was seven, his father took him on his first trip to Manhattan. From the time they exited the Times Square subway he became entranced with the sights and sounds of 42nd Street and has remained in love with Manhattan to this day.
Proficient at describing the sights and sounds of growing up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, he tells of the pickle lady who would reach in a barrel and pull out a pickle for a nickel but had seriously pickled hands that needed Jergens hand lotion.
After watching vaudeville at the Flatbush Theater, he decided at a young age that he was going to be a performer. He used to make notes of the acts on the inside of a Good and Plenty candy box, and later, at 14, took to practicing magic tricks for his younger sister.
In high school he bought a soprano sax and later a clarinet and began performing jazz, which he has nurtured all these years. “I was a wannabe comic, wannabe magician, wannabe baseball player, and wannabe African-American jazz musician.”
He flunked out of NYU and became a comedy writer for Bob Hope and other famous comedians of the mid-20th century. By age 18, he was making triple what his parents earned, combined.
Allen became a firm believer in psychoanalysis while young. “I accidentally came upon my parents having sex, and the trauma that I’ve long repressed has caused my inordinate fear of being nailed shut in a cello case.”
He married Harlene Rosen, 17, when he was 20, in Hollywood, and wrote summer stock in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, meeting the Golden Age of comedy greats. He also did stand-up comedy in the Village, soon divorced Harlene, and married the actress, Louise Lasser whom he described as manic depressive.
After that marriage failed, he met and collaborated with Diane Keaton, and one of their famous hit movies together was the mid-’70s multi-Oscar Award-winning Annie Hall.
Ignoring many red flags, in the mid-’80s he entered a relationship with Mia Farrow, who already had seven children. She immediately wanted another child and became pregnant with Satchel (now Ronan Farrow) although he was rumored to have been fathered by Frank Sinatra.
He employed Mia Farrow in ten films, and toward the end of their relationship became involved with Soon-Yi, another of Mia’s adopted daughters, first purely through friendship. Farrow discovered erotic photos Soon-Yi and Woody had taken together. All hell broke loose; Mia struck Soon-Yi with a manual telephone.
Allen had to fight to adopt Dylan and another child, Moses, whom he had been helping to raise for many years. Farrow attempted to find him guilty of molesting Dylan, while Woody claimed complete innocence. New York State Child Welfare found no evidence of molestation, and the case was closed.
“As for me, apart from not going out in public without a fake nose and glasses, I simply went about my business and worked. I worked while stalked, vilified, and smeared.”
Allen and Soon-Yi have been married for over 25 years. They adopted two daughters, one American and one Korean, both of whom are now in college.
Later, during the #MeToo movement, although Allen was never found guilty of any crimes against his daughter, Dylan, many actors refused to work with him. However, since his films have been blacklisted in the United States, he’s successfully taken to making movies in and touring Europe with his jazz band.
With grammar and punctuation not 100% proofed, the reader would guess that the transfer from Hachette to Arcade/Skyhorse (because Ronan Farrow—a Hachette author—and others staged a protest to coax Hachette into rejecting the work at the eleventh hour) might have made Skyhorse jump to release the book before it was ready.
Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen is a long, nearly 400-page, disjointed ramble intended primarily for boomers who will recognize Allen’s name-dropping of celebrities whose paths he’s crossed since the mid-20th century. Younger movie buffs and film school majors will also relate well to this tome, written by a 20th century cultural icon.
Master, from youth, at self-deprecating humor, and born with New York City cojones, Allen says what others just think, controversy be damned. Thumbs up for that!