“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank. ”
“Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.”
“To you I’m an atheist; to God, I’m the Loyal Opposition. ”
— Woody Allen
Woody Allen is an American film director, writer, actor, and comedian. His large body of work and cerebral style have made him one of the most widely respected and prolific filmmakers in the modern era. He writes and directs his own movies and has acted in many of them as well. For inspiration, Allen draws heavily on literature, philosophy, psychology, European cinema and, most importantly, New York City, where he was born and in which he has lived all his life.
Allen was born in New York City to a Jewish family of Austrian and Russian ancestry. His parents, Martin Königsberg (born on December 25, 1900 in New York and died on January 13, 2001 ) and Netty Cherrie (born in 1908 in New York and died on January 2002), and his sister, Letty(born 1943), lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He attended Hebrew school for eight years, and then went to Public School 99 and then to Midwood High. Nicknamed “Red” because of his red hair, he impressed students with his extraordinary talent at card and magic tricks.
To raise money, he began writing gags for the agent David O. Alber, who sold them to newspaper columnists. Reportedly, Allen’s first published joke was “I am at two with Nature.” At sixteen, he started writing for show stars like Sid Caesar and began calling himself Woody Allen. He was a gifted comedian from an early age. He would later joke that when he was young he was often sent to inter-faith summer camps, where he “was savagely beaten by children of all races and creeds.”
After high school, he went to New York University where he studied communication and film but, never much of a student, he soon dropped out due to poor grades. He later briefly attended City College of New York. At nineteen, he started writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and others. In 1957, he won his first Emmy Award.
He started writing prose and plays, and in 1960, started a new career as a stand-up comedian and also began writing for the popular Candid Camera television show, even appearing in some episodes. Together with his managers he turned his weaknesses into his strengths and developed the neurotic, nervous, and shy figure famous from his later movies. He soon became an immensely popular comedian and appeared frequently in nightclubs and on television.
Examples of Allen’s standup act can be heard on the album Standup Comic, including the famous routine wherein Allen describes bringing a live moose to a costume party. The moose comes in second in the costume contest to the Berkowitzes, a couple in a moose costume.
His first movie production was What’s New, Pussycat? in 1965, for which he wrote the screenplay. It was a largely unpleasant experience for Allen as he was trapped in Paris for six months during the production. Furthermore, the studio never showed much respect for his script, altering the film to the point where it bore little resemblance to Allen’s original vision.
Allen’s first directorial effort was What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), in which an existing Japanese spy movie was redubbed in English by Allen and his friends with completely new, comic dialogue. In 1967, he also appeared in the offbeat James Bond spoof, Casino Royale.
His first conventional directing effort was Take The Money and Run (1969), which was followed by Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Sleeper, and Love and Death. In 1972, he also starred in the film version of his own play called Play It Again, Sam, which was directed by Herbert Ross. All of Allen’s early films are pure comedies that relied heavily on slapstick, inventive sight gags, and non-stop one-liners. Among the many notable influences on these films are Bob Hope and Groucho Marx. In 1976, he starred in, but did not direct, The Front, a humorous and poignant account of Hollywood blacklisting during the 1950s.
Allen’s most successful movies were produced in a ten year period starting with Annie Hall; other critical and financial successes were Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo (named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best films of all time, and one of Allen’s self-proclaimed three best films, along with “Husbands and Wives” and “Match Point”) and Hannah and Her Sisters (winner of three Academy Awards). He also directed the serious drama Interiors, in the manner of the great Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, one of Allen’s major influences.
Annie Hall, now a modern classic, marked a major turn to more sophisticated humor and thoughtful drama. Allen’s 1977 film won four Academy Awards. Annie Hall set the standard for modern romantic comedy and also started a fashion trend with the unique clothes worn by Diane Keaton in the film (the off-beat, masculine clothing, such as ties with cardigans, was actually Keaton’s own).
Most of his 1980’s films, even the comedies, have somber and philosophical undertones. Many, like September and Stardust Memories, are often said to be heavily influenced by the works of European directors, most notably Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.
Stardust Memories was considered by many to be a biting piece of work in which the main character (played by Allen) expresses resentment and scorn for his fans. In the film, overcome by the recent death of a friend from illness, he states, “I don’t want to make funny movies any more.” However, by the mid-80s Allen had begun to combine his love of both tragic and comic elements with the release of such films as Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
His 1992 film Shadows and Fog is an homage to Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau, and the German expressionists. His 1993 film Manhattan Murder Mystery combined suspense with dark comedy, and starred Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, and Anjelica Huston.
In the late 1990s he returned to lighter movies: Everyone Says I Love You, a musical, Mighty Aphrodite, for which Mira Sorvino won an Academy Award, and others. Allen made his only sitcom ‘appearance’ via telephone in the 1997 episode, “My Dinner With Woody” of the show Just Shoot Me!, an episode paying tribute to several of his films.
Allen’s movies after 1999 have included Melinda and Melinda and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Small Time Crooks (2000), his first film with DreamWorks SKG studio, was a modest success, grossing over ten million dollars. Allen’s films tend to be more popular in Europe, particularly France, a country where he has a large fan base; in fact, he himself has said that he “survives” on the European market. The film Match Point (2005), starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson, debuted at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Match Point is set in London. In an interview with Premiere Magazine, Allen stated this is the best film he has ever made.
Allen enjoyed the experience of shooting Match Point so much that he shot another film in the city titled Scoop, which features Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally and Johansson again. The film is currently in post-production. Allen seems to be reinvigorated by the change of scenery and recently announced that he was in pre-production for a third film to be filmed in London . Rumour has it that Allen will film a movie in 2007 in Barcelona, using local actors.
On shooting in Europe, Allen is quoted as saying: “In the United States things have changed a lot, and it’s hard to make good small films now. There was a time in the 1950s when I wanted to be a playwright, because until that time movies, which mostly came out of Hollywood, were stupid and not interesting. Then we started to get wonderful European films, and American films started to grow up a little bit, and the industry became more fun to work in than the theatre. I loved it. But now it’s taken a turn in the other direction and studios are back in command and are not that interested in pictures that make only a little bit of money. When I was younger, every week we’d get a Fellini or a Bergman or a Godard or Truffaut, but now you almost never get any of that. Filmmakers like myself have a hard time. The avaricious studios couldn’t care less about good films – if they get a good film they’re twice as happy, but money-making films are their goal. They only want these $100 million pictures that make $500 millions. That’s why I’m happy to work in London, because I’m right back in the same kind of liberal creative attitude that I’m used to.”
Allen has attracted diverse and talented actors for his films, including Diane Keaton, Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Michael Caine, Steve Carell, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Alan Alda, Dan Aykroyd, Drew Barrymore, Judy Davis, Stockard Channing, Carrie Fisher, Hugh Grant, Helen Hunt, Téa Leoni, Jon Lovitz, Jonny Lee Miller, Amanda Peet, Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Chloë Sevigny, Wallace Shawn, Leonardo DiCaprio and David Ogden Stiers. He continues to write roles for the neurotic persona he created in the 1960s and 1970s; however, as Allen gets older, the roles have been assumed by other actors such as John Cusack (Bullets Over Broadway), Kenneth Branagh (Celebrity), Jason Biggs (Anything Else), and Will Ferrell (Melinda and Melinda).
In 1956, at age twenty, Allen married Harlene Rosen, a philosophy student. The two acrimoniously divorced in 1962. Harlene, whom Allen referred to in his standup act as “the Dread Mrs. Allen,” later sued Allen for defamation due to comments at a TV appearance shortly after their divorce. Allen tells a different story on his mid-1960s standup album Standup Comic. In his act, Allen said that Harlene sued him because of a joke he made in an interview. Harlene had been sexually assaulted outside her apartment, and according to Allen, the newspapers reported that she “had been violated.” In the interview, Allen said, “Knowing my ex-wife, it probably wasn’t a moving violation.”
Allen later married Bananas co-star Louise Lasser in 1966 in what began a pattern of romantic involvement with his leading ladies. Allen and Lasser were divorced in 1969 and Allen would not remarry until 1997.
In 1970, Allen cast Diane Keaton in his Broadway play “Play It Again, Sam,” which had a successful run. It was during this time that she became romantically involved with Allen and appeared in a number of his films, including 1977 Best Picture Annie Hall. They never married.
Starting around 1980, Allen began a twelve-year relationship with actress Mia Farrow, who had leading roles in several of his movies. The two never married, but they adopted two children together: Dylan Farrow and Moses Farrow; and had one biological child, Seamus Farrow. Allen did not adopt Farrow’s older adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.
Allen and Farrow separated in 1992 after Allen began a relationship with Soon-Yi. (Allen’s adoptions of both Moses and Dylan were voided after he and Mia separated.) During the protracted custody battle, Farrow accused Allen of inappropriate behaviour with their seven-year-old adopted daughter Dylan. No criminal charges were ever filed. Seamus has not seen Allen in over 7 years and does not wish to pursue a relationship with him. At a younger age, he was also reportedly “phobic” of his father.  Originally named Satchel, after baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, Allen’s son changed his name to Seamus after his parents separated. Allen and Farrow’s adopted daughter also changed her name after the separation, initially from Dylan to Eliza, then four years later to Malone.
In 1992, Allen’s personal life became very public, when he left his long-term partner Farrow after she stumbled across an envelope containing nude polaroid photographs Allen had taken of her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Allen has defended his actions, saying that he never lived with her mother Mia Farrow. The revelation had a very negative impact on Allen’s reputation and career, and, and for several years, subsequently had mediocre success at the box office, until his 2005 film Match Point. In a 2005 Vanity Fair interview, Allen described their relationship as having a “more paternal feeling.” Allen and Soon-Yi married in 1997 and later adopted two daughters, naming both (Bechet Allen and Manzie Tio Allen) after jazz musicians (Sidney Bechet and Manzie Johnson).
Allen has spent at least thirty years undergoing psychoanalysis, sometimes as often as three days a week. Most of his films contain a psychoanalysis scene. Even the film Antz, a cartoon where he only voices Z, the lead character, begins with a classic piece of Allen analysis schtick. Moment Magazine says “It drove his self-absorbed work”. . John Baxter, author of Woody Allen – A Biography, wrote “Like Catholic confession, Allen’s form of analysis let the penitent go free to sin again,” and that “Allen obviously found analysis stimulating, even exciting.”
In 2002 Woody made a surprise appearance at the Academy Awards telecast, even though he was not nominated for any awards. It was his first ever due to what he says is his intense dislike of Los Angeles. It was part of a tribute to New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has been instrumental in encouraging filmmakers to film in his favorite city.
Woody Allen with Jerry Zigmont and Simon Wettenhall performing at Vienne Jazz Festival, Vienne, France.Allen has played the clarinet since adolescence. When he changed his name for show business, he took his first name from an idol, famed clarinettist Woody Herman. He has performed publicly at least since the late 1960s, notably with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the soundtrack of Sleeper.
“Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band” plays every Monday evening at Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel, specializing in classic New Orleans jazz from the early twentieth century.
The documentary film Wild Man Blues (directed by Barbara Kopple) documents a 1996 European tour by Allen and his band, as well as his relationship with Soon-Yi.