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What Falls Away is a memoir by Mia Farrow and was published in 1997. Farrow was the daughter of actress Maureen O'Sullivan and director John Farrow and has had a pretty interesting life by any standards. She was a model, a hip elfin actress in the sixties, a soap star, was in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, and was married to Frank Sinatra. She later married the musician Andre Previn and lived with Woody Allen for many years until the infamous Soon-Yi affair. Considering her eventful life the book is rather guarded at times though and a bit melodramatic and eye glazing when the author talks about finding herself and her spiritual journey (or something). Farrow adopted 10 children later in her life and has 14 altogether. She attended peace marches with Vanessa Redgrave in London when she lived in Britain with Previn and, like many celebs, visited India to find herself in the sixties. Farrow is prone to a bit of New Age waffle here but the basic story is always an interesting one even if she never quite divulges as much juicy detail as the nosey reader might wish for. Farrow grew up in a large well heeled family and says she led a pretty sheltered life when it came to ordinary people although she had her own traumas and problems too. She battled polio in her youth and had a family tragedy when a brother died. She writes a lot about both of these events but she's nostalgic at times when she remembers her childhood in Hollywood. 'That time shines now like a beautiful, far-off, golden dream: gentle sunshine, dappled shade, butterflies in February, and barefoot summers, the nurseries of Beverly Hills, where children were tended by British nannies in crisp, white uniforms, and feted with clowns, ponies, magicians, castles for cakes, and personal soda fountains.'
Farrow was a child actress but really shot to fame when she appeared in a soap opera called Peyton Place. Farrow gave up the role though to move into films on the advice of her husband Frank Sinatra. She was nineteen when she met Sinatra and had no idea how famous he was. It was a slightly strange relationship on the face of it and not without problems but she says she always loved watching him sing. She writes warmly about him and says they stayed friends long after they divorced. 'The Sinatras also gave me their support,' she writes to a friend during the fall out from the Woody Allen affair. 'Frank even offered to break Woody's legs.' One thing that I didn't know was that Farrow tested to play Liesl von Trapp in The Sound of Music but didn't get the part. She says she had a fairly privileged bohemian youth and could name people like Salvador Dali as friends. If you watch the documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture (all about the film producer Robert Evans) there is behind the scenes footage of Rosemary's Baby being shot and Farrow appears to be rather eccentric, dancing around in a world of her own. She remembers Roman Polanski saying 'There are 127 varieties of nuts, Mia's 116 of them!' in the memoir but is eager to make sure we don't think she was a complete airhead. She was incredibly well read and eventually became involved in political activism and charity work.
I was less interested here in her passages about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (whoever he is when he's at home) in India than the film stuff and would much rather read about The Great Gatsby or something than her spiritual quest. But the book is well written if rather pretentious at times. It does feel like this is Farrow talking to you rather than a ghosted autobiography and she's obviously a smart woman. Out of the three famous men she was involved with, Previn (like Sinatra) comes out of the book well with Woody Allen unsurprisingly the odd one out. 'Andre was more interested in me than anyone had been in my life. I kept thinking how much my father would have liked and enjoyed him.' Farrow obviously went for brains (or talent) rather than looks when it came to men! Her career as an actress had declined somewhat by the end of the seventies with family life taking over. When she separated from Previn and started going out with Woody Allen she became his muse and appeared in 12 films for him over 10 years. It was another strange relationship if this book is anything to go by. They each maintained their own apartments and never lived together. Farrow and Allen had one biological son together and also looked after 10 other children Farrow had adopted including orphans from Korea and Vietnam. It was Farrow that did the looking after though because Allen apparently didn't like children much and preferred it if the Farrow clan (plus her menagerie of animals) kept their visits to a minimum.
They were complete opposites it appears. Farrow liked the West Side of New York, travel and loved visits to the country. Allen liked the East Side of New York and hated the countryside and travel. She had an optimistic attitude to life and loved spending time with children while he had a pessimistic attitude to life and didn't like spending too much time with children. Allen is obviously the one area in the book where Farrow puts the boot in though never quite as much as you think she might have done. She remembers an elaborate Christmas dinner she prepared with all the children and sculptures of angels decorating the table. 'Pardon me while I puke,' was Allen's reaction according to Farrow when he first chanced upon this festive sight. In 1992 Farrow was astonished to find nude polaroids of her 21-year-old adopted Korean daughter Soon-Yi Previn in Allen's New York apartment. Allen and Soon-Yi had been having a secret affair and Mia (of course) went ballistic.
'What rage did he feel against me, against women, against mothers, against sisters, against daughters, against an entire family?' Farrow then claimed that Allen had sexually molested their young adopted daughter Dylan but the claims were rejected by a court. Allen claimed that Farrow was coming up with all these false accusations as a revenge tactic and it all got very strange and nasty. Farrow actually sent Allen a postcard with meat skewers aimed at his heart or something. A bitter and highly publicised custody battle ensued which Allen lost, played out in front of a rabid press who couldn't believe their luck. Woody Allen was the most private of celebrities but was now forced to go in front of cameras and courts to rebuff all the claims Farrow was charging him with. He eventually married Soon-Yi and Farrow was left with an enduring bitterness, now estranged from her daughter. Despite all that has happened to her I suppose the Allen chapters are probably the biggest thing in the book that keep you reading. Wondering what she is going to divulge and say.
What Falls Away is perfectly readable and interesting but a bit New Age waffly and platitudinous at times. Farrow's life would actually make good film I think and the memoir probably doesn't quite do it justice. At the time of writing you can buy this used for next to nothing.