Drama and deceit mark Mia Farrow’s incredible life

We'd all gotten over the whole Mia Farrow / Woody Allen / Soon Yi Previn thing.

Drama and deceit mark Mia Farrow’s incredible life

We’d all moved on. Woody and Soon Yi have been together two decades now, and Mia lives in pastoral idyll in rural Connecticut. The hoo-ha of 1992 and its subsequent court case had largely been forgotten, especially in light of Allen’s brilliant latest film, Blue Jasmine. Once again, it’s all about Woody, and his genius.

Until, that is, November’s edition of Vanity Fair. In it, Mia Farrow suggests what family photos have been suggesting all along — that the father of her 25-year-old son Ronan is not Woody Allen, but Frank Sinatra. Young blue eyes Ronan Farrow does not appear to contain a single drop of Allen DNA, and his mother confirms – amongst other things – that her relationship with Sinatra never really ended, even though their marriage in the 1960s was short lived. That they had “never really split up” and that Sinatra may have fathered Ronan — her only biological child with Allen — when Sinatra was 72.

It’s hard to know where to start with Mia Farrow, so vivid and well lived has been her life. Half Irish, half Australian, she was born in Hollywood 68 years ago to actor Maureen O’Sullivan and director John Farrow. O’Sullivan, who left Co Roscommon for Hollywood in 1929, was best known for her role as Jane in the old Tarzan films, opposite Johnny Weissmuller. Much later, her then son-in-law Woody Allen had her playing Mia’s mother in Hannah and Her Sisters when Mia was 41 and Maureen 74. Of O’Sullivan’s cameo, which came after 56 years in the industry and roles in 60 films, the New York Times commented, “In all that time, she’s never had five minutes on screen to equal her work here”.

Mia Farrow’s Hollywood childhood was not all gilded paradise. She contracted polio aged 9, and her bother died in a plane crash when she was 13. At 17, her father died of a heart attack. Seeking stage work in her teens, she landed a part in American series Peyton Place, and made friends with people like Salvador Dali and Liza Minnelli, whom she inspired to cut her hair short. Farrow was herself famous for her pixie crop.

It was the role in Roman Polanski’s creepy 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby which launched Farrow’s acting career. Ironically, this was also the movie that ended her relationship with Frank Sinatra — she had got together with him when she was 19 and he was 48 (leading to lots of cradle-snatching jokes, particularly by the comic Jackie Mason, until bullets were delivered to Mason’s hotel room).

The Farrow-Sinatra marriage was brief, from 1966 to 1968, but as Farrow’s Vanity Fair interview suggests, their connection outlasted their formal union; she has called him the love of her life. When she was served divorce papers on the set of Rosemary’s Baby (he was miffed that she would not appear in a movie with him, instead of Polanksi’s seminal horror), she is said to have been devastated.

Farrow withdrew to an Indian ashram, where she sought peace and meditation — with the Beatles. That White Album song, ‘Dear Prudence’, was written for her sister, who was not enjoying her trip, and whom John Lennon was trying to cheer up. Back in Hollywood, Mia played the great role of Daisy Buchanan opposite Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby. She married the pianist Andre Previn, and began that part of her life for which, alongside her film career, she is best known — her children.

Once she and Previn had married in 1971, the couple began their family by adopting three Vietnamese orphans in 1973 and 1976 — Lark Song, Summer Daisy Song, and Soon Yi. The couple then had three biological children of their own – twins Sascha and Matthew, and Fletcher. The marriage didn’t last, however, and they split in 1979.

One year later, Farrow began her relationship with Woody Allen. Two more children, Dylan and Moses, were adopted, and their biological son Satchel was born in 1987, although later the boy understandably changed his name to Ronan. During their relationship, Allen and Farrow made 13 films together. The couple never married or lived together, but famously had apartments on opposite sides of Central Park in Manhattan.

And then in 1992, the whole Allen-Farrow family blew up. Erotic photos of Soon Yi Previn, then 19, were found in Allen’s possession, and a relationship was revealed. Farrow went ballistic, especially as one of her other younger daughters, Dylan — who has since renamed herself Malone — made allegations of sexual abuse against Allen. (Allen has never been prosecuted for this, and has always strongly denied it). When the Soon Yi revelations came to light, Sinatra’s ‘associates’ offered to take Woody somewhere quiet and duff him up. Farrow declined.

But the relationship between Soon Yi and Allen meant that the family broke in two, with the breakaway couple ostracised by Mia and the rest of her children — eight of whom have spoken in the Vanity Fair interview. Between 1992 and 1995, Mia had adopted six more children, which made her a mother of 15; two of her adopted daughters have since died, Tam of heart failure aged 19 in 2000, and Lark in 2008 of an Aids-related illness, aged 35.

Farrow’s children have always said that they were never reared by nannies, and that she was always present for all of them. Ronan, the son with the blue eyes, talks about growing up with brothers and sisters who variously lived with cerebral palsy, blindness and other disabilities, and how it spurred him towards working for social justice.

Clearly, the ethics of their mother have had a profound impact on the Farrow children — she is most recently known for her relentless campaign work in Darfur, and Ronan, a child prodigy, has worked with Hillary Clinton and has even been tipped as a future US presidential candidate. He is outspoken about the actions of Woody Allen, saying that he has been unable to maintain contact with his former parent as it would be “morally inconsistent”.

In between parenting, Farrow had affairs with politician/writer Vaclav Havel and writer Philip Roth (who said she “had a conscience as big as the Ritz and is one of those people who can’t bear human suffering without acting on her feelings”). She testified on behalf of her friend Roman Polanksi in his libel case against Vanity Fair in 2005, and also testified against the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, in his war crimes trial at The Hague.

This is just Farrow’s personal life; you forget she acted with people like Elizabeth Taylor, or played Mrs Baylock in The Omen. Few people have crammed so much in, and been so consistently lion-hearted in the face of adversity. “Life,” she once said, “is about losing everything, gracefully.”

More in this section

IE Logo


Your guide to staying at home

Discover the

Install our free app today

Available on