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No Laughing Matter

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HIS GENIUS HAS RESTED ON AN ABILITY to put a comic spin on the most painful and bizarre of life’s travails. But even Woody Allen would have a hard time squeezing a joke out of the crushing legal defeat he suffered last week in a New York City courtroom. Ruling on Allen’s suit for custody of his three children—biological son Satchel, 5, adopted daughter Dylan, 7, and adopted son Moses, 15—against longtime companion Mia Farrow, 48, Acting Justice Elliott Wilk not only rejected the claim but issued a slinging indictment of the plaintiffs behavior and character. Indeed, the only thing resembling a punch line in the 33-page document is the knockout blow it may deliver to Allen’s already battered reputation.

The most damaging part involved allegations that Allen, 57, molested Dylan. Last March an investigation by Connecticut State Police found no evidence to support Farrow’s accusation that Allen had fondled the little girl at their country home last summer. While acknowledging that Allen probably could not be prosecuted for sexual abuse, Justice Wilk said he was less certain of Allen’s innocence. In particular, he faulted a report on the allegations prepared by a team of experts at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which he contended had been carried out in questionable fashion. (Among other things, the team never examined Allen and Dylan together before making visitation recommendations.) At the very least, he concluded, Allen’s behavior toward Dylan—one witness had seen him placing his face in her lap—”was grossly inappropriate.”

Justice Wilk was also stern in his criticism of Allen’s romance with Soon-Yi Previn, 22, one of Farrow’s adopted children. He noted that even though Allen had virtually ignored Soon-Yi in the past, their lack of prior interaction didn’t make their affair a normal one. They still had familial bonds. Addressing Allen’s parental attentiveness, Wilk could barely contain his contempt. “He did not bathe his children,” wrote Wilk. “He does not know the name of the children’s dentist. He does not know the names of his children’s friends. He does not know the names of their many pets. He does not know which children shared bedrooms.”

As for Farrow’s celebrated poison-pen Valentine, which Allen’s legal team tried to portray as an indicator of emotional instability on her part, Wilk brushed it off as nothing more than an expression of her “understandable anger.” All in all, “Ms. Farrow’s principal shortcoming with respect to responsible parenting,” Wilk dryly observed, “appears to have been her continued relationship with Mr. Allen.” Describing Allen as “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive,” Wilk ruled that Allen could have only supervised visitations with Satchel three times a week and that he could have no contact with Dylan for the time being except in joint therapy sessions, as long as the therapist does not believe that such meetings will be harmful. He left to the older boy, Moses, the decision of whether to have any contact with his father at all.

Though Allen—who has not seen Dylan since last August—claimed he was “thrilled” that he might now be able to spend time with his daughter, even the possibility of that modest contact may not come to pass. Last week, Farrow began proceedings to nullify Allen’s adoption of Dylan and Moses, which, if successful, could deny him any right of visitation. She and her lawyer, Eleanor Alter, will argue that Allen had already started sleeping with Soon-Yi three weeks before the adoption was finalized in December 1991. “Had the court known, had Moses known, had I known that he had no intention of spending his life with me and this family, they never would have sanctioned the adoption,” said Farrow last week.

Meanwhile the Allen camp tried to remain optimistic. “He doesn’t care that much what people believe and what they say,” insists one of his lawyers, Sheila Ginsberg Riesel. “His whole focus has always been to be reunited with his children.” For her part, Farrow seemed more weary than exuberant. “My hope is that I can go home, back to my children, and we will finally have some measure of peace and be allowed to heal,” she said. “It’ll be a long road until we wake up to a really normal day.”