What kind of person would marry her own father?
In 1992, Woody Allen got caught with a stack of naked Polaroid photos of Soon-Yi Previn, the young daughter of his common-law wife, Mia Farrow. Previn was essentially his own daughter, and as Farrow quickly learned, Previn and Allen were sleeping together.
Although a lot has been said about what Woody Allen did, not nearly as much has been reported about the woman he married. Who is this girl who slept with and married her own stepfather, and how did her life go so wrong?
Soon-Yi Previn’s life story is difficult to hear, but it’s worth taking the time to understand. Hers is a life full of pain, right from the moment she was born. It is a psychological profile of a victim of sexual abuse—an insight into the devastating effects of neglect and abuse.
10 She Was Abandoned By Her Mother, A Prostitute In Seoul
Nobody knows how old Soon-Yi really is. Her family celebrates her birthday on October 8, 1970, but they don’t really know when she was born.
Her biological mother, a prostitute in Seoul who never bothered to get Soon-Yi a birth certificate, was brutally abusive. When Soon-Yi upset her, she would force the girl to kneel in a doorway and then slam the door on her head.
When Soon-Yi was approximately six years old, her mother placed her on the street and told her to wait, promising that she’d be right back. Then her mother walked off, turned a corner, and disappeared.
For months, the abandoned six-year-old fended for herself, surviving on her own by scavenging food out of trash cans and sleeping on the streets. She stayed near the spot where her mother had left her, hoping that one day she’d come back. She never did. Soon-Yi would never see her mother again.
9 She Was Likely Abused By Her Mother’s Customers
An orphanage in Seoul took her in, but young Soon-Yi was seriously mentally scarred. She was practically feral.
The one thing she’d learned in her first six years of life was how to hate men, most likely because of her experiences with her mother’s customers. When she saw a man, she’d jump back and hiss at him like an angry alley cat.
She hadn’t learned much else, though. The most normal parts of childhood were so alien to her that they terrified her. When Mia Farrow came to the orphanage and met her future daughter, Farrow tried to give Soon-Yi a doll to play with. The girl had never seen one before. It terrified her.
Farrow bought Soon-Yi a pretty dress, too, and let her look at herself in the mirror. Soon-Yi, though, had never seen her own reflection. She was so unnerved by it that she started kicking the mirror, trying to shatter it, and had to be stopped before she cut herself on the broken glass.
8 When She Was Adopted, Soon-Yi Couldn’t Speak
Mia Farrow was determined to take care of the little feral girl she’d met in Seoul. It wasn’t easy. She had to petition Congress to change adoption laws so that she could take Soon-Yi, but Farrow didn’t believe she had any choice. From the moment she’d seen Soon-Yi, she said that she knew: “This was my daughter.”
Soon-Yi was seven years old by the time she made it to America, but she still couldn’t speak a word. It wasn’t just that she hadn’t learned English yet. She had never been taught how to speak any language at all. The only way that the young girl communicated with the world was to growl and make gibberish noises like a newborn baby.
Farrow hired a tutor to help her new daughter, In fact, Farrow made sure that Soon-Yi had someone helping her throughout her entire educational career. It worked. Soon-Yi learned to speak and, in time, graduated high school and went on to get a degree in psychology.
Still, the first seven years of neglect never stopped affecting her. She struggled with learning disabilities her whole life and had to be given extra time when she took the SATs.
Social interactions, in particular, were difficult for her. “She’s very, very literal and flat in how she interprets what she sees and how she interprets things socially,” explained her tutor later when asked how it was possible that Soon-Yi ended up with Woody Allen. “She misinterprets situations.”
7 She Was Neglected By Her New Parents
Woody Allen’s defense for sleeping with Soon-Yi was that he’d never been much of a father to her. It’s the one thing he’s said that no one’s argued with. Soon-Yi herself called the idea that he’d raised her “laughable,” while even Mia Farrow has said that all Allen cared about was his work.
The thing nobody mentions, though, is that Woody Allen was a part of her life nearly as soon as Mia Farrow was. Farrow started dating Allen almost as soon as Soon-Yi arrived in America. Still, for 12 years, he completely ignored her.
Farrow’s ex-husband, Andre Previn, was the closest thing to a father figure for Soon-Yi, but he wasn’t much better. Soon-Yi has described him as someone who “came to visit pretty often.” She meant it as a positive thing. But it’s sad to think that an occasional appearance was enough for her to consider a man her father.
Even Mia Farrow, for all she fought to bring Soon-Yi to America, neglected her as soon as she arrived. According to Soon-Yi, Farrow just didn’t have enough time to take care of all her kids. By Farrow’s own admission, the two were never as close as Farrow was with her other children.
“I don’t think you can raise 11 children with sufficient love and care,” Soon-Yi said about her mother. “Some of us got neglected.”
6 Woody Allen Started Grooming Her In High School
In her last year of high school, Soon-Yi Previn suddenly starting getting an awful lot of her stepfather’s attention.
It began with him paying her to babysit the two babies he actually considered his own children: Dylan and Ronan Farrow. Like Soon-Yi, Dylan was adopted, but Woody showered attention on that little girl in a way he had never done with Soon-Yi. It was enough that he’d been called “completely obsessed” with Dylan.
Perhaps that was part of why Soon-Yi was so receptive when her stepfather finally started paying a little attention to her. When he found out that Soon-Yi wanted to be a model, Allen encouraged her by telling her that she was beautiful, dressing her up in expensive clothes, and taking photographs of her.
Allen’s thought process was deeply disturbing. This girl was his stepdaughter, but he still flirted with a twisted idea. He has openly admitted that he started the relationship and justified the idea by saying: “I thought it would just be a fling.”
5 Woody Allen Admits He Used His ‘Paternal’ Role To Lure Her
By summer 1991, Allen had begun inviting Soon-Yi to basketball games. She was thrilled. In fact, she wore clothes that were so provocative that Farrow once lost her temper and told Soon-Yi to stop dressing up for her stepfather like she was “going to a disco.”
“All of a sudden, she started wearing these incredibly sexy clothes,” the girlfriend of Soon-Yi’s brother Matthew recalled. “She would say, ‘Don’t tell Mom. I’m going to a friend’s house.’ ”
Rumors spread through the family that Soon-Yi had a crush on Allen, and he reportedly loved it. The scandal just got him more interested in her. Soon, everyone in the family had a story about their creepy dad. Moses Farrow said that he had spotted Allen looking up Soon-Yi’s skirt and Daisy Farrow had seen Allen rubbing Soon-Yi’s hips.
“The heart wants what it wants,” Woody Allen said in his defense when he was found out in the early 1990s. But years later, he’d admit that there was a darker force driving the relationship between him and his neglected daughter.
“I was paternal,” Allen said in 2015. “She responded to someone paternal.”
4 Allen Used Her Modeling Dreams To Get Her To Pose For Naked Pictures
The date was January 13, 1992, when Mia Farrow found the pictures. She’d dropped by Allen’s apartment while he was out and noticed a stack of Polaroid photos in his bedroom, stashed under a box of tissues.
Woody Allen—the father of her youngest son—had dozens upon dozens of pictures of her daughter, Soon-Yi, stripped naked with her legs spread open. Mia would later say, “I felt like I was looking straight into the face of pure evil.”
The pictures had been Allen’s idea, although he has tried to deny it. When he was first caught, he called it Soon-Yi’s idea and said, “Soon-Yi had talked about being a model and said to me, would I take some pictures of her without her clothes on.”
Later in life, though, Woody forgot that he’d lied and let the truth spill. Soon-Yi had asked him to take more modeling pictures—that part was true—but it was his idea for her to be naked. “Lay back on the sofa,” he’d told Soon-Yi, according to his own testimony. “Give me your most erotic poses. Let yourself go.”
He’d been playing off her modeling dreams for years, and now he’d gotten her to strip naked for him. To her, it was a moment that would change her life. But to Woody Allen, it was just a way to pass the time.
“It was just a lark of a moment,” Allen said later. “I felt nobody in the world would have any idea.”
3 When She Found Out, Mia Farrow Attacked Soon-Yi
Mia Farrow was understandably upset. She called Woody Allen, uttered little more than “Get away from us,” and then left his apartment as fast as she could.
When Farrow got home, though, Soon-Yi was there. The hurt was still too hot for Farrow to control. She exploded on her daughter and, by her admission, slapped Soon-Yi four or five times. Soon-Yi insists that it went further than that. In her version of the story, her mother shredded her clothing off her body and broke a chair over her back before locking her in her room.
Allen came to pick her up, but he wasn’t much of a savior. Soon-Yi had sacrificed everything to be with him. But when he came in the door, he got on the ground and begged Farrow to forgive him and to marry him.
Soon-Yi was nothing but “a tepid little affair that wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks anyway,” he told Farrow. And anyway, giving her a little attention was “probably good for Soon-Yi’s self-esteem.”
Farrow didn’t go for it, of course. But Soon-Yi heard all of it. Allen didn’t take her home until he’d given up on winning her mother back. Soon-Yi went with him, too afraid to turn back.
“I don’t go home,” she admitted a little after.
2 While Dating Soon-Yi, Woody Allen Allegedly Molested Her Seven-Year-Old Sister
Allen tried to keep things quiet, but he continued sleeping with his stepdaughter. Soon-Yi got fired from her summer job as a camp counselor because she spent all her time on the phone with a man who called himself “Mr. Simon.” It was secretly Woody Allen.
By August, she was all over the news when Allen told the press, “Regarding my love for Soon-Yi: It’s real and happily all true.”
Just as Soon-Yi’s name hit the news, though, another story broke. Days before Allen had declared his love for her to the world, he had allegedly been caught molesting another one of his daughters, seven-year-old Dylan.
It wasn’t the first time it had happened. Two years earlier, a family friend had complained about seeing Allen rub his fingers into Dylan’s buttocks while applying suntan lotion. The family was already seeing a therapist about his unhealthy obsession.
The worst came out, though, in August 1992. Allegedly, a babysitter walked in on Allen with his face in Dylan’s lap. According to the babysitter, Dylan wasn’t wearing any underwear.
When Farrow asked Dylan about it, she said that her father had promised to take her to Paris if she could stay very still. He started touching her. Dylan told him that “it hurts.” But the little girl told Farrow that she didn’t scream because “kids have to do what grown-ups say.”
Dylan asked her mother: “Did your daddy ever do that to you?”
1 Soon-Yi No Longer Has Any Contact With Her Family
Soon-Yi doesn’t see her mother anymore.
“I’ve moved on,” Farrow said a little more than 10 years after her daughter left her house. “I really don’t think of her as my daughter anymore. I can’t. She isn’t.”
Things felt apart horribly between Soon-Yi and the rest of her family after she left with Allen. Devastated from living through the unimaginable, Farrow repeatedly called the couple and screamed at them, sometimes threatening to kill herself and sometimes threatening to kill Allen. And Soon-Yi had only made things worse by telling her mother, “I don’t need you anymore.”
Andre Previn, the man whom Soon-Yi had considered her father, has given up on her, too. When he was asked about his daughter Soon-Yi, all he would say was: “She does not exist.”
All that she has left is Woody Allen—a husband and a father in one.