The Woody Allen Controversy Reader: Questions Concerning The True Identity of Ronan Farrow’s Biological Father (Was He Woody Allen? Or Frank Sinatra? — A Full Examination of the Evidence)
Ronan Farrow was born December 19, 1987. His original name was Satchel, but it was later changed to Ronan after his mother, actress Mia Farrow, split with her boyfriend Woody Allen in 1992.
Nobody questions the fact that Mia Farrow is Ronan’s biological mother.
Farrow’s pregnancy with Ronan coincided with a change in her relationship with Allen from that of a romantic partnership to what essentially became a platonic, loveless friendship.
Woody Allen was presumed to be Ronan’s biological father at the time of his birth and has always been his father in the eyes of the law, despite the fact that Ronan has long been estranged from him for many years now.
Woody Allen’s paternity of Ronan was never publicly questioned in the press at the time, and he raised him under the presumption that he was in fact the father. Thus he became Ronan’s legal father in the eyes of the law, regardless of what the factual truth might be.
However, as Ronan grew into adulthood, more and more people came to suspect that Farrow’s ex-husband, Frank Sinatra, might have been the true biological father — including Allen himself.
The Circumstances Surrounding The Satchel/Ronan Pregnancy
Sources say that only a mere three weeks into their relationship, Farrow told Allen, “I want to have a child with you.” Allen laughed off the suggestion as crazy. [See Newsday, November 18, 1992, pg. 3.]
Farrow continually persisted in her suggestion that they have a child together, and as their relationship grew over the next few years, Allen finally agreed (despite the fact that he still never considered marriage with her).
The problem was that when they finally began to actively try to have a child together, Farrow had trouble getting pregnant despite Allen’s efforts. It was at that point, in 1985, when Farrow decided to adopt Dylan by herself in order to help satiate her need for another child. [Newsday, November 18, 1992, pg. 3]
Farrow’s adoption of Dylan therefore stemmed in part from her disappointment over the fact that Allen was unable to impregnate her despite her continued desires for another child. It was only a year later that she became pregnant with Ronan.
It was also this period when the Farrow/Allen relationship began to wane and became essentially sexless.
In the eventual custody dispute between Allen and Farrow, The New York Court of Appeals wrote in its decision from May 1994:
While [Allen] testified that he was happy at the idea of becoming a father, the record supports the finding that Mr. Allen showed little or no interest in the pregnancy. It is not disputed that Ms. Farrow began to withdraw from Mr. Allen during the pregnancy and that afterwards she did not wish Satchel to become attached to Mr. Allen.
Reporters Mitch Gelman and Dennis Duggan reported on the Farrow/Allen breakup for Newsday. Their published account on November 18, 1992 entitled “Woody’s Story: Friends Tell Tragic Tale of Jealousy, Obsession” was based on “interviews with friends of Allen, material related to the case obtained by New York Newsday and previously published reports”. In it, they reported the following:
Three months into the pregnancy [of Satchel/Ronan], friends say, he was waiting for her to come over on a Friday evening when the phone rang. “I’m not coming over anymore,” Farrow said. “We’ve got to talk.”
Stunned, Allen went across the park to her place and Farrow explained that since they were not going to be together much longer after their child was born, she suggested he not get close to the baby. For Allen, friends said, this was a tremendous blow. The two never had sex again after that phone call, friends said, and Allen often thought back to the comment she made during the movie. He wondered whether she had just used him to get another baby.
Still, Allen was there for Farrow’s caesarian delivery of their son, Satchel, on Dec. 19, 1987 at New York University Medical Center. But when he saw Satchel’s birth certificate, he was shocked again: His name, according to sources, was missing. “The doctors and nurses just forgot,” Farrow told him, the sources said. But Allen had to hire lawyers to put it on.
While on the stand in his custody battle, Allen himself spoke about Farrow’s warning.
The New York Times reported: “In 1987, when she was pregnant with Satchel, he said, she told him, ‘Don’t get too close to him, because I don’t think this relationship is going anywhere.’ After the boy was born, Mr. Allen said, Ms. Farrow stopped sleeping with him, shunted Dylan aside and spent all her time with the new baby.”
The Evidence Supporting The Frank Sinatra Paternity Theory
The circumstantial evidence for at least questioning Allen’s paternity admittedly goes beyond the mere proposition that Ronan strongly resembles Sinatra and looks nothing like Allen. Though to start with, a belief that Allen is Ronan’s true biological father requires an acknowledgement that fully 50% of his DNA is reflected in Ronan’s genetic makeup.
But beyond the surface coincidences, one must also consider the very curious timeline of the Ronan pregnancy, which came shortly after an extended period where Farrow had asked Allen to have a child with her, but failed to conceive with him despite multiple, lengthy attempts. Farrow instead turned to adopting Dylan, partly out of frustration with her failed attempts to conceive with Allen, and then right after Dylan’s adoption, lo and behold, she suddenly is able to become pregnant after all.
It should also be noted that, despite being married three different times (Harlene Rosen 1956–62, Louise Lasser 1966–70, & Soon-Yi Previn 1997-present) over a combined span of over 30 years (comprising more than a third of his life), Allen has never managed to impregnate any of his wives.
Then one must consider the Newsday report from November 18, 1992 (excerpted above) where Farrow marked her first trimester of pregnancy by suggesting to Allen that he not get too close to the expected baby since she predicted that their relationship would not last much longer after the birth. (Was her expectation fueled by the knowledge of her own infidelity?)
Then there is the curious report from the same Newsday source which stated that Allen’s name was coincidentally originally missing from Ronan’s birth certificate — all consistent with the theory that Farrow had knowledge that the child was not Allen’s, and thus was taking a host of steps to prevent his status as the acknowledged father.
Then one must consider the fact that Ronan has never submitted to a paternity test to discover the truth, nor has he ever been encouraged to do so by his mother.
Then there is the fact that both Mia Farrow and Woody Allen have now publicly admitted in the press that Sinatra might in fact be Ronan’s true biological father.
First came the admission from Farrow in her interview with Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth in November 2013. (“I asked Mia point-blank if Ronan was the son of Frank Sinatra. ‘Possibly,’ she answered”.) In the same interview, Farrow claims that she and Sinatra “never really split up”.
Then came Allen publicly revealing his private suspicions for the first time in the New York Times in February 2014 as part of his rebuttal to charges that he molested Dylan Farrow when she was 7. His public questioning of Ronan’s paternity was noted in several other news outlets, none of which could conclusively rebut the suspicion.
When questioned about it directly, Ronan Farrow himself refused to categorically deny it, choosing instead to offer the coy response, “ Listen, we’re all ‘possibly’ Frank Sinatra’s son.”
Then there is the curious fact that, of all of Mia Farrow’s children, Ronan has been the only one to develop an unusually close relationship with the Sinatra family. As Maureen Orth recounted in her profile of Mia Farrow:
I asked Nancy Sinatra Jr. about Ronan’s being treated as if he were a member of their family, and she answered in an e-mail, “He is a big part of us, and we are blessed to have him in our lives.” She said of Mia, “From the early days until now, we have been like sisters. My mother is also very fond of her. We are family and will always be.”
Curiously, Orth did not mention any other of Farrow’s many children being “treated as if they were a member of” the Sinatra family — only Ronan.
The Case For Skepticism of the Frank Sinatra Paternity Theory
Skeptics of the Sinatra paternity theory point to their own set of facts to rebut the notion that Frank Sinatra was the father, including:
1. Sinatra’s age at the time (71, in contrast to Allen being 52 at that same time).
2. The fact that Sinatra’s daughter Tina insisted that her father had a vasectomy before the time in question.
3. The fact that Sinatra biographer James Kaplan claimed that, at that time, “Sinatra was incapacitated and impotent following a major abdominal surgery three months earlier that involved removal of 12 feet of intestine”, forcing him to recover in Hawaii during the time in question while “wearing what was essentially a colostomy bag”.
4. The fact that other sources claim (contrary to Kaplan’s own claim about Sinatra being incapacitated in Hawaii) that Sinatra was in “a long concert engagement in Las Vegas” at the time of the pregnancy.
5. From certain angles, Matthew Previn also has a slight, passing resemblance to Sinatra, yet nobody has questioned the fact that Andre Previn was his biological father nor the fact that Sascha Previn is his twin brother.
6. Ronan’s outward appearance is a natural luck of the draw in favoring his mother’s own looks (before her plastic surgery) as well as his uncle on his mother’s side, and that his resemblance to Sinatra is far less apparent in other photos with different lighting and where he has different hairstyles.
7. Both Mia and Ronan have reason to promote false stories about Allen not being Ronan’s father — namely the estrangement and hatred they feel towards Allen after he began his affair with Ronan’s sister (and Mia’s daughter) Soon-Yi Previn. Furthermore, there are stories suggesting that Ronan wears blue contacts to purposely fuel the speculation that he has no biological connection to Allen, but is rather connected to “Ol’ Blue Eyes” as Sinatra was often referred as.
After Allen originally questioned his paternity in the New York Times, he later gave a hedging response in a 2018 interview where he stated (in what the interviewer described as a “slightly doleful way”) :
“In my opinion, he’s my child. I think he is, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. I paid for child support for him for his whole childhood, and I don’t think that’s very fair if he’s not mine. Also she represented herself as a faithful person, and she certainly wasn’t. Whether she actually became pregnant in an affair she had … ”
Mia Farrow was questioned about the issue again in 2018 by Elle Magazine. She responded by stating, “Will it still fly if I say he was an immaculate conception? It worked for Mary.” — a response that the interviewer described as an example of Farrow’s “sly sense of humor”.
A Rebuttal To The Skeptics of the Frank Sinatra Theory
Naturally, the points brought up by those skeptical of the Frank Sinatra paternity theory are all fair ones to strongly consider. However, proponents of the “Sinatra theory” offer the following rebuttals:
a. There have been plenty of famous men who have become biological fathers well past Sinatra’s age at the time, proving that being in your early 70s is hardly a barrier to fatherhood.
b. There has been no independent confirmation of Sinatra’s vasectomy other than an unverified claim from the Sinatra family who would have reason to lie to avoid embarrassment and that the fact had never been reported before until the question of Ronan’s paternity surfaced. (Though obviously, in fairness, this would not be the sort of thing that a celebrity would announce in a press release if and when it first occurred.)
c. Despite the theory that Sinatra was too incapacitated in Hawaii to have been the father based on the timeframe, Sinatra biographer John Frayn Turner noted that Sinatra was well enough to perform at Carnegie hall in December of 1986 and that, by April of 1987, Sinatra was, “back on the road, as if the surgery had never happened.”
d. The competing, unverified claims of Sinatra’s whereabouts (Hawaii vs. Vegas) actually undermine the credibility of either theory and doesn’t offer conclusive proof in any event since both Sinatra and Farrow were capable of traveling. The “evidence” offered is always from second-hand sources making claims decades after the fact, rather than first-hand sources that were reporting in 1987.
A Mystery That Remains Inconclusive
The fact remains that neither side offers evidence that is fully conclusive, and all sides have reason to lie or obscure the truth out of pride, spite or embarrassment.
Unless and until Ronan Farrow decides to take a paternity test, we may never know the true answer.
Suffice it to say that credible questions have been raised concerning the paternity of Ronan’s true biological father, though nothing has been proven.
Despite any suspicions Allen may have had from the start, all indications were that he was a loving father to Ronan and fully supported him financially. However, a fact that is rarely commented on is the reality that the change in the Allen/Farrow relationship from one of active romance to a platonic friendship between partners who have always lived apart happened to coincide with the time of Farrow’s pregnancy with Ronan.
Was this timing a mere coincidence? Or did it stem from the notion that Allen began to eventually realize that the pregnancy likely wasn’t his, that Farrow had been unfaithful, and thus began to withdraw from the relationship?
Allen himself admitted, “My relationship with Mia was simply a cordial one in the past four years, a dinner maybe once a week together. Our romantic relationship tapered off after the birth of Satchel, tapered off quickly.”
The evidence surrounding the question of who Ronan Farrow’s true father is remains inconclusive. But unless and until Ronan Farrow agrees to undergo DNA testing that would settle the question once for all, he will have to make peace with the fact that the question will continue to shadow him in some circles throughout his life.