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Turned WAY Up: Woody Allen on Dick Cavett

Joy Ellen Sauter
Mar 22 · 6 min read

October 20th, 1971

By Georges Biard

Hello! Welcome to the TurnedUp Newsletter #1

Our Newsletter takes a look at a current popular culture discussion, and looks backwards for context, nuance, and clarity.

Woody Allen on Dick Cavett. October 20th, 1971.

Woody Allen and Dick Cavett were real life good friends, Woody is reported to have visited Dick in the hospital multiple times when Dick was hospitalized for depression.

Woody created an act, a comedic schtick of nervousness, and self deprecating humor about his size and appearance, and almost disarming charm to play against a character also totally confident, quick witted, and alluringly arrogant.

Woody was a well known writer, film director, and producer. He was also a performer, an actor, a comedian, and a former stand up who had a slow mediocre rise.

There’s few arguing Woody Allen is a highly intelligent person. The kind of intelligence to hold himself slightly more knowledgeable than everyone else. He is clever, and one step ahead. Even though he is at his most comfortable during this interview, he is clearly “on” stage most of the time. His comedic persona is well developed, and he can answer questions without losing character. It’s a skill, and a craft he developed over the years.

To use Woody’s words from the interview, “Coddle it, fondle it, until it becomes sweet.”

Woody talk a lot of about sex. I only knew Woody Allen from his movies, so it was surprising how much he talked about sex during the interview. He crafted a persona of disarming charm and used his less than traditional masculine physique to say shocking sexual statements. He got a lot of laughs from the audience. He wouldn’t get those laughs from an audience today.

The nuance of humor from the early 1970’s has a lot of sexual innuendo. Comedians of the time talked more freely about sex, and this was a popular trend in stand up. Sex was still a shocking topic for people, just a decade after Lenny Bruce, the sexual revolution was still new to young people. Woody relying heavily on sex for his comedic bits isn’t separate from his contemporaries.

It’s more than average, even for the time. Suggesting sex, and erotic fantansies were very much a part of Allen’s life.

It’s got a yuck factor in light of future events. In this interview, Woody gives his much publicized and controversial quote about being single after his divorce to his second wife. “I can do anything I like to anyone I want,” pausing for four seconds to add, “with their consent.”

He also discusses his ideal mate in a comedic bit about looking for “earth mother sexual animal types,” with a very specific set of skills. He describes himself as being sexually precocious, as early as the crib. Eyeing pretty young girls from a very young age, “devoting his life to it.”

Woody goes further, though, talking about his eight years of psychoanalysis, and his understanding of Freud’s theories of sexual latency. Equating his own experience, whether real or part of his comedy, of early desires for girls as outside the norm of Freud’s theories that sexual thoughts and actions are a part of latent adolescence.

He feels that children, like himself, have “deep erotic desires.” Woody was thirty five during this interview, but he had a long history of seeking relationships with much younger women.

Every single relationship Woody had publicly was with younger women. Some more extreme versions of age difference and youth. When he was forty-one, he dated Stacey Nelkin, then seventeen (the age of consent in New York at the time was seventeen).

He also admitted to inviting Mariel Hemingway, then eighteen years old, on a trip to Paris when Woody was forty-four. The trip, recounted by Hemingway, caused “triggering angst.” Not just for it’s romantic uncertainty, but for the way people around her encouraged the affair.

He also wrote and directed countless movies where older men were linked to much younger women, time and time again, in an antiquated and toxic way.

In the end he comments that the young girls in the audience are much nicer than the girls that come to other late night talk shows. Dick makes jokes, assuming this is another comedic bit, inviting Woody to join the show’s production to have access to more girls. Woody responds, “hangout here…I’d have to leave the school yard.”

Woody is cringe worthy, but this is only by today’s standards. His history with young girls is the power and control of misogyny. He is a powerful and wealthy man, in a position with access to lots of famous and non famous women clamoring to meet him. He knows how to talk, playing his schtick, or being himself, who knows.

He used his position of power to lure young girls into his presence. More or less like other men in positions of power later revealed to have harassed or sexually assaulted women. We all know power and control has its own trauma, and the greatest of these men are so eloquently versed in their misogyny, they need not commit crimes. Their lure is enough.

It’s almost easy to predict, after watching this interview, that Allen would start a relationship when he was fifty seven years old with his then girlfriend’s twenty two year old daughter, Soon Yi Previn.

When Woody began dating Soon Yi, he didn’t commit a crime, or do anything illegal. He wasn’t married to Mia Farrow, although they had children together. He wasn’t Soon Yi’s father, and wasn’t related to her in any way. What side of moral you are on is a different story. How comfortable their relationship makes you is personal.

When Woody gave this interview in 1971, at the age of thirty five, Soon Yi was an infant in Korea.

Many in the public were either disgusted, or looked the other way. Others defended Allen as not doing anything illegal. However people felt about it personally, it didn’t derail his career. Woody went on to continue making films. Allen and Previn married in 1997, and have two children. They are still married.

Cultural acceptance of artists, especially men, whose morality and world view are questionable considerations are more frequently given a pass. The art they produced becomes so personal, and intertwined into our system of values and beliefs. It’s impossible to separate the art from the artist because the immoral behavior becomes an element of the making of the art.

Woody is obviously highly intelligent, and maintains casual feelings about his sexuality. He makes jokes about school girls, and fondling, and loving women. His standards are no higher than, “the same species.”

Is it fake, over confident, or a man high on the power of his famous success. Perhaps. I forget for a moment he is thirty five, though, a grown man talking about children having sexual urges. Whether it’s just for show, those watching today are not laughing.

Woody hasn’t slowed down how he talks about young women in his 2020 autobiography, “Apropos of nothing.” It’s as if the controversy never happened. He doesn’t walk around like a guilty man who is accused of molesting his daughter with Mia Farrow.

He has no regrets. At least in public. He still writes with the same, either callous irresponsibility or tone deaf nature about his romantic life, and past sexual feelings.

This interview feels like a primer for Woody for events to come, for his sexual fantasies about chasing young girls are played out in real life. A powerful man who uses his power to seduce and lure young women into these fantasies easily, and without resistance.

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Joy Ellen Sauter

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