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The first independent investigation of Woody Allen, our era's most celebrated, distinctive, and confounding filmmaker, reveals the controversial private life behind the icon. Until now, there has been little scrutiny of that life. The reason: Woody viewed biographers as the Ebola plague, dangerous, uncontrollable contagions that might squish his public persona into mousse. The first independent investigation of Woody Allen, our era's most celebrated, distinctive, and confounding filmmaker, reveals the controversial private life behind the icon. Until now, there has been little scrutiny of that life. The reason: Woody viewed biographers as the Ebola plague, dangerous, uncontrollable contagions that might squish his public persona into mousse. Allen's prolific achievements are all but unparalleled in cinematic history. To fans, his films have always represented an ongoing autobiography, through which he has bared his self-deprecating overanalytical soul to the world. It was not until 1992, when his stormy private life turned into sensational headlines, that the cracks in the familiar persona appeared. The lines separating art and fact, myth and reality, public and private life, became increasingly blurred. Marion Meade has tracked down scores of people in Allen's life who have never before spoken to an Allen biographer: boyhood pals; Brooklyn neighbors and teachers; colleagues Buddy Hackett and Mel Brooks from his early career as a television writer and stand-up comic; actors Maureen Stapleton, Max von Sydow, and Bob Hope; director Sydney Pollack; and the film reviewers who have followed his career for decades -- Vincent Canby, Roger Ebert, Stanley Kauffmann, Andrew Sarris, and John Simon. She also details the numerous examples of art imitating life in Allen's films, particularly the extraordinary saga behind his marriage to the adopted daughter of his long-time lover, Mia Farrow. In reconstructing Allen's life, Meade explores the cult of celebrity in America -- how it is our own infatuation with the rich and famous that has made it possiblefor this supremely talented man to shrewdly manipulate both the media and the moviegoing public.


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The first independent investigation of Woody Allen, our era's most celebrated, distinctive, and confounding filmmaker, reveals the controversial private life behind the icon. Until now, there has been little scrutiny of that life. The reason: Woody viewed biographers as the Ebola plague, dangerous, uncontrollable contagions that might squish his public persona into mousse. The first independent investigation of Woody Allen, our era's most celebrated, distinctive, and confounding filmmaker, reveals the controversial private life behind the icon. Until now, there has been little scrutiny of that life. The reason: Woody viewed biographers as the Ebola plague, dangerous, uncontrollable contagions that might squish his public persona into mousse. Allen's prolific achievements are all but unparalleled in cinematic history. To fans, his films have always represented an ongoing autobiography, through which he has bared his self-deprecating overanalytical soul to the world. It was not until 1992, when his stormy private life turned into sensational headlines, that the cracks in the familiar persona appeared. The lines separating art and fact, myth and reality, public and private life, became increasingly blurred. Marion Meade has tracked down scores of people in Allen's life who have never before spoken to an Allen biographer: boyhood pals; Brooklyn neighbors and teachers; colleagues Buddy Hackett and Mel Brooks from his early career as a television writer and stand-up comic; actors Maureen Stapleton, Max von Sydow, and Bob Hope; director Sydney Pollack; and the film reviewers who have followed his career for decades -- Vincent Canby, Roger Ebert, Stanley Kauffmann, Andrew Sarris, and John Simon. She also details the numerous examples of art imitating life in Allen's films, particularly the extraordinary saga behind his marriage to the adopted daughter of his long-time lover, Mia Farrow. In reconstructing Allen's life, Meade explores the cult of celebrity in America -- how it is our own infatuation with the rich and famous that has made it possiblefor this supremely talented man to shrewdly manipulate both the media and the moviegoing public.

30 review for The Unruly Life of Woody Allen: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Derek Royal

    I would say that this book was a disappointment, but then again, I didn't have high hopes for it. This "biography" of Woody Allen is more of an excuse to write about the Woody/Mia circus, which takes up over half of the text. As such, the first parts of the book, a cursory look at Allen's life up to meeting Farrow in the late 1970s, seems just a set up for what is to come. What Meade is interested in, at least in the early part of Allen's career, are those characteristics that bear on his reacti I would say that this book was a disappointment, but then again, I didn't have high hopes for it. This "biography" of Woody Allen is more of an excuse to write about the Woody/Mia circus, which takes up over half of the text. As such, the first parts of the book, a cursory look at Allen's life up to meeting Farrow in the late 1970s, seems just a set up for what is to come. What Meade is interested in, at least in the early part of Allen's career, are those characteristics that bear on his reaction and response in his relationship with Farrow. Unlike the Baxter biography--which is more complete, and which I just recent read--this book is more gossipy and more focused on the sordid side of Allen's life and personality. Baxter seemed more balanced in his biography, looking at the bright and dark spots of his life. Yet despite its "exposure" nature, Meade does at least illustrate the life of Mia Farrow as being anything other than innocent and without fault. I'm not sure who comes out looking worse, Woody or Mia. If you're going to read a biography of Woody Allen, this definitely isn't the one to turn to. Lax's is too uncritical, and this one is too tabloid. Baxter is probably the most objective, given the company.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    Bright as he was, or perhaps because he was so intelligent, Woody (born Allan Konigsberg) was a difficult child at school, often playing hooky, his mother making numerous trips to school to explain his behavior. He was a reluctant reader, although he would devour as many as fifty comic books per day. He was addicted to movies, plunking down 11 cents for a double feature in the air-conditioned comfort of the neighborhood theater, a rather forbidding place with rats scurrying around the floor. Desp Bright as he was, or perhaps because he was so intelligent, Woody (born Allan Konigsberg) was a difficult child at school, often playing hooky, his mother making numerous trips to school to explain his behavior. He was a reluctant reader, although he would devour as many as fifty comic books per day. He was addicted to movies, plunking down 11 cents for a double feature in the air-conditioned comfort of the neighborhood theater, a rather forbidding place with rats scurrying around the floor. Despite his self-depiction in his movies, Allen was not bashful nor repressed as a child, and he was considered a bad influence by the parents of most of his friends. He would practice magic tricks for hours each day, becoming quite proficient. His mother could be quite a nag, but Woody would often dish it right back. Once, when she had a patch over one eye because of a cataract and she was haranguing him about something, he shot back, "Shut up Mom, or I'll blind your other eye." His first marriage, to Harlene, was not a success. Married in their teens, they had to move back in with her parents after the Colgate Show folded. He had been writing for them. Neil Simon's brother, Danny, took an interest in him and taught him that writing jokes was not enough; he needed to learn how to write whole sketches. It was about this time that he began therapy, insisting he was constantly depressed. He used to joke that his wife's cooking tasted like coffee, everything, even the eggs. The marriage was strained, but his career was beginning to take off, and he wrote for Sid Caesar's Show of Shows. He was soon working around the clock. His jokes about their marriage were borne silently by "Mrs. Woody" as she was rather derisively called. He remarked she looked like Olive Oil in the Popeye comics. She was studying philosophy and German, however, and she encouraged him to broaden his reading. They realized the marriage was a mistake and his belittling of his wife did not help. (For example he made comments that he almost choked to death on a bone in her chocolate pudding and he gave her an electric chair disguised as a hair dryer for her birthday; she was so bumble-brained that after burning herself it took her two minutes to think of the word "ouch;" or his wife was raped, but knowing her it was not considered a moving violation.) They were divorced after six years, just before Woody made it big. Soon he became enamored with Louise Lasser, a talented actress and singer. Her mother was a depressive and never forgave Louise for preventing her suicide, something she was to eventually succeed at. More grist for Woody's therapy mill. Allen's comedy was evolving into the self-deprecating analysis of Allen Konigsberg ("My parents rented out my room after I was kidnapped," and "My mother nursed me through falsies.") By 1969, he had gotten over his stage fright and become the hottest comic in the U.S. Meade, author of a very good biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, goes into considerable detail concerning the accusations and counter-charges related to Woody's affair and subsequent marriage to Sooni, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter. Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe the hate that resulted from this ill-advised liaison. Meade also describes Allen's movies, although most after the Sooni debacle and media frenzy hardly seem worth watching. It must be hard to write a biography of a living person and we'll just have to watch and see what happens in future years. Stay tuned.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    I’d like to refer you to the Kirkus review of this book. The first sentence is: “A literary Hedda Hopper dishes dirt on the director and evokes pity rather than disgust”. Since it is impossible to write a positive review of a Meade book, I thought it best to refer to something uploaded earlier.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Don

    Some things you'll learn in this book. (1) Woody Allen is a very strange person, deeply unhappy, not the world's nicest guy, an abysmal father. (2) Mia Farrow is herself incredibly strange, an emotional mess, unbalanced, and vindictive. (3) Marion Meade doesn't like most of Allen's movies. Meade, it seems, has given an objective but unnecessarily bleak account here. She strikes me as the type of person who, when asked to tell the story of Anna Karenina, jumps straight to the scene at the train s Some things you'll learn in this book. (1) Woody Allen is a very strange person, deeply unhappy, not the world's nicest guy, an abysmal father. (2) Mia Farrow is herself incredibly strange, an emotional mess, unbalanced, and vindictive. (3) Marion Meade doesn't like most of Allen's movies. Meade, it seems, has given an objective but unnecessarily bleak account here. She strikes me as the type of person who, when asked to tell the story of Anna Karenina, jumps straight to the scene at the train station while skipping over all of the novel's sweetness and beauty.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robert Poor

    As a teenager and young adult, Woody Allen as a movie maker, short story writer and comedian was on my Mount Rushmore of influences alongside Kurt Vonnegut, Randy Newman, just about anybody involved with the first several seasons of Saturday Night Live, and John and Paul. Marion Meade's well-researched biography of Woody Allen helped fill in the blanks in my knowledge about Woody's family, romantic relationships, and behind the scenes professional efforts during which he has made a movie nearly As a teenager and young adult, Woody Allen as a movie maker, short story writer and comedian was on my Mount Rushmore of influences alongside Kurt Vonnegut, Randy Newman, just about anybody involved with the first several seasons of Saturday Night Live, and John and Paul. Marion Meade's well-researched biography of Woody Allen helped fill in the blanks in my knowledge about Woody's family, romantic relationships, and behind the scenes professional efforts during which he has made a movie nearly every year for forty-plus years. His 1980s period, including Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Radio Days, Alice, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, was an especially high-quality era (we'll pretend that "September" - either of the two filmed versions - never happened) largely featuring his then-muse Mia Farrow. I enjoyed most of those movies, Mia's performances in them, and enjoyed learning more detail about the beginnings of her and Woody's quirky romantic relationship and on-set work. Marion Meade is fairly well known as a biographer of entertainers. Her book on Dorothy Parker (which I haven't read) is supposed be fairly definitive. Similarly, her work here on Woody Allen is comprehensive, at least through the date it was published, and even included an afterword from 2010 that added more perspective on the catastrophic controversies that were widely shared during Woody and Mia's tumultuous breakup, court proceedings, child abuse charges, and bitter public rancor. This book is not vile or irresponsible. Its last third or so is primarily focused on the Mia - Soon-Yi - Woody Love & Death Triangle. The book's insights into Woody Allen aren't particularly new and unfortunately confirm what we have largely known; despite his carefully crafted image and impressive production, in short Woody is one of the most inconsiderate, isolated, and stagnant artists ever. I would have given this book four stars, but knocked it down one for the very high Yuck Factor of the last 150 pages.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    Fluffy gossip, glossy magazine style, but with some restraint, and attempt at balance and impartiality. It gave me lots of information on his life that I didn’t know. I actually finished it. I am an old admirer of Woody.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim Davidson

    An honest and unsentimental bio of Woody Allen Marion Meade’s bio of Woody Allen is an unsentimental, unflattering look at a man whose life has been controversial and tainted by scandal. Meade does a good job of covering Woody’s early years as well as his more recent ones, and presents her subject with all his flaws fully revealed. Unfortunately, the book was written in 1999, so the readers misses out on the last 21 years of Woody’s life, which has been some of his most interesting ones. Anyway.. An honest and unsentimental bio of Woody Allen Marion Meade’s bio of Woody Allen is an unsentimental, unflattering look at a man whose life has been controversial and tainted by scandal. Meade does a good job of covering Woody’s early years as well as his more recent ones, and presents her subject with all his flaws fully revealed. Unfortunately, the book was written in 1999, so the readers misses out on the last 21 years of Woody’s life, which has been some of his most interesting ones. Anyway...highly recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael Harris

    APL Recycled Reads find. A very well written story of a flawed human who who has creative talent and his former love interest who is a nut case. Despite being a nut case she was able to adopt over a dozen children. The story points out what money can do with the rules and the legal system as well as how money can't buy taste. APL Recycled Reads find. A very well written story of a flawed human who who has creative talent and his former love interest who is a nut case. Despite being a nut case she was able to adopt over a dozen children. The story points out what money can do with the rules and the legal system as well as how money can't buy taste.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Halfway through, and I'm enjoying "Unruly Life" immensely. It seems to be very well researched and provides a balanced view of his life. If I change my mind later, I'll come back and revise the review, but so far, I can recommend it. Halfway through, and I'm enjoying "Unruly Life" immensely. It seems to be very well researched and provides a balanced view of his life. If I change my mind later, I'll come back and revise the review, but so far, I can recommend it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Inara

    I've been on a Woody Allen/Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow binge lately. This book clarified a lot of issues about the three of them and was the most objective of those I've read. Allen is an awful person but I have to admit he's brilliant. I've been on a Woody Allen/Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow binge lately. This book clarified a lot of issues about the three of them and was the most objective of those I've read. Allen is an awful person but I have to admit he's brilliant.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dipra Lahiri

    Way too detailed coverage of the Woody - Mia spats. Needs to be updated for the years 2000 onwards.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phil Princey

    Some good insight to Woody's genius and Eccentricity. I'm not a fan exactly, but admit he's a very funny man. The main point is that Woody's shortcomings and mistakes didn't stop his ultimate success. He had managed to do a lot in his lifetime, even though he was under the limelight for his own misdemeanors, or maybe lawbreaking? Some good insight to Woody's genius and Eccentricity. I'm not a fan exactly, but admit he's a very funny man. The main point is that Woody's shortcomings and mistakes didn't stop his ultimate success. He had managed to do a lot in his lifetime, even though he was under the limelight for his own misdemeanors, or maybe lawbreaking?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lance Eaton

    This review is focused on both the book and audiobook. No doubt that a biography about the eccentric and neurotic little man, known as Woody Allen, would provoke some attention. In light of his scandalous past with Soon-Yi Previn, adopted daughter of his long-time romantic partner, Mia Farrow, this biography delivers Woody’s life with hard facts and sharp comments. “The Unruly Life of Woody Allen” tells the story of Woody Allen from his birth as Allan Konigsberg in 1935 to his initial career in This review is focused on both the book and audiobook. No doubt that a biography about the eccentric and neurotic little man, known as Woody Allen, would provoke some attention. In light of his scandalous past with Soon-Yi Previn, adopted daughter of his long-time romantic partner, Mia Farrow, this biography delivers Woody’s life with hard facts and sharp comments. “The Unruly Life of Woody Allen” tells the story of Woody Allen from his birth as Allan Konigsberg in 1935 to his initial career in comedy as a writer to his stand-up comedy and then on to his film career which includes screenwriting, acting, directing, and many other positions. We also learn of his personal life such as his parents, his relationships, his friends, and his enemies. While Allen seems almost schizophrenic with his jobs and movies, he takes on the same mantle when it comes to women. We learn about each of his wives and partners in how they came together and why they split up. Obviously spending the most time on Mia Farrow, the author details Mia’s upbringing and her prior marriages which included a stint with Frank Sinatra. The long romance between the Woody and Mia had many ups and downs with the final cataclysmic down, resulting in Farrow’s discovering of naked pictures of Soon-Yi in Woody’s possession. This ultimately resulted in ensuing court battles and millions of dollars spent on Woody’s attempt to maintain custody of his natural and adopted children. While his personal life has mostly kept him in the spotlight for the last ten years, Woody Allen has still been an intriguing figure both in the world of film and comedy. The audiobook details his beginnings as a comedic writer for the New Yorker and his initial start as a stand-up comedian. Listeners learn about his early influences both in his personal life and in movies contrasted next to his own problems and neuroses while growing up. What’s impressive about Woody Allen is that he developed skills in a variety of positions in the entertainment industry. He developed talent as a comedian but also as a screenwriter, director and actor, often using his comedic talent to influence whatever new project he found. This audiobook also gives keen insight to many of his archetypical characters and the true life people behind the movies and comedic caricatures. To truly appreciate this biography, it takes three steps. 1. Watch the movies that Allen has been involved in, whether it is writing, directing, acting, etc. 2. Listen to the biography. 3. Watch the movies again. Otherwise, you cannot fully understand or follow the comments and references that the author mentions. Another reason to do this is that you will clearly see, in spite of seeing a therapist for several decades, Allen’s truest form of therapy and venting was in movies. Mary Woods does a decent job of narration. While she provides the necessary straight voice for this biography, where she really lacks is with the punch lines. Spread throughout the book are quotes, comments, and jokes from Allen’s friends, families, co-workers, and even his films. The author wonderfully integrates these remarks at the most appropriate spot. Many lines from the films are straight from Allen’s mouth and Woods reads these as straightforward as the rest of the text, often flattening the would-be jokes. This audiobook can be quite aggressive in its depiction of Woody Allen. Meade unhesitatingly reveals Woody’s borderline-perverted obsession with his children Dylan and Satchel. But Meade does give a thorough biography that spends as much time on his accomplishments and his better qualities as she does on the more “unruly” aspects of his life. This biography rolls at a great pace and keeps listeners attention for the full 15 hours of its production.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pollopicu

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book satisfied all my needs for scandalous sensationalism. Marion Meade is a superb writer. But I have to say, the first half of the book was absolutely tedious. It mostly focused on Woody's film and directing career. I had to trudge through a gazette of production companies, actors, shows, family, friends, movies, gigs, restaurants and locations. However, once it got into the deal with Mia, it more than made up for it, IN SPADES!!! Frankly, Woody Allen is not very different than what I have This book satisfied all my needs for scandalous sensationalism. Marion Meade is a superb writer. But I have to say, the first half of the book was absolutely tedious. It mostly focused on Woody's film and directing career. I had to trudge through a gazette of production companies, actors, shows, family, friends, movies, gigs, restaurants and locations. However, once it got into the deal with Mia, it more than made up for it, IN SPADES!!! Frankly, Woody Allen is not very different than what I have been observing in male behavior for the past 30 years. Sure, he was the pioneer of "owning it", and making inexcusable excuses for his behavior, but I believe, through his art, he might have even been directly responsible for contributing to men's absurd concupiscent demands and feelings of sexual entitlement. Through his brilliance he was able to successfully disguise his barbarianism. He not only was able to crawl under the radar, but was also able to recruit a few disciples in the process. Me being one of them. Now it's not that I go believing everything I read. In fact for many, many years I gave Woody the benefit of the doubt. I admired his work, and I wanted to keep it that way. I didn't know the true story behind his affair with soon-yi, and I really didn't care. But after reading this book, I was presented all at once with the qualities that I had only taken individual notice of. At the time, I saw most of his eccentricities as isolated tidbits. Reading all about it, at once, puts a different spin on it. When it boils down to it, he's nothing but a selfish man. His main problem truly is selfishness. Plain and simple. If the stories about his childhood, and his mother being a chilly nag hold true, then it might certainly be the natality of his misogynistic campaign against women. Not that I'm making excuses for him, because I'm not. I'm sure that Woody didn't need much excuse to excuse his behavior. What's insane though, is that after all these years and all the drama he brought upon himself, he still hasn't been able to get it. He hasn't been able to realize he's wrong. He's like a cowardly sociopath. To this day he continues to justify all his actions. Now this is not to say I'm on team Mia. No way, no how. She's a wacko for staying with him years after she suspected Woody of "lusting after her child". And I'm not talking about Soon-yi, I'm talking about Mia's other adoptive daughter, Dylan. Now who is more screwed up? him for being the predator he is? or all the women in his life who allowed themselves to be used this way? It never ceases to amaze me that women will trade their power for a man like him in a NY minute, because he's nothing to look at, and psychologically he's really fucked in the head, and he's never tried to hide that, in fact, that has been his career shtick for decades. Woody is an exemplification of how men put such selfish importance on their own sexual pleasures and immediate desires, to the point of self destruction. Here he had a booming movie-making career, 2 beautiful children, a relationship, and he threw all away, for what? so he could continue to carry on his affair with a different child, the child of his ex-girlfriend, making Mia now his mother-in-law. He's disgusting. I admire his brilliance in movie-making, but he's such a selfish little prick. I hate him, but I must admit.. every time I watch Husbands and Wives, I forgive him and choose look the other way.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eileenmarie

    I liked it; learned a lot about Woody Allen - strange guy. Too much about his deal with Mia Farrow, but hey that is a big part of what happened to him. I love his work, and his most recent movies are just so good. He's passionate about what he does. I liked the book overall, but not my favorite biography. I liked it; learned a lot about Woody Allen - strange guy. Too much about his deal with Mia Farrow, but hey that is a big part of what happened to him. I love his work, and his most recent movies are just so good. He's passionate about what he does. I liked the book overall, but not my favorite biography.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Francis J.

    Very fair, entertaining, and informative.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brook Bakay

    About as good as it could be. Lots o' dirt. Really interesting subject. About as good as it could be. Lots o' dirt. Really interesting subject.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Love woody Allen's work- - enjoyed the book! Love woody Allen's work- - enjoyed the book!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dayla

    It is impossible to like Woody Allen's choices in his private life. In relationships, he never really developed into a person that realizes, at any time, he could take the high road. It is impossible to like Woody Allen's choices in his private life. In relationships, he never really developed into a person that realizes, at any time, he could take the high road.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    Drivel. It's not garbage it just...isn't anything. Held up only by the fact that Woody has had an inextricably interesting life, no matter how hard Meade might try to bore me with it. Drivel. It's not garbage it just...isn't anything. Held up only by the fact that Woody has had an inextricably interesting life, no matter how hard Meade might try to bore me with it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Janet

  22. 5 out of 5

    Devin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy Arnold venier

  24. 5 out of 5

    David E

  25. 5 out of 5

    Edward O'Neill

  26. 5 out of 5

    Padraic Cepek

  27. 4 out of 5

    Coco Ginger

  28. 5 out of 5

    Logan Rishaw

  29. 4 out of 5

    David Kusumoto

  30. 4 out of 5

    W. Tracy Parnell

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