Woody Allen’s war on women

The real “war on women” isn’t happening in Washington; it is happening in Hollywood and New York or wherever men such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski sit in a director’s chair and are feted as great artists and hence great men. As Elizabeth Taylor once said, “success is a great deodorant.”

Over the weekend, Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, 28, wrote an open letter that appeared on The New York Times’ website. She repeated a charge she made in 1992 when she was 7, that her adoptive father “sexually assaulted” her.

Allen always has denied the charge. After an investigation, authorities did not prosecute Allen. John Leventhal, a doctor who headed the investigation, said the daughter’s accusation had a “rehearsed quality,” perhaps caused by the coaching of her adoptive mother, Mia Farrow. (Farrow recently had learned that Allen had begun an affair with her 19-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn.) As The New York Times reported at the time, Leventhal also said there was no “firm evidence” the actress had coached her child.

Prosecutor Frank Maco told the press he believed that Allen had molested his daughter, but Maco chose not to press charges to protect a child from the trauma of a trial.

Over the years, I’ve figured — and I still do — that Allen deserved the benefit of the doubt. When a man takes up with his girlfriend’s teenage daughter, an act of such raw betrayal just might incite a wronged mother to instill in her daughter the belief that she has been violated.

I also stopped paying to see Allen’s films at theaters because of what I knew to be true. At the age of 55, Allen began an affair with his girlfriend’s 19-year-old daughter. I realized that the lovable mensch in his movies was in fact a devious, exploitative creep who cynically promoted the idea of 40-somethings dating high-school girls in his 1979 film, “Manhattan.”

But after years of watching Hollywood salute Allen’s genius, I wavered. It’s not as if I want to conduct a litmus test on an entertainer’s morality, I told myself. Whose work would be left to watch?

So last week, I was drawn to a piece in The Daily Beast, “The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast,” by documentary-maker Robert B. Weide. Essentially, Weide, a friend and colleague of Woody’s, argued that though maybe (maybe not) it was “creepy” that Allen took up with the young Previn, who is now his wife, readers shouldn’t necessarily believe Dylan Farrow’s allegations. To believe the girl’s story, wrote Weide, you must believe that the brainy director abused his daughter in a manner so flagrant as to invite detection.

Oh, and by the way, Weide added, Mia Farrow testified on behalf of Polanski, despite his admission to having sex with a 13-year-old in 1977, so she’s a hypocrite.

I want to thank Dylan Farrow for writing about how hard it was for her to live with the fact that most people find “it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, ‘who can say what happened,’ to pretend that nothing was wrong.”

I still don’t know what happened between the filmmaker and the little girl. But I do know I don’t like the way Allen has used women. Ditto Polanski, whose career took off with the 1974 film “Chinatown,” about a corrupt dirty old man whose success allowed him to sexually abuse a terrified teenager.

And I don’t have to live in Chinatown.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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