‘I was Woody Allen’s underage lover and I have no regrets’
'Manhattan' muse defies #MeToo stereotypes as she looks back on her 1970s 'love story'
An aspiring actress who had a sexual relationship with Woody Allen as a teenager has spoken for the first time about their affair, describing her shock to find that she partially inspired the character played by Mariel Hemingway in his film Manhattan.
Babi Christina Engelhardt was 16 in 1976 when she began an eight-year relationship with the director, who was 41 at the time. The age of consent was 17. She approached the director in a restaurant in New York City and passed him her number. He called, and they began meeting regularly at his Fifth Avenue penthouse, even though he knew she was still at school.
Engelhardt is now a 59-year-old divorcee and mother of two university-aged daughters, living in Beverly Hills, and working as an assistant to The Godfather producer Bob Evans. She remains reluctant to criticise Allen, despite the renewed focus on his behaviour in the light of the MeToo movement.
“I’m not attacking Woody,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “This is not: ‘Bring down this man.’ I’m talking about my love story. I have no regrets.”
Allen has been a controversial figure since, in 1992, his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was seven. The accusations simmered, amid legal processes and custody battles, until, in 2014, Farrow gave an interview to The New York Times, reiterating her claims. Two years later her brother, journalist Ronan Farrow – who would later go on to win a Pulitzer prize for his work exposing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations – wrote an article in support of her.
When the Weinstein scandal broke, Hollywood took sides, with Javier Bardem and Diane Keaton refusing to condemn the director, while Colin Firth and Timothee Chalamet said they would never work with him again.
Allen’s current wife, Soon-yi Previn – the adopted daughter of his former partner Mia Farrow – broke her silence in September in an interview with New York Magazine, defending her husband. Yet studios remain concerned.
Allen’s latest film, A Rainy Day in New York, has been shelved indefinitely. Wonder Wheel, his previous work, was only given a limited release. Many suspect Allen’s film-making days are over.
Engelhardt said she recalled being shocked when she saw Manhattan while still involved with Allen and said it reduced her to tears. She confronted him, saying there were a lot of similarities between her and Hemingway’s character, Tracy. Allen replied: “I thought you would.”
Engelhardt now says she is probably one of several muses for the character. “I was a fragment,” she said. “Great artists cherry pick.”
She told the magazine of her shock when, four years into their relationship, Allen introduced her to Mia Farrow, who he said was his girlfriend. She said she later felt sorry for Farrow, when it emerged that Allen had moved on to Farrow’s adopted daughter. After eight years with Allen, she decided to leave New York, saying: “I thought I was special and then I realised he’s a big person and he’s got a big life.”
Engelhardt then moved on to work with Federico Fellini, in his Rome office. Allen, a fan of Fellini, called his office and Engelhardt answered. “He said: ‘You’re with Fellini – you left me for Fellini?! That’s so cool!’ He was shocked I was with his hero.”
Engelhardt last heard from Allen in January 2001. “I hope you’re happy,” Allen wrote. “I recall our times together fondly. If you’re ever in New York I would love you to meet my wife – she’d like you. We get out to California every so often. If you’d like I’d call and perhaps we could all get together.”
– © The Daily Telegraph