What Falls Away
When Mia Farrow met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in the spring of 1968 (with the Beatles as fellow seekers), the famous transcendental meditator gave the famous 23-year-old waifish star of ”Peyton Place” and ”Rosemary’s Baby” her secret mantra. Farrow was on her way to becoming ex-Mrs. Frank Sinatra, and she could have used all the transcendence India had to offer. But she sneezed as Maharishi was uttering the special word, and she wasn’t sure she heard it right, and the yogi wouldn’t repeat it. So she never knew whether maybe she was doing it wrong and thus being kept out of the ”field of pure Being.”
The scene — pure Woody Allen! — is one of the hundreds of great vignettes Farrow packs into What Falls Away, her satisfyingly gossipy new memoir that ex-lover Allen will likely never read, and dismissed adopted daughter Soon-Yi Farrow Previn should probably skip. But it would be greater still if — somewhere in the course of describing her rarified old-Hollywood childhood, her acting jobs, her recurring astonishment at her repeatedly iffy choices in men, and her obsession with adopting black and Asian children, some physically disabled — the author demonstrated an awareness, an amusement, or maybe just a wise, ”I’m still here” acceptance that…she’s wacky!
Nuh-uh. What’s extraordinary about this payback-time production is the dreamy, detached passive aggressiveness with which Farrow floats through her own fascinating story. (She repeats Roman Polanski’s quote to a journalist without blinking: ”There are 127 varieties of nuts. Mia’s 116 of them.”) What Falls Away falls into three big chunks, and each assumes a distinct tone — and distinct attitude of ”How’d I get here?” dazzlement. To her childhood memories — of her beloved actress mother, Maureen O’Sullivan; her distant, drinking, womanizing screenwriter father, John Farrow; her six siblings; her bout with polio — she gives a burnished, Irish-poetic glow, and produces her most beautiful, evocative writing. (Charles Boyer tells the 10-year-old Mia, ”Your life will be a wonderful one, but difficult I think.”)
The middle section — her career, her celebrity life, her relationships with Sinatra and musician Andre Previn, her children and homes — is told efficiently, with solid name-dropping. (”I didn’t know that Frank Sinatra was a legend who meant so much to so many people.” ”[Andre] was more interested in me than anyone had been in my life. I kept thinking how much my father would have liked and enjoyed him.”)
And then there’s the Woody section, into which Farrow pours all the understandably passionate anger and hurt she withholds from the rest of her pages. That fury spills over to Allen’s interests (she disdains his attention to fashion), to his friends (producer Jean Doumanian is dissed for her ”breezy, seamless confidence”), and even, at one point, to his biological child, Satchel (coldly repeating his doctor’s assessment of him as a ”high-needs baby” with an ”immature nervous system”). She lashes out at Soon-Yi, saying she no longer wants to see her. She icily reprints, in its entirety, the court decision denying Allen visitation with his adopted daughter, Dylan (whom he may or may not have sexually abused). She howls her truest roar: ”You’re not supposed to f— the kids.”
And then, spent, the author subsides again, blinking shyly and yearning ”to be worthy of the life I had chosen and the responsibilities that lay ahead.” Right now, those responsibilities include selling this book. She should have no trouble.