Before he made movies — "Magic in the Moonlight" is his 44th film as director in 48 years —
"The current Mister Kelly's show," he wrote, "with rising young comic Woody Allen and thrush
The one-time rising young comic and I are in the private room behind the main room at
"Yes, that's true. I remember." Now 78, Allen speaks in a steady, unhurried rhythm, with a faint reminder of the joke-slinger he used to be. "It was Irv Kupcinet's show. I sort of closed my eyes, and it was…it was….a sleep-related gesture, I suppose. I guess I was tired from the night life. When I came to Chicago I always had a strong night life, 'cause I had friends here. After my late show at Mister Kelly's, they'd take me out for ribs someplace, and we'd go to someone's house, and wind up at (Hugh) Hefner's mansion at two o'clock in the morning. I'd play pool and sit around there with other show business people 'til 4. And then go home to the Astor Tower, where I stayed. The hotel next to the Astor Tower, what was that called?"
The Ambassador East, I say. "The Ambassador East, right. I'd already checked into the Ambassador, and Warren Beatty was in town, making
By that time Allen was living with future wife No. 2, Louise Lasser, a vocalist and actress. From a 1964 Tower Ticker column: "
Opening Friday, "Magic in the Moonlight" is Allen's latest showbiz venture, a period comedy set among Jazz Age Cote d'Azur swells. It's about a hard-headed illusionist, played by
Obliquely, he's referring to Allen's recent and most damning news cycle. Earlier this year, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter Dylan Farrow accused Allen of molesting her when she was 7, during which time Allen and Mia Farrow were involved. Allen answered the charges in a New York Times piece, declaring himself innocent and the matter finished. Since 1997 Allen has been married to Soon-Yi Previn, also an adopted daughter of Mia Farrow's, from her relationship with Andre Previn.
To anyone who asks Allen about the Dylan Farrow accusations, he has a simple retort: "
Googling it, of course, brings up a maelstrom of contradictory opinion regarding Woody Allen and his off-screen life. "I wouldn't know," he says, "I never Googled anything in my life. I'm not a technology person. I don't have a word processor. I type on a typewriter. I don't Google. I don't text. I don't know that whole world. I only know that anything I have to say on the subject, I said. it's readable somewhere in the ether."
These days Allen makes a film a year, shooting out of New York during the summertime, so his wife and their two children can accompany him to Paris (
"Very, very, very private" is how McBurney describes Allen. "But very, very smart. It was raining one day on the set and I said, 'So, Woody, how's it going? And he said, 'I have no idea! I have no idea! I'm just trying to stay one step ahead of everybody. I'm just the guy who goes fishing, and when he goes home he finds out what he's caught.' He's constantly revealing another aspect of himself in all of his movies. That's what you do as an artist. Your own self is your reservoir."
Eileen Atkins, who plays the Firth character's aunt, says she found Allen "absolutely enchanting, which I didn't expect to. He's the only person whose work I've consistently enjoyed throughout his life. We all know some of it's better than others, but you still say: That was bloody good."
Magic, fakery and the illusionist's game have provided Allen with a lifelong theme, on stage ("The Floating Light Bulb") and many times on screen. When he was kid growing up in Brooklyn, Allen was "not an illusionist, I was a sleight-of-hand person. Illusions would've been too expensive for me to buy. I could buy some tricks, you know, that were $5, $10 — trick milk pitchers, linking rings, things like that. I couldn't afford a guillotine or sawing a woman in half. Those were $150. So I got interested in sleight-of-hand. I used to buy books a lot, and I worked with cards, silk handkerchiefs, billiard balls, cigarettes, coins, I set up a three-way mirror and practiced diligently, all the time, isolated. Some of that stuff never leaves you."
Look at any five Allen films, and it's clear he's a shameless nostalgist, seduced by illusions of the past. If he weren't three weeks into filming on his new, untitled project, a serious-ish drama starring
He was last here, by his reckoning, in 2000 on a promotional tour for "Small Time Crooks." "I remember my wife and daughters going down to the beach from the hotel, and I went looking for all the old spots where I used to hang out. And not finding a lot of them."
Mister Kelly's is long gone, of course. "(Those) were very, very good years, with all the comedians and singers in town. Downtown at the London House, you had Oscar Peterson or
"Magic in the Moonlight" opens Friday.