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Mia Farrow: 9 Kids, 10 Years With Woody : Living apart, working together has been the secret to their offscreen, onscreen success

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<i> Plaskin is a writer for the New York Daily News</i>

On a typical weekend, pizza-delivery men scurry up to Mia Farrow’s Central Park West apartment with great speed, for her hungry brood of nine children, Farrow explains, are each given an allowance of three playmates.

“And that,” she explains, “means 27 kids, 54 slices of pizza, plus the ice cream.”

This does not even factor in the Wheaton terrier mutt Mary, the Yorkshire puppy, the parakeet, the canary, the guinea pig, the rabbit, the three hamsters, the two cats, the four frogs, the tropical fish and the box turtle. Or, for that matter, Woody Allen, quietly practicing the clarinet, or attempting to.

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“When it all becomes too much for him,” Farrow laughs, “he goes home.”

That’s the sprawling penthouse he keeps on Fifth Avenue. That’s his place.

This spacious, three-bedroom, well-worn apartment, with burnt orange walls and Oriental carpets and upholstered country checks of rust and maroon, and woven baskets and needlepoint pillows and huge stuffed animals and a piano heaped with sheet music--this is her place. This entirely satisfactory arrangement is the secret of this couple’s very happy 10 years together.

“Living together would be too disruptive,” Farrow says. “I like the idea of seeing one another in our prime time. When we want to.

“Particularly as I get older, (Farrow is 43) I appreciate that freedom. If I want to hang a picture, I hang it. It’s my house. It sounds petty, but it’s great. All my life, it seems, I lived with a man and it was always his house.”

She reflects upon the two marriages, the hotly impulsive one to Frank Sinatra, the heartier one to Andre Previn. Another state of marriage is flatly not contemplated at this time, she reports. “Woody is an obsessive worker and uses his day with utter discipline. He comes over in the morning to be here when the children wake up, he goes off to work at 10 to edit one movie and write, cast and produce the next, he comes back at the end of the day, stays until they go to bed--then we go out for a quick bite to eat. I like the arrangement. I’m married in the sense that Woody and I are together in a committed way, happily so for many years. We have a good life.”

Farrow laughs again. And knocks on a wooden table.

Never before, in fact, has she known such rock-solid support. Allen functions as surrogate dad to The Nine--"though Andre is definitely the older six children’s father"--and Allen has, moreover, engineered for Farrow a renaissance, pulling her career from the doldrums of the 1970s back on track. This month, she is celebrating their 10 years together with “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” her 10th Woody Allen film. “A nice, even number,” she says.

All the roles were custom-designed for her by Allen: the dizzy dolly in “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy”; the brainy psychiatrist in “Zelig”; the mob floozy in “Broadway Danny Rose”; the down-and-out waitress in “The Purple Rose of Cairo”; the earnest family pillar in “Hannah and Her Sisters”; the singer-cigarette girl in “Radio Days”; the despondent daughter in “September”; the suicidal patient in “Another Woman”; the WASP fiance in “New York Stories.”

With “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Allen has largely dumped comedy for a maudlin melodrama featuring two men (Allen and Martin Landau), both in mid-life crisis, both trapped in miserable marriages, both desperately seeking comfort in romantic interests (Farrow and Anjelica Huston); the film--uncharacteristically violent for Allen--is, Farrow says, “about moral choices and internal conflicts.”

“I’ve been the luckiest actress alive,” she says of her films for Allen. “Where else could I enjoy that kind of variety?”

And how else could she work and raise her children? “It is,” she agrees, “perfect for me. Most actress-mothers are tormented--agonized over whether to leave their children behind for a good part or tear apart their kids’ lives to take them along. I would do that. Woody’s movies are made in New York, the children stay in New York schools around the clock, they’re welcome on the set and my dressing room is a nursery for the babies. That’s what I call integration without too much stress.”

“Mia,” Allen confides, “has a talent for mothering the way some people have a green thumb for gardening or an ear for music,

or a talent for medicine. It’s no chore for her.”

Unlike stressed-out Hollywood starlets, reclusive Farrow leads a determinedly Plain Jane life: no parties, no makeup, no Mia Farrow Loungewear, no nonsense. “Forget it. I like being home,” she says. The sensibility extends to her career as well: “I like being a character actress. Being leading woman, in the usual sense, doesn’t mean anything to me.

“Glamour is tedious. I get paid to change clothes eight times a day and I’m not keen to do it in real life.”

No sir. Today, she is dressed like a camper in faded jeans, oversize military T-shirt and sensible brogues. Today, she is picking at a finger crusted in Krazy Glue, having repaired a child’s toy. Today, she is entirely ordinary. She is radiantly lovely.

“It’s impossible to photograph her when she is not being beautiful,” Allen rhapsodizes.

“Oh, please,” Farrow giggles.

Sitting for a rare interview, her first in four years, the children banished to Central Park to play, Farrow, soft-spoken and reticent, projects steel, nonetheless. “I’ve never thought of myself as a wispy creature,” she says, recalling Allison MacKenzie, that picture of ethereal innocence on “Peyton Place” 25 years ago. “I’ve always been strong. But before I met Woody, I was very lonely.” She had returned to New York in 1979 as a single mother raising seven children. “I don’t feel lonely anymore.”

Small wonder. Not in this household. Twins Matthew and Sacha are 19 now, studying at Yale and Drew University, respectively; they visit most weekends, sharing a room with 15-year-old Fletcher. These are the Previn boys, who welcomed--"with total love and incredible patience,” Farrow says--the adopted Vietnamese girls, Soon-Yi, 17, and Lark, 16, and the Korean children, Daisy, 15, and Moses, 11.

“The girls were foundling children, abandoned,” Farrow says. “One has to assume that their parents were killed. They came to us very physically ill. Soon-Yi and Daisy suffered severely from malnutrition. At 7 months, Daisy weighed only 7 pounds. When she was airlifted out of Vietnam, she couldn’t hold her head up.”

Moses, adopted at age 2, had been born with cerebral palsy on his right side; Farrow had specifically requested a handicapped child. “That was the project. His learning to walk and talk was a family accomplishment.”

Moses wears a leg brace, but he is quite mobile, after two operations and the unswerving support of his brothers and sisters. “He’s a ‘cool’ kid,” Farrow says. “Woody is absolutely besotted with them all--a friend to the older children, the father to the youngest three.” He worried, Farrow says, when she decided four years ago to augment the family again by adopting another daughter, Dylan. “Woody told me he had no idea how he would feel about Dylan, maybe nothing. So I said, fair enough, participate to the extent that you want to. He wasn’t prepared for the commitment and love that came rushing in on him.” Nor was he prepared when Farrow bore their son, Satchel, born 18 months ago: “He had never been a father and he had no desire to become one,” she confides.

Fatherhood, Farrow says, has “deepened him. It was very painful and scary for him at first. He’s more pessimistic than I.”

The brood’s photographs are hung everywhere. “I love looking at their faces,” says their mother.

Maria de Lourdes Villers Farrow was born in high style on Feb. 9, 1946, with a silver spoon stamped “Hollywood” in her mouth. Her godmother was gossip queen Louella Parsons. Her best friend was Judy Garland’s kid, Liza. Mistress-of-the-household Maureen O'Sullivan had given up a shining career--"David Copperfield,” “Anna Karenina,” “Pride and Prejudice"--to raise her brood of seven. The golden-haired, third-eldest Maria, schooled in London and Madrid, knew from very early on what sort of destiny she had.

One Hollywood friend recalls: “Her life had been Hollywood crazy from the beginning. Her parents had shipped her off to a convent school, then in her teens she became a total libertine, hitting the scene in New York at 16 as a wild child.”

After appearing off-Broadway in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the 98-pound actress--she had beaten polio at age 9 and been nicknamed “Mouse"--was chosen, in 1965, to play the frail, naive Allison Mackenzie on the hit “Peyton Place” TV series. Offscreen, the not-so-naive lass shrewdly reeled in her big man--Frank Sinatra, whom she made a point of meeting while wearing a transparent gown she had borrowed from the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department. She was 19, he almost 50.

A year later, Allison was written out of the series and Farrow married Sinatra--plunging headlong into a calamitous 16-month union that scarcely ever left the headlines. “This one don’t talk, she don’t eat, what’s she do?” Sinatra’s mother moaned publicly. “It won’t last long, so I guess it’s a good thing they weren’t married in the church.”

“Oh, I don’t know what I was looking for,” Farrow reflects now. “I had a touch of Zelda Fitzgerald in me. Possibly, it had something to do with looking for a father. There are worse things to look for.” (Her own father was the director John Farrow, and Mia had adored him.) Sinatra, meanwhile, bitterly opposed his young wife’s career ambitions at every turn. The marriage, Farrow agrees, “wasn’t an experience I would want to repeat.”

“I was too immature to handle that situation. . . . I became very withdrawn and tried to find other values in life.” She tried tiger hunting. She tried the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 1968, Sinatra sued her for divorce.

“I met Mia shortly after she had been divorced from Sinatra,” recalls one actress friend. “She was a real sad little girl--the walking wounded. She’d had a miscarriage, and she was terribly lonely.”

A year later, Farrow found happier times with composer and conductor Andre Previn. Their twin sons were born several months before Previn could divorce wife Dory and marry Mia in 1970.

Thereafter, Farrow semi-retired to a 20-acre farm in Surrey to raise her children, the accolades from “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Great Gatsby” fading as she found herself making forgettable movies like “Hurricane” and “Death on the Nile.”

“Most of them are best forgotten. I did them for very bad reasons . . . Andre had negative feelings about Hollywood and didn’t want me working, and he was always gone . . . I found myself very lonely, sitting at home in the drizzling rain of England without my friends or family.”

By 1979, she’d had enough, and by the time she celebrated New Year’s Eve 1980 with Woody Allen--introduced to her by mutual friend Michael Caine--Farrow had, at last, found a partner who could be “a gentle supportive pal, the perfect remedy,” she says. “He wasn’t classically handsome, but I thought he was neat looking--immensely appealing.”

Though Allen continues to tell Farrow they have nothing in common--"except a movie and dinner and walks,” Farrow says--their compatibility is apparently quite complete. “We have enormous differences. I love spending summers at my house in Connecticut; Woody doesn’t, though he endures it. He still won’t put a fingernail into the lake because fish are living there. He doesn’t even take off his shoes.”

None of this bothers Mia Farrow even remotely. “God, no. He’s the sweetest man I’ve ever known.

“Andre,” she adds, “hadn’t wanted me around the movies, because he believed they were all bad. I’m around good ones now and I don’t have to feel ashamed.”

And so, toward the end of a long afternoon, with seven of The Nine piling back into their rooms, Mia Farrow gets up with Mary the terrier, kisses Fletcher, then tends to Satchel and Dylan. “My older girls are so proud when they take the babies to the park,” she smiles. “That gives me immense pleasure, more than anything. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

“I don’t believe in reincarnation,” she says. “But I do think my life has had three acts, definitely.”

Early Stardom and Sinatra. The Cottage Years with Previn.

And now Woody Allen, and Krazy Glue on her fingers in New York City.


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