"I think I'm being followed. I don't know who is after me. I feel
the same anxieties everywhere I go—the country, L.A., Europe. It's a
general sense of suspicion, paranoia and fear."
Woody Allen's voice breaks and then rattles nervously into a
laugh. He is peering over the balcony of his penthouse apartment, 18
acrophobic floors above Fifth Avenue. Two searchlights sweep the
Manhattan skyline, an exhilarating view that fills men with visions of
grandeur and omnipotence. Allen merely shivers inside his denim
workshirt and cinches his baggy jeans tighter around his scrawny waist.
"On the surface of things," he acknowledges, "I have no reason to be
this way. I was beaten up the same amount as all the other kids in my
neighborhood. With me it's just a genetic dissatisfaction with
But while the other kids on his Brooklyn block schlepped into
obscurity, it has been Woody Allen's singular brilliance not to purge
his angst but to purvey it. Allen will surely donate his self-lacerating
sense of humor to a medical school someday, but already he has given
the world a sublimely ridiculous body of work: two hit shows on
Broadway; three LPs of nightclub monologues; two best-selling
collections of New Yorker and other satires; and, incredibly, seven
money-making movies, including last year's smash Love and Death
, all of which Allen wrote, directed and starred in himself.
Now, at 40, Allen is still diversifying. This month he plays his first serious movie role in The Front
a McCarthy-era story of showbiz blacklisting which Woody made for
director Martin Ritt "because it seemed like a worthwhile project." Less
nobly, but more visibly, Allen's consummately klutzy life goes
rotogravure next week in a syndicated comic strip titled Inside Woody
Allen. Though Woody shrugs it off as "an amusing notion that's purely
exploratory for me," the strip has already been bought by an
unprecedented 180 newspapers.
Allen has friends among the mighty and access to the most
privileged. Last year, for example, he escorted Betty Ford to a Martha
Graham dance benefit. "We're just good friends," he cracked at the time
of his date with the President's wife. (Now he finds Jimmy Carter the
"far superior" candidate.)
By any measurement Woody Allen is Walter Mitty, whose fantasies
have only to be named to come true. Yet Woody glumly describes himself
as "a neurotic personality prone to depressions and anxieties all the
time." After 20 years of Freudian psychoanalysis he has succeeded only
in reducing his sessions from five to three a week. "I cannot conceive
of living without it," he groans, "but it hasn't helped as much as I'd
hoped. In the normal things that trouble everybody—meeting new people,
crowds, shyness, human relationships—I haven't made much progress at
Even if Woody's minuscule self-image is just another shtik, it's
one that no one believes except possibly himself. Allen's friends are
unanimously devoted to him. His acting company has worked for him so
often it has become an identifiable ensemble. "The most revealing
thing," says cartoonist Joe Marthen, who draws Allen's new strip, "is
that Woody chooses not to wield the incredible power he has when he
works with other people."
In addition to his self-protective humor ("It keeps me from
getting too emotional about things"), Allen's defenses against a
threatening world include a wimpy rain hat he pulls down over his ears, a
nebbish's slouch and a mournful countenance—creating in sum a
Chaplinesque getup which has the inevitable effect of attracting more
laughs. "It happens all the time," he says, "when I'm playing clarinet
[which he does for relaxation at a Manhattan club] or even when I'm just
walking down the street."
These days Woody is editing his latest film, a yet untitled
"funny and engrossing love story" (as he previews it) co-starring his
former lover Diane Keaton and, among others, Paul Simon. "I'll see the
film first," he explains, "and then pick a title." That may be the only
time Woody sees it, since he never watches his movies after editing. "It
would only depress me. I'd say, 'Ohhh, I've screwed up a brilliantly
funny concept.' I'd just want to die."
Success, of course, just increases the burdens of Allen's
gelt-ridden existence. So while he inhabits an understatedly elegant
apartment, decorated with Oriental rugs, Picasso prints and
leather-bound books, Woody himself is a study in genteel shabbiness. He
is (as only the rich can be) blissfully ignorant of finances, claiming
"I haven't cashed a check or been inside a bank in 10 years." Instead
he's attended by an accountant and a live-in cook, as well as patient
friends who keep him in pocket change.
Allen rises at 6 a.m. these days and whirs maniacally into a
schedule that includes, in addition to moviemaking, two hours of daily
clarinet practice, tennis twice a week and buying sprees at book and
record shops (to hunt down albums by jazz favorites like King Oliver and
Jelly Roll Morton). He neither smokes nor drinks nor drives (relying on
a limousine) and is turned off by drugs.
Predictably, Woody's frenetic routine has burned all but 120
pounds off his emaciated, 5'6" frame, despite a diet that would throw a
sumo wrestler into insulin shock. "I have jelly for breakfast, chocolate
bars and cakes with lunch and tons of pie for dinner," he boasts. "I
never gain weight. My skin doesn't break out either."
Notwithstanding the remembered agonies of adolescence, Woody is
still friends with his parents, a retired jewelry engraver and a
bookkeeper, who raised him as Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn's
Flatbush district. The real question, of course, is how can Mr. and Mrs.
Konigsberg forgive their son for one-liners like these: "I was
breast-fed on falsies...When I was kidnapped my parents snapped into
action; they rented out my room...They believed equally in God and
carpeting...This gold watch was sold to me by my grandfather on his
deathbed." It is, according to Woody, "just funnier to lean on the
dismal side of growing up."
Even as a student "in a school for emotionally disturbed
teachers," Woody began mailing in gags to Walter Winchell for a couple
of bucks a week. Eventually he made the credits as a $1,700-a-week TV
writer for Sid Caesar, Garry Moore and Jack Paar. His movie career began
in 1965 when he wrote and co-starred with Peter Sellers in What's New, coochiecat?
Along the way Allen's first marriage to a student named Harlene Rosen
(she was 17, he was 19) cracked up. Harlene later sued Woody when his
nightclub act included such first-wife zingers as "The Museum of Natural
History took her shoe and, based on the measurement, they reconstructed
Postmarital relations are better between Woody and Louise (Mary
Hartman) Lasser, who were divorced in 1969 after 11 years together. They
are regularly in touch by phone, and Woody praises Louise as "a
formidable girl, witty and intelligent, who I knew would make it, even
then." Likewise he and Diane Keaton still work well after their 1972
decision that "it wasn't the greatest idea to live together any more."
Woody will admit now only to "dating around" and living with
girls for stretches ranging from "two days to two weeks—if you call that
living together." Could he possibly have mellowed from the days when
his movies rated horniness as a human malaise second only to bubonic
plague? "I try to have sex only with women I like a lot," Woody explains
solemnly. "Otherwise I find it fairly mechanical." (He has little
interest in family life: "It's no accomplishment to have or raise kids.
Any fool can do it.")
He goes on: "I'm open-minded about sex. I'm not above reproach;
if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest
with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always
knew that about him." Allen pauses. "Nothing I could come up with would
surprise anyone," he ventures helplessly. "I admit to it all."