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ANN CONWAY

Mia Farrow Speaks of Survival in the First Person

March 16, 1998|ANN CONWAY

She talked about Sinatra, Soon-Yi and survival.

He talked about chickens, Grandma and Mom.

She was at a podium, making a $25,000 speech.

He was at luncheon table, visiting with grown-ups.

Mia Farrow, 53, and Seamus, 11, her son by Woody Allen, have only "just survived" the scandalous ordeal that led to Allen, now 62, leaving her for Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, now 27.

But much of life seems to be about enduring tragedy and then finding the strength to transcend it, Farrow told hundreds of guests at a benefit for the Big Canyon/Spyglass Hill Committee of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

Dressed in a black sweater and print skirt and wearing a smidgen of pink lipstick, Farrow told the crowd at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel last week that she hadn't come to speak about "movies I have made" or "plays I have performed in."

No, this would be a sharing of "reflections about survival, some thoughts about the choices we can make to help us survive the tragedies of life," she said.

Always one to have her young children nearby as she worked, Farrow brought her son along for the speaking engagement. Minutes before his mother's appearance, Seamus was escorted to a table in the ballroom. He was introduced to his table-mates, who included event chairwoman Fran Mulvania and committee president Eve Kornyei.

During polite conversation, Seamus said he was proud of his mom, mother to 14 (10 adopted). He also shared that he loved tending the 30 chickens that flutter about a yard at their Connecticut home. And, yes, he has seen the early "Tarzan" movies that featured his grandmother, Maureen O'Sullivan, as Jane. "She was so pretty," he said. He would visit her the next day in Phoenix.

When his mother came onstage, Seamus applauded hard, along with everyone else.

*

Reading off and on from her memoir, "What Falls Away" (Doubleday, $25), Farrow spoke of a life laced with tragedy, a childhood that was carefree until she contracted polio at age 9, the early death of a brother and the loss of her father, John Farrow, when she was 17.

She talked about her brief marriage at 19 to Frank Sinatra, a man more than twice her age. And she shared her feelings about the sting she felt at their sudden divorce in 1966.

"Frank's lawyer entered the ["Rosemary's Baby"] set, carrying a brown envelope containing divorce papers. This was the first mention of divorce. I held myself together to sign on the spot all the papers without reading them. I didn't accept one penny from Frank Sinatra. What I wanted was his respect and friendship."

Years later, Farrow was to endure another sudden end to a relationship. Of the painful conclusion to her 12-year partnership with Allen in 1992, Farrow said: "There was that day when I found face-up on the mantel a stack of Polaroid pornographic photos of my daughter, Soon-Yi. . .. The reverberations from that moment were indescribably painful and catastrophic.

"Woody abjectly apologized, explaining it had been an aberration, that he had lost control, that he would get help, that it would never happen again." Allen and Previn were recently married.

*

In the face of it all, she believes it is her ongoing quest "for a meaningful existence" that has helped her survive.

Her natural and adopted children--many of whom have special health needs--provide her with an ongoing sense of fulfillment.

"I know that my way of helping would not be right for everyone, but it would be truly wonderful, if, after our time together here, just one person might consider adopting a child with special needs," she said. "I can promise you they bring very special rewards."

With that, she invited questions.

Hands shot up.

Are you making a movie?

"A movie for TV, 'Miracle at Midnight.' As actors say, 'I'm looking for a right project,' "' she answered.

Do you see Sinatra? How is his health?

"I have not seen him in almost two years, but I am almost in daily touch with the family. I've just made the offer--I don't know if [Sinatra's wife] Barbara will take me up on it--to relieve her for a week or two and come help, keep him company.

"He's not well. . . . There's no getting around it. He's very fragile."

Are you dating?

"I told my little son, who happens to be with me here today, that I would not date for some time . . .

"The best I can give him is the security that I will not get into any more hot water. He has laid down the law: no phone calls from men after 8 p.m. And I'm not allowed to go out to dinner with any men until he feels OK about it. You know, I owe him that.

"And you know," she said to laughter from the crowd, "really, I can't afford to get into any more trouble."

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