Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn, New York, 1 December 1935.
Attended Midwood High School, Brooklyn; New York University and City
College of New York, 1953.
Married 1) Harlene Rosen, 1954 (divorced); the actress Louise Lasser,
1965 (divorced); one son and one daughter with the actress Mia Farrow.
1952—started writing for Sid Caesar's show
, also wrote for the
Ed Sullivan Show
; 1961—having been urged by managers Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe
to become a stand-up comedian, debuted at The Duplex, a Greenwich Village
nightclub; 1964–65—in TV series
That Was the Week That Was
; 1966—first play,
Don't Drink the Water
, opened on Broadway; 1969–70—played the leading role of
Allan Felix in his own drama,
Play It Again, Sam
on Broadway; 1965—film acting debut in
What's New, Pussycat?
, his own screenplay; 1969—film directing debut in
Take the Money and Run.
Sylvania Award, for script of an episode of
, 1957; Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and
National Society of Film Critics Award, for
, 1977; British Academy Award and New York Film Critics Award, Best
, 1979; Academy Award for Best Screenplay, Golden Globe Award, and New
York Film Critics Award, for
Hannah and Her Sisters
, 1987; D. W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award, Directors Guild of
Rollins and Joffe, 130 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
What's New, Pussycat? (Clive Donner) (as Victor Shakapopulis, + sc)
What's Up, Tiger Lily? (Tanaguchi—dubbed Japanese film) (as narrator, + pr, co-sc)
Casino Royale (Huston and others) (as Jimmy Bond/Dr. Noah)
Play It Again, Sam ( Aspirins for Three ) (Ross) (as Allan Felix, + sc)
The Front (Ritt) (as Howard Prince)
King Lear (Godard) (as Mr. Alien)
Scenes from a Mall (Mazursky) (as Nick)
Films as Actor, Director, and Scriptwriter:
Take the Money and Run (as Virgil Starkwell, co-sc)
Bananas (as Fielding Mellish, co-sc)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (as Victor/Fabrizio/Fool/Sperm)
Sleeper (as Miles Monroe, co-sc, + mus)
Love and Death (as Boris Dimitrovich Grushenko)
Annie Hall (as Alvy Singer, co-sc)
Interiors (d, sc only)
Manhattan (as Isaac Davis, co-sc)
Stardust Memories (as Sandy Bates)
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (as Andrew)
Zelig (as Leonard Zelig)
Broadway Danny Rose (title role)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (d, sc only)
Hannah and Her Sisters (as Mickey)
Radio Days (as narrator); September (d, sc only)
Another Woman (d, sc only)
"Oedipus Wrecks" ep. of New York Stories (as Sheldon Mills); Crimes and Misdemeanors (as Cliff Stern)
Alice (d, sc only)
Shadows and Fog (as Kleinman); Husbands and Wives (as Gabe Roth)
Manhattan Murder Mystery (as Larry Lipton, co-sc)
Bullets over Broadway (d, co-sc only); Don't Drink the Water (for TV)
Mighty Aphrodite (as Lenny Weinrib)
Everyone Says I Love You (as Joe)
Deconstructing Harry (as Harry Block)
Sweet and Lowdown
Small Time Crooks
Don't Drink the Water (Morris) (sc)
Wild Man Blues (himself)
By ALLEN: books—
Don't Drink the Water (play), New York, 1967.
Play It Again, Sam (play), New York, 1969.
Getting Even , New York, 1971.
Death (one-act play), New York, 1975.
God (one-act play), New York, 1975.
Without Feathers , New York, 1975.
Non-Being and Somethingness , New York, 1978.
Side Effects , New York, 1980.
The Floating Light Bulb (play), New York, 1982.
Four Films of Woody Allen ( Annie Hall , Interiors , Manhattan ,
Stardust Memories ), New York, 1983.
Hannah and Her Sisters , New York, 1987.
Three Films of Woody Allen ( Zelig , Broadway Danny Rose , The
Purple Rose of Cairo ), New York, 1987.
Central Park West (one-act play), New York, 1995.
By ALLEN: articles—
"How Bogart Made Me the Superb Lover I Am Today," in Life (New York), 21 March 1969.
"On Love and Death," in Esquire (New York), 19 July 1975.
Interview with Anthony DeCurtis, in Rolling Stone (New York), 16 September 1993.
"So You're the Great Woody Allen . . . ?," interview with Bill Zehme, in Esquire (New York), October 1994.
"Play It Again, Man," interview with Linton Chiswick, in Time Out (London), March 13, 1996.
" Bullets Over Broadway Danny Rose of Cairo: The Continuous Career of Woody Allen," interview with Tomm Carroll, in DGA (Los Angeles), May/June 1996.
On ALLEN: books—
Lax, Eric, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy , New York, 1975.
Yacowar, Maurice, Loser Take All: The Comic Art of Woody Allen , New York, 1979; rev. ed., 1991.
Palmer, M., Woody Allen , New York, 1980.
Jacobs, Diane, . . . But We Need the Eggs: The Magic of Woody Allen , New York, 1982.
Brode, Douglas, Woody Allen: His Films and Career , New York, 1985.
Pogel, Nancy, Woody Allen , Boston, 1987.
Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Woody Allen , London, 1987.
McCann, Graham, Woody Allen: New Yorker , New York, 1990.
Lax, Eric, Woody Allen , New York, 1992.
Groteke, Kristi, Mia & Woody , New York, 1994.
Björkman, Stig, Woody Allen on Woody Allen , New York, 1995.
Blake, Richard Aloysius, Woody Allen: Profane and Sacred , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1995.
Perspectives on Woody Allen , edited by Renee R. Curry, New York, 1996.
Fox, Julian, Woody: Movies from Manhattan , Overlook Press, New York, 1996.
Lee, Sander H., Woody Allen's Angst; Philosophical Commentaries on His Serious Films , McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, 1997.
Nichols, Mary P., Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love, & Life in the Films of Woody Allen, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, 1998.
On ALLEN: articles—
"Comedians: His Own Boswell," in Time (New York), 13 February 1963.
Mee, Charles L., "On Stage Woody Allen," in Horizon (New York), May 1963.
Zinsser, William K., "Bright New Comic Clowns toward Success: Woody Allen," in Saturday Evening Post (New York), 21 September 1963.
Schickel, Richard, "The Basic Woody Allen Joke," in New York Times Magazine , 7 January 1973.
Gilliatt, Penelope, "Profiles: Guilty, with an Explanation," in New Yorker , 4 February 1974.
Trow, George W. S., "A Film about a Very Funny Man," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1977.
Gelmis, Joseph, "An Allen Overview" (plus critics's evaluations of three of his films), in National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy , New York, 1977.
Current Biography 1979 , New York, 1979.
Gittleson, Natalie, "The Maturing of Woody Allen," in New York Times Magazine , 22 April 1979.
Didion, Joan, "Review of Annie Hall , Interiors , and Manhattan ," in New York Review of Books , August 1979.
McMurtry, Larry, "Woody Allen: Neighborhood Filmmaker," in American Film , September 1979.
Maslin, Janet, "Woody Allen: Shunning Mastery?," in New York Times , 16 July 1982.
Liebman, R. L., "Rabbis or Rakes, Schlemiels or Supermen? Jewish Identity in Charles Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, and Woody Allen," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 12, no. 3, July 1984.
Neibaur, James L., "Woody Allen," in Movie Comedians: The Complete Guide , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1986.
Zoglin, Richard, "Manhattan's Methuselah," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1986.
Morris, Christopher, "Woody Allen's Comic Irony," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 15, no. 3, 1987.
White, Armond, "Class Clowns," in Film Comment (New York), April 1987.
Blansfield, Karen C., "Woody Allen and the Comic Tradition in American," in Studies in American Humor (San Marcos, Texas), vol. 6, 1988.
Minowitz, Peter, "Crimes and Controversies: Nihilism from Machiavelli to Woody Allen," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 19, no. 2, 1991.
Gabler, Neal, "Film View: Chaplin Blazed the Trail, Woody Allen Follows," in New York Times , 27 September 1992.
Combs, Richard, "Little Man, What Now?," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1993.
Gopnik, Adam, "The Outsider," in New Yorker , 25 October 1993.
Siegel, Scott, and Barbara Siegel, "Woody Allen," in American Film Comedy (New York), 1994.
McGrath, Douglas, "Woody's World," in New York , 17 October 1994.
Jefferson, Margo, "Tapping the Funny Bone of American Comics," in New York Times , 14 January 1996.
Krohn, Bill, "Spielberg et le fait divers," in Cahiers Du Cinéma (Paris), February 1998.
Romney, Jonathan, "Scuzzballs Like Us," in Sight and Sound (London), April 1998.
* * *
Approaching his sixties after enacting more than 20 important or leading roles, Woody Allen portrays the middle-aged sports writer Lenny Weinrib in Mighty Aphrodite. This 1995 film reveals some characteristics of his part in a minor role playing opposite Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole in the 1967 What's New, Pussycat? The dimension of the character and the maturity of Allen's acting skills, however, proved to be worlds apart from the earlier film. In his first appearance he portrayed a bumbling eccentric, Victor Shakapopulis, a role executed with a narrow range of the comedian's acting skills. Giving an elaborate interview conducted by Stig Björkman for the book, Woody Allen on Woody Allen , this writer-director-actor claimed that since he was directed by another person, he was allowed to see the results of his acting but never was allowed to redo scenes to correct the faults he saw in his work. The same he claimed was true of the role of the childishly temperamental, girl-chasing Jimmy Bond, a spoof of the famous Bond secret agent series in a film called Casino Royale (1967). Not until he was able to be his own director and writer for the 1969 Take the Money and Run would Allen control his own performance.
Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite still displays the features of the bumbler he created in his initial performance in What's New, Pussycat? This is revealed when he meets a prostitute named Linda Ash, enacted by Mira Sorvino. Her opening conversation with him produces confusion, frustration, and inadequacy—a typical pattern of reaction that Woody established in many of his film characterizations when faced with an aggressive or independent woman. Her sexual vulgarisms and blunt talk about various forms of physical encounters make him squirm. When he acts in such a scene, the audience can almost visualize an aura of perspiration radiating about his body.
Mighty Aphrodite also displays another variation on Woody's acting talents tied to a stressful situation. As Lenny, the sportswriter in this move, he is threatened by a sadistic thug, Linda Ash's pimp, because Lenny tries to steer Linda away from prostitution. The wimp Allen had played before in so many of his films can be noticed at this point of the movie, but he gives a twist that reveals his maturity as an actor. Faced with a brute who has him by the throat, Allen covers his fear with bravado as he promises the hulk he can get him tickets for a sporting event. Another feature of the comedian's use of character traits emerges. When pressed physically or when he wants to influence someone to take action, this nerd will con people. In Mighty Aphrodite , the juxtaposition of a variety of contrasting emotions makes this one of his most deft acting performances.
To understand the acting style of Woody Allen, it should be realized that he was a writer for many television comedians and hosts of talk shows such as Sid Caesar, Art Carney, Carol Channing, Jack Paar, and Garry Moore. His agents urged him to become a performer, and he made his debut as a stand-up comedian in 1961 at the Duplex nightclub in Greenwich Village. After moving to a number of clubs in New York City, he traveled to Chicago and San Francisco. Consequently, his fame as a performer spread throughout the nation. In the early 1960s he continued his writing because he could get more money. According to a Time article (15 February 1963): "He now gets $1,500 for supplying a comedian with a five-minute bit." His film writing reveals the stand-up comedy influence: the monologue as narration and the one-liner became an intrinsic part of many of his films.
The monologue-narration also relates directly to Allen's published humorous essays and to his stand-up comedian days and his acting in a number of films. Risible narration exists in Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Love and Death (1975), Annie Hall (1977), Zelig (1983), and Radio Days (1986).Woody Allen's ability as a stand-up comedian has been transferred to the screen as he plays a character in the comic drama. In Take the Money and Run Woody describes his own inadequacy as a bank robber in the character of Virgil Starkwell. This offscreen commentary is delivered in an offhand, dry manner that makes this comedian's acting endearing to his fans. Overstatement and understatement may exist in the script, but Allen gives a matter-of-fact delivery to punctuate the absurdity of the situation. The same can be said for the frame narration—especially in the beginning and ending of the film drama—of the award-winning Annie Hall. As Alvy Singer, the comedian rationalizes his struggle in this battle of the sexes.
A more direct use of the stand-up comedian's role is created when Allen plays the role of Court Jester in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972). Woody portrays an appointed fool for royalty who fails as he tries his jokes on an audience that does not respond. When one of his weak one-liners falls flat, he says, with a breathy, frustrated voice, "I know you're out there: I can hear you breathing."
One-liners are, of course, the stock-in-trade gimmick for the stand-up comedian. In Mighty Aphrodite , the protagonist, face to face with a towering, amply endowed prostitute, declares whimsically, "At my age, if I made love to you, they'd have to put me on a respirator."
Even monologues are sprinkled with one- and two-liners. In Annie Hall 's opening narrative, Allen as Alvy Singer, faces the camera that uses this device. In a vague attempt to look on the bright side of turning 40 as he develops a bald spot, he uses a set-up line followed by a comic reversal: "I think I'm going to get better as I get older—you know, I think I'm going to be the balding, virile type." Allen's delivery is low-keyed with a clear-cut self-depreciating agony because he has broken up with his lover, Annie. In the closing remarks of Love and Death , filmed two years earlier, he faces the camera as he used to face an audience as a stand-up comic, and sums up his philosophy of life: "If it turns out there is a God, I don't think he's evil. The worst you can say is—he's an underachiever."
It should be noted that the quality of these one- and two-liner examples almost stand on their own because of Allen's innovative sense of humor. He received an Oscar nomination for acting in 1977 for Annie Hall. In addition, he received two other awards for writing and directing this film. Actresses he has groomed to excel in the cinema art have received kudos from the critics while his talent as an actor seems to be taken for granted. Woody's low-level intensity of acting not only fits his character, it also complements the characters of the other actors and actresses that play opposite him, to benefit the total production. His sharp timing from one joke to another possibly reflects his admiration for the ability of Bob Hope to deliver his lines (from Björkman's Woody Allen on Woody Allen ).
While some critics believe Allen repeats the same comic portrait, they fail to see some of the complexities the actor has developed. The self-destructive whimp who is the target of bullies, both male and female, remains the principal focus of the character that Allen enacts with such skill. Often overlooked is the adeptly handled whining con man frequently employed when his faults are the aim of a detractor. Also, as the writer and director of his films, Allen places his protagonist in different plots, settings, and dramatic modes. As an actor this provides variety and nuances as he enacts each role. For example, his Everyone Says I Love You (1996) evolves into a nostalgic, romantic, comic musical, developing a sympathetic variation of his persona and gives Woody a chance to play light humor. By contrast he is comically close to a despicable character in Deconstructing Harry (1997) when he plays a man who receives the wrath of a series of harpies—his former wives. Here Allen, the writer, has given himself a part much darker than his previous work, Everyone Says I Love You. As a counter-punching con man he plays the role more aggressively and a stronger, more laughable portrait is created. In Deconstructing Harry , the dramatic mode moves to dark satire with some surrealistic scenes similar to the Pirandello stage play, Six Characters in Search of an Author. A third dramatic mode, the motion picture cartoon, allows another dimension of Allen's acting. This is revealed in the 1998 Antz. With a voice-over performance of an abstract ant drawing, his one liner gags take on a sharper, more noticeable quality and show his thespian talent in almost all film modes, even in a cartoon.
Woody Allen remains as no imitator of other comedians. Since he plays a little man plagued by a variety of pretenders and bullies, some evaluators have compared his character and his control of his total work to those qualities of Chaplin's. "I can't tell you what I am, but I can tell you what I'm not: Chaplinesque," he is quoted in an entry for World Film Directors. Merely competent as a storyteller, Chaplin was a genius as a director and a master filmmaker in a different way: a titan as actor and director. Allen's acting, as important as it is to many of his films, remains only distinctive and effective. Time will tell if his acting will be considered by critics to be worthy of a higher rank.
—Donald W. McCaffrey