For her part, when she wasn’t cringing in fear, O’Sullivan turned a blind eye to her husband’s misdeeds. Moss describes her as “the gatekeeper of silence”, and scathingly quotes a family friend, the daughter of producer Hal Roach, about her mothering skills: “Maureen loved having children, but after giving birth she had absolutely no idea what to do with them.” She adds that O’Sullivan, like her husband, was determined to maintain the facade that all was well with their family.
In Moss’ telling, both parents were themselves victims of troubled childhoods, trapped inside a wretched cycle that subsequently ensnared their own children. She briefly notes the fates that awaited the Farrow-O’Sullivan progeny in adulthood, including an explanation of how Prudence found herself the subject of a song written in India by John Lennon.
But what gradually emerges is that Moss’ chief interest is in making sense of Mia, of the scandal that erupted through her family, which includes four biological and 10 adopted children, and of her relationship with Woody Allen.
That needs no extended elaboration here, other than to say those who’ve chosen to believe the claims of any of the parties involved – Farrow or Allen in their respective memoirs; adoptive daughter Dylan, who claims that Allen molested her, or adoptive son Moses, who alleges that Farrow coached Dylan and abused him and his siblings – are wrong. Because they can’t know what happened. If the truth were available, either Allen would be in jail for committing a crime or Farrow would have been disgraced. Neither of those outcomes has occurred, although both have had their reputations trashed.
For Moss, the traumas stemming from Mia Farrow’s childhood have left permanent scars and are relevant to the case. They might mostly remain hidden, but they’ve dictated the choices she’s made and the direction her life has taken: the marriages to or relationships with older men who’ve been unfaithful (most notably Sinatra, Andre Previn and Allen), “her adventures in adoption”, the specific accusations against Allen that echo her fury at her own father’s abuse.
She was raised in an environment, Moss observes, where everybody told stories about themselves to give shape to their public personas.
“For Mia, given her background and her family,” she writes, “fact and fiction are forever entangled, stuck to each other, hopelessly inseparable … Whether or not (she) consciously realised it, Woody was another version of her father … [Both of them] lived by their own beliefs, not entirely by society’s order.”
Moss’ hypothesis stems from the branch of psychiatry that proposes that buried traumas can manifest themselves in myriad ways, and that provides a useful starting point for putting the Farrows of Hollywood, and Mia in particular, on the couch. But while her book certainly exposes the dark side of their lives, had she spent more time sharpening the focus of her “original theory” – perhaps interviewing experts in the field, or seeking out similar cases – it might have become one that everyone wanted to publish.
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