Allen was born as Allen Stewart Königsberg
in the Bronx, New York, into a Jewish family. His parents
Martin and Nettie lived in Flatbush, where he attended
a Hebrew school for eight years. After that, he went
to Public School 99 and then to Midwood High, where "Red" (as
he was called because of his hair) impressed students
with his extraordinary talent at cards and magic tricks.
To raise money, he began writing gags for the agent
David O. Alber, who sold them to newspaper columnists.
Reportedly, Allen's first published joke was "I
am two with Nature." At sixteen, he started writing
for show stars like Sid Caesar and began calling himself
Woody Allen. He was a gifted comedian from an early
He would later joke that when he was young he was
often sent to inter-faith summer camps, in which he "was
savagely beaten by children of all races and creeds".
After high school, he went to New York University
where he studied communication and film but, never
much of a student, he soon dropped out due to poor
grades (he would later joke he was expelled for cheating
on the metaphysics final: "I looked into the soul
of the boy sitting next to me."). He also briefly
attended City College of New York after that. At nineteen,
he married Harlene Rosen, a philosophy student, and
started writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, The
Tonight Show and others. In 1957, he won his first
Emmy Award; about the same time, he divorced Harlene.
He started writing prose and plays, and in 1960,
started a new career as a stand-up comedian and also
began writing for the popular Candid Camera television
show, even appearing in some episodes. Together with
his managers he turned his weaknesses into his strengths
and developed the neurotic, nervous, and shy figure
famous from his later movies. He soon became an immensely
popular comedian and appeared frequently in nightclubs
and on television.
His first movie production was What's New, Pussycat?
in 1965, for which he wrote the screenplay. It was
a largely unpleasant experience for Allen as he was
trapped in Paris for six months during the production.
Furthermore, the studio never showed much respect for
his script, altering the film to the point where it
bore little resemblance to Allen's original vision.
Allen's first directorial effort was What's Up, Tiger
Lily? (1966), in which an existing Japanese spy movie
was redubbed in English by Allen and his friends with
completely new, comic dialogue. In 1967, he also appeared
in the offbeat James Bond film, Casino Royale.
His first conventional directing effort was Take
The Money and Run (1969), which was followed by Bananas,
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But
Were Afraid to Ask), Sleeper, and Love and Death. In
1972, he also starred in the film version of his own
play called Play It Again, Sam, which was directed
by Herbert Ross. All of Allen's early films are pure
comedies that relied heavily on slapstick, inventive
sight gags, and non-stop one-liners. Among the many
notable influences on these films are Bob
In 1976, he starred in, but did not direct, The Front,
a serious look at Hollywood blacklisting during the
1950s. He returned to directing in 1977's Annie Hall,
a modern classic that marked a major turn away to more
sophisticated humor and thoughtful drama (the movie
won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best
Director, and Best Actress). The film set the standard
for modern romantic comedy and also started a fashion
trend with the unique dress worn by Diane Keaton in
the film. He also directed the serious drama Interiors,
in the manner of the great Swedish director, Ingmar
Bergman, one of Allen's major influences. His most
successful movies were produced in a ten year period
starting with Annie Hall; other critical and financial
successes were Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo
( named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best films
of all time, and Allen's personal favorite) and Hannah
and Her Sisters (Winner of three Academy Awards).
Allen won the 1978 O. Henry Award for his short story "The
Kugelmass Episode" published in The New Yorker
on May 2, 1977.
Most of his 1980s films, even the comedies, have
somber and philosophical undertone. Many of them like
September and Stardust Memories are often said to be
heavily influenced by the works of European directors,
most notably Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Stardust
Memories was considered by many to be a biting piece
of work; the main character (played by Allen) expressed
resentment and scorn for his fans. In the film, overcome
by the recent death of a friend from illness, he states, "I
don't want to make funny movies any more."
Allen twice won the César Award for Best Foreign
Film, the first in 1980 for Manhattan and the second
in 1986 for The Purple Rose of Cairo. He is also the
most frequently nominated person in the Academy Award
catagory of Best Originial Screenplay, with a stunning
total of 13 nominations. In addition to that, he has
also been nominated many times in the catagory of Best
Director, and his actors are also among the most frequently
nominated people in their respective catagories.
His 1992 film Shadows and Fog is an homage to Fritz
Lang, G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau, and the German expressionists.
In the late 1990s he returned to lighter movies:
Everyone Says I Love You, a musical, Mighty Aphrodite,
for which Mira Sorvino won an Academy Award, and others.
In 1992, his personal life became very public, when
he left his long-term partner Mia Farrow after she
discovered his secret affair with her adopted daughter
Soon-Yi Previn. Farrow accused him of being a pedophile
(Previn is 35 years his junior) and of abusing their
seven-year-old daughter Dylan- a charge that was later
dismissed. These events eerily echoed the plotline
of his film released at the time, Husbands and Wives.
In that film, Woody and Mia play a couple whose decade-long
relationship is falling apart, with Woody's character
becoming attracted to one of his 20-year-old students.
Farrow discusses the events in What Falls Away: A Memoir,
Allen and Previn married in 1997, and later adopted
two daughters, naming both (Bechet Allen and Manzie
Tio Allen) after jazz musicians (Sidney Bechet and
Woody Allen continues to produce an average of one
film a year.