Woody Allen: 5 Things You Didn’t Know

Woody Allen has been a fixture in our living rooms and movie palaces for more than six decades so it’s hard to imagine there’s anything left to learn about the man born Allan Stewart Konigsberg. But the 84-year-old artist’s new autobiography, Apropos of Nothing, is filled with eyebrow-raising revelations about his life and career.

(Links in this story are Amazon affiliate links; this site receives a small percentage of sales from Amazon affiliate links.)

Rather than shamefully excerpting large portions of Woody’s 392-page breeze-of-a-read, I will contain myself to offering five facts in Apropos of Nothing that you may not have known. (I say may not have known rather than ‘you didn’t know,’ as stated in the headline, because, let’s face it, no one reads a story about something you may not have known, right?)


Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

1. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton had split as a romantic couple long before their teaming in such classic movies as Annie Hall and Manhattan.
Allen met Keaton while casting his play, Play It Again, Sam, in New York. (The play was later produced as a movie with Woody, Diane and Tony Roberts in the same roles.) The actress got the role of the girlfriend to Woody’s Bogart-worshipping schnook, and the two became fast friends and lovers in real life in Allen’s NYC penthouse apartment. However, Diane’s career ambitions soon took her to Hollywood (Francis Ford Coppola on line one, Diane.) and they broke up, although they remain tight friends to this day. Woody even dated Diane’s sister, Dory, at one point, and, of course, wrote some incredible parts for her in the aforementioned Annie Hall and Manhattan as well as Love and Death.

“A fact that people don’t realize is that when Keaton and I began working together in the series of films I wrote for her, we had not been romantically involved for several years,” Woody writes in the book. “Many people thought we made Annie Hall and Manhattan and Love and Death while we were living together as lovers, but we were by then just lifelong pals.”

2. Annie Hall was originally called Anhedonia.
Woody wanted Annie Hall, the 1977 Oscar-winning romantic comedy, to be called Anhedonia, which is a psychological symptom when one can’t experience pleasure. While long-time Woody fans (and second-year psychology majors) would get the joke immediately, United Artists didn’t and said no.

“We argued but folded after a while,” Woody writes. “We chose the title Sweethearts, which we then found we couldn’t use because there was already a film with that title…We toyed with Alvy and Annie (Woody and Diane’s names in the film), but I decided on Annie Hall, using Keaton’s birth name.”

Michael Caine and Barbara Hershey in Hannah and Her Sisters.

3. Jack Nicholson wanted Michael Caine’s part in Hannah and Her Sisters.
Over the years, Woody has worked with such great actors as Geraldine Page, Michael Caine, Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio, Anjelica Huston, and, of course, Keaton. But he never worked with the star with arguably the greatest wattage, Jack Nicholson. But it nearly happened.

Woody writes that when casting Hannah and Her Sisters, the 1986 comedy/drama that netted three Academy Awards, he “had a chance to get Jack Nicholson (for the Michael Caine role as the lovesick suitor of Barbara Hershey.). (Jack) wanted to do it, but was going with Anjelica Huston whose father, John Huston, was trying to get Prizzi’s Honor going and if got it off the ground, Jack would be obliged to do it rather than Hannah. And it came to pass that Huston did get Prizzi’s Honor made, and I lost any chance for Jack and turned to Michael Caine…The end result was Jack Nicholson won the Academy Award for Best Actor and Michael Caine for Best Supporting.”

4. Woody fired Michael Keaton from The Purple Rose of Cairo after filming some scenes with him in the lead role.
The 1985 film stars Mia Farrow as a lonely waitress in the 1930s who goes to the movies to forget her troubles. During one picture, also called The Purple Rose of Cairo, she thinks the main character (‘Tom Baxter’ played by Jeff Daniels) has broken ‘the fourth wall’ and is looking at her. She goes to see the movie again and the character seems to be gazing at her more frequently. Finally, during yet another showing, the actor jumps off the screen and joins the waitress in real life on a madcap lovefest around New Jersey. This sets off a crisis (and comic mayhem) at the studio when it learns that their prized performer is on the loose.

The Purple Rose of Cairo, the Woody film, not the film inside the film, is a funny and inventive tale that evokes much of the comedian’s fiction in The New Yorker. And Daniels is perfect for the role.

But Woody actually first cast Michael Keaton for the part, and filmed some scenes with him playing Tom Baxter.

“I originally cast Michael Keaton, a wonderful actor, in the Jeff Daniels role but there were two problems,” Woody writes. “Michael seemed so contemporary on the screen I was having trouble buying him as a thirties character. Add to this he had just become a father and the baby was keeping him up all night, and he’s understandably come to work bleary-eyed. It’s hard to tell an actor you’re replacing him because natural insecurity always convinces them it’s because you don’t like their acting.”

Woody adds: “Here’s a truly meaningless piece of trivia. We had filmed a bit with Michael Keaton, including a long, overhead night shot of the abandoned amusement park in the story. The tiny, dark figure skulking around is not Jeff Daniels, but Michael Keaton. We figured no one could tell and why stay up all night in the cold and spend a fortune to reshoot a cumbersome scene?”


Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner With Andre.

5. Woody almost starred in My Dinner With Andre
Directed by Louis Malle, My Dinner With Andre is largely a two-person (Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn) set piece with the actors sharing their philosophies over fine cuisine on everything from coffee to conflict. The 1981 movie is a charmer thanks to the honest portrayals by the duo, who happen to play fictionalized versions of themselves so why not be honest, right?

But while Gregory and Shawn collaborated on the movie’s concept, Malle wanted Woody to play Wallace’s role when the French director was hired for the project. It was not a reach. The Shawn ‘character’ is a nebbish little guy overflowing with pithy observations on life’s lessons.

Woody considered the offer, but writes in Apropos of Nothing that “I just didn’t have the professional dedication to memorize the long speeches.”

Woody Allen’s new autobiography, Apropos of Nothing, can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: