Harlene Rosen: The Forgotten First Wife of Woody Allen

harlene rosen

In the annals of Hollywood history, there are often forgotten chapters, overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of the present. One such chapter is the story of Harlene Rosen, the first wife of renowned American director Woody Allen. Their union, which took place long before Allen rose to fame, has remained shrouded in obscurity for nearly five decades. However, with her heartfelt message marking Allen’s 80th birthday approaching, Rosen has finally broken her silence and decided to share her side of the story.

It all began when Harlene Rosen, just a tender 16-year-old, walked down the aisle with a budding Woody Allen in 1956. At that time, Allen was far from the household name he would later become. Their marriage, however, was not destined for a fairytale ending. As Allen’s career blossomed, he started incorporating his personal life into his performances, often mocking what he called a “generic wife” on stage and television. Unfortunately, Rosen became the unwitting subject of his derision, being dubbed “Quasimodo” in his nightclub act. The pain of such public humiliation eventually led to legal action being taken against Allen.

Fast forward to the present day, and Rosen has chosen a different path—one of healing and reconciliation. With Allen’s 80th birthday on the horizon, she has penned a touching tribute, which can be found in the pages of Woody, a new biography published by St Martin’s Press. Her message to her former husband is filled with a mixture of nostalgia and admiration. She reminisces about the youthful days they spent together, their shared love for cinema, and their musical collaborations. However, she acknowledges that their teenage summer of love eventually gave way to the complexities of married life. Despite the challenges they faced, their journey together taught them valuable lessons about life, and they both emerged as adults, forever changed by their experiences. In her words, there were moments of sadness, tears, laughter, and love.

This heartfelt tribute, which Rosen entrusted to the book’s author, David Evanier, marks her first public statement in over 30 years. It serves as a testament to the growth and personal development she has undergone since her divorce from Allen in 1963. During the legal proceedings, it was determined that Allen would pay $75 a week in alimony—a figure that could have increased to $175 had he secured a steady job.

The biography also delves into Allen’s own reflections on his past. In one instance, he confided in a research psychologist named Jack Victor about his feelings of loneliness just a year into his marriage with Rosen. Victor, looking back on that period, remarked that Rosen had left at a crucial time when Allen was on the verge of success, thus receiving an unfavorable outcome in the process.

As Allen’s career flourished, he went on to direct numerous critically acclaimed films, including the box office successes Midnight In Paris, which amassed nearly £100 million, and Blue Jasmine, which earned around £60 million. The biography also sheds light on Allen’s formative years, offering interviews with childhood friends who vividly remember him as “the funniest person” and an anxious young man. They recall his unwavering dedication to becoming a comedian, spending hours practicing his craft in front of the mirror each day.

No discussion of Woody Allen’s life is complete without addressing the controversies that have plagued him. The book tackles the accusations of sexual abuse made by his ex-wife, actress Mia Farrow, and her adopted daughter Dylan. Despite the allegations, Allen was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. Additionally, the biography delves into Allen’s subsequent marriage to Soon-Yi, another of Farrow’s adopted daughters.

When the book’s author, David Evanier, asked Allen about the greatest joys in his life, the response was poignant: “My marriage to Soon-Yi. And my children.” It is a reflection of the complex and multifaceted nature of a man who has left an indelible mark on the world of cinema.

In the end, Harlene Rosen’s decision to break her silence after nearly 50 years offers a glimpse into the untold stories that lie behind the glimmering façade of Hollywood. Through her heartfelt message, she invites us to reflect on the bittersweet journey she shared with Woody Allen—a journey that shaped them both and continues to resonate with those who remember their early days. As we celebrate Allen’s 80th birthday, it is a reminder that even in the shadows of the spotlight, forgotten chapters are waiting to be rediscovered and given their rightful place in history.

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