This daughter of film director John Farrow and actress Maureen O'Sullivan became an "overnight" star in 1964 when she was tapped
to essay the pivotal role of troubled
teenager Alison MacKenzie in ABC's
groundbreaking primetime serial Peyton Place.
Delicately pretty with blonde hair and blue eyes,
Mia Farrow projected an aura of vulnerability,
yet was capable of tempering that ethereal quality
with a grounding strength (perhaps due in part
to surviving a childhood bout with polio).
When as a headstrong pre-teen she expressed
a desire to follow in her mother's stead,
her father sent her to convent school
in Europe. John Farrow
allowed several of his children to
take small roles in his
1959 film John Paul Jones and
for his eldest daughter the desire
to act became stronger. No matter how many
Catholic schools she attended, Mia Farrow
planned to become an actress. Ironically, it was only after
her father's unexpected death from a heart attack in
1963 that she was able to finally realize her dream.
Farrow made her professional stage
debut as Cicely in a 1963 Off-Broadway of
Oscar Wilde's comedy of manners The
Importance of Being Earnest. Employing a letter perfect English accent, the actress garnered attention, partly through the influence of family friend
who encouraged casting agents and journalists
to see the production. Producer Paul Monash
attended one performance and went backstage to
if she was capable of doing an American accent
as he wanted her to star in a primetime TV show.
For her part, she preferred to remain in NYC and
pursue a stage career, but she agreed to test
for the role of Alison MacKenzie
for ABC's groundbreaking primetime serial
adaptation of Peyton Place.
Before she landed that role which
would confer "overnight star" status, Farrow
lucked into her first major film role,
replacing another actress as the
Swedish United Nations secretary in Guns at Batasi (1964).
Convinced that no one would watch Peyton Place,
which was scheduled to air three times a week, Farrow
began looking for other work. To her surprise, the
show not only became a hit but she was the one performer singled out.
She was now a "star".
After two years (1964-66), though, Farrow
had had enough and sought release from her contract.
By that point she harbored a desire to
work in other projects (like the 1967 small
screen remake of Johnny Belinda). In addition, she had
become engaged to singer-actor Frank Sinatra.
After what seemed like a whirlwind courtship,
they married but the strain of a two career
household made it short-lived. Farrow
was in demand as a young leading lady and
by the time of her divorce from Sinatra
was headlining two films, A Dandy in Aspic
and the now classic thriller Rosemary's Baby (both 1968).
For Rosemary's Baby, she had cut her
long hair and projected a
waiflike persona as the
newlywed who discovers that
her husband and her neighbors are
Satanists. Farrow earned raves for her performance
(Pauline Kael deemed her "just about perfect")
and there was buzz about an Oscar nomination
but that did not pan out. She followed with another
fragile young woman alongside
in Secret Ceremony (also 1968) and
her success at portraying these child-women
threatened to typecast her. Farrow
continued to seek challenging roles
(a blind woman stalked by a killer
in the chilling See No Evil 1971) but after the birth
of twins and her subsequent marriage to
composer-conductor Andre Previn in 1970, she curtailed her activities.
In 1974, Farrow was cast as the
Southern belle Daisy Buchanan
in the lavish remake The Great Gatsby,
but she seemed miscast when the film was
finally spooled in theaters.
Additionally, there was virtually no
romantic chemistry with lead
diluting the basic arc of the story.
On the other hand, Farrow
was delightful as Peter Pan
in an NBC Hallmark Hall of Fame
production although she could not erase the
indelible memory of Mary Martin in the role.
Motherhood became a top priority until
her separation from Previn. In 1978, she offered intriguing if not always successful performances like her mute bridesmaid
in Robert Altman's A Wedding
and her jilted lover in the all-star Agatha Christie
adaptation Death on the Nile. After a misguided turn
in The Hurricane (1979),
she began an association that had
ramifications on her
professional and personal life. She had been introduced
to filmmaker Woody Allen
by Michael Caine
and in 1982 assumed the role of his muse.
Beginning with the lightweight
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
(1982) and stretching to Husbands and Wives
(1992), Farrow got to create an
astonish array of characters. Her best work under
Allen's guidance included the
1920s psychiatrist in Zelig
(1983), the brassy gangster's moll in
Broadway Danny Rose (1984),
the downtrodden wife in The Purple Rose of Cairo
(1985) and the luminous center
of Hannah and Her Sisters
(1986, which was filmed in large part
in her Central Park West apartment). The underrated Alice
(1990), a spin on Lewis
Carroll's tale, offered her another
strong role, but it was around this time
that her personal life began to unravel.
As she was later to discover, Allen
had begun a relationship with one her adopted
daughters (Soon-Yi Previn whom he later married).
When she discovered the affair, it unfortunately became fodder
for the tabloids, partly as Farrow
of molesting their adopted daughter. The messy situation played out
in the courts (with Allen denied custody
of the two children he adopted with Farrow
as well as their biological child) and Farrow
retreated to tend to her family.
Eventually, she returned to work in
the comedy Widow's Peak (1994),
in which she once again used her seemingly
fragile persona as a shield for secret resources.
She delivered a virtuoso performance
as the heroine of Reckless (1995), adapted from
Craig Lucas' play. As the 90s wound down,
Farrow returned to the small screen
to play a Danish woman aiding Jews
during WWII in Miracle at Midnight (ABC, 1998)
and a young victim of Alzheimer's
disease in Forget Me Never (CBS, 1999).