The scorched-earth battle between former Hollywood power couple Woody Allen and Mia Farrow has been tabloid fodder for 30 years now, and the new HBO docuseries “Allen v. Farrow,” is the latest effort to chronicle the conflict, which centers around daughter Dylan Farrow’s disturbing allegation that Allen sexually abused her as a child. (Allen has denied the charge.)
But the series also casts a new light on Allen’s relationships and behavior before he met Farrow, introducing a woman who says she was his teenage girlfriend and the muse for his beloved film, “Manhattan.”
Babi Christina Engelhardt is a producer, administrative professional, and former teen model whose life and career have brushed up with some legendary figures in cinema. As detailed in a 2018 profile in The Hollywood Reporter, Engelhardt, now 61, was not just a supposed muse to Allen at the height of his career, but later to iconic Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, and eventually, worked alongside powerful Hollywood producer Robert Evans. At one point, she even worked as a personal assistant to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
In the docuseries, Engelhardt tells of her eight-year affair with Allen, which she says began in New York when she was a precocious 16-year-old model, and how she felt after seeing “Manhattan” — his quintessential 1979 feature, which focuses on a middle-aged man in a relationship with a teenager. Allen has not acknowledged that the film is based on any particular relationship, nor has he discussed any relationship with Engelhardt. In the docuseries, she says she was his “secret girlfriend” and maintains that she was 17, the age of consent in New York, when their relationship “developed.”
“I was very much in love with him, I thought he was magical,” Engelhardt tells the series’ producers. “I felt I was the lucky one. That’s where I was coming from at that time of my life.”
Engelhardt’s outlining of the years-long affair to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 gets into her complicated feelings about herself as a beguiling teen storming Manhattan in the 1970s, the sense of agency she held in the clandestine relationship over the years, and how she felt about the unequal power dynamics between them as the #MeToo reckoning was emerging.
She was a teen model living with her family in rural New Jersey in 1976 when she spotted Allen at Elaine’s, the famed Upper East Side restaurant and haunt for celebrities and writers, she said. By Engelhardt’s account, she dropped her phone number in a note that said, “Since you’ve signed enough autographs, here’s mine!” Allen called her, and soon she went to his penthouse at 930 Fifth Avenue, where she said most of their affair took place.
Details of her unpublished memoir are also revealed in the THR profile, including some particulars of the couple’s sex life — which she said included a “handful” of threesomes with Allen and Farrow, after he’d started dating the actor. She described the dynamic as “very Freudian,” adding that she “used to think this was a form of mother-father with the two of them.” Her brushes with bisexuality were “interesting — a ’70s exploration,” she told the outlet.
Engelhardt attempted the move from modeling into acting as the relationship went on, and she even landed her first film role as an extra in Allen’s 1980 comedy-drama “Stardust Memories.” But this break didn’t come though Allen, who had sternly refused to help her get a Screen Actor’s Guild card, she recalled to THR. This dictation of the terms of their relationship, by Allen, was central, she said, and had led her to keep dark elements of her past secret. Over the eight years, she never told him she’d been raped by an older classmate, and also on multiple occasions by a family friend, as she mentions in the docuseries.
“The unpleasant things that happened to me, I wanted to forget that they happened,” she told THR in 2018.
Her relationship with Allen eventually faded. At 23, Engelhardt says she decided she wasn’t going to be a small player in someone else’s story. She headed to Italy and entered Fellini’s circle, working in his Rome office and in the late-1980s becoming the legendary filmmaker’s “platonic muse” toward the end of his life and career. She appeared in the documentary about the making of “La Voce Della Luna,” his final film.
In her career as a producer and executive assistant, she worked alongside multiple powerful, influential, and notorious men. After her time in Italy, she worked for billionaire financier Epstein, who died by suicide in a Manhattan jail after being charged with sex trafficking. According to THR, she was a hostess in the executive dining room at Paramount, then landed an assistant role with Bob Evans, the famed producer of “The Godfather,” and “Love Story” — and incidentally, Farrow’s breakout 1968 film, “Rosemary’s Baby.” Evans rehired her in 2004 to work on some of his personal projects, according to her LinkedIn bio. Evans died in 2019. Engelhardt now lives in Los Angeles and works at Fleischer Studios, Inc.
In her interview in the docuseries, Engelhardt’s attitude toward her time with Allen veers towards regret. She muses with hindsight on the relationship and the nagging feeling that the pivotal time in her life could instead have been invested into herself.
“I know it’s taken a toll on me,” she tells producers. “It’s taken a toll on how I’ve been in relationships, trust in relationships, and it’s made me a super-vigilant mother. I would not let my daughter go over to an older man’s home. No matter what.”