Was I a Character in a Woody Allen Film?

06/23/2011 02:11 pm ET | Updated Aug 23, 2011
  • Lea Lane Author, Travel Tales I Couldn't Put in the Guidebooks

Woody Allen's newest film, Midnight in Paris has become a hit. Which reminds me of another film that he made, and my possible connection.

But let me first give you the backstory,

When I was in my 20s I attended a movie festival in Tarrytown New York, 40 minutes north of Manhattan. Judith Crist, a film critic for New York magazine at the time, coordinated the event at a sprawling former estate on the Hudson River. And the guest film director at the weekend was Woody Allen.

I was a contributing editor at Westchester magazine, assigned to cover the story. I excitedly arrived: pen, notebook and tape recorder at the ready, prep work and questions galore.

The fans attending the weekend seemed intent on playing a practical joke on Woody. We discussed buying several hundred tiny orders of cole slaw like he had ordered for his band of rebels in Bananas.

But we decided to wear the Groucho Marx glasses/eyebrows/nose that he had used to great comic effect in his first film, Take the Money and Run. An eager volunteer had been dispatched to find dozens of them, and we passed them out at breakfast the next morning.

When Woody first greeted us at the podium, we all bent down and donned the bushy paraphernalia, and he looked more frightened than amused at the sight. Who wouldn't have been, seeing 50 faux Grouchos? But he maintained the same look of fear, combined with a shy, courteous demeanor throughout the weekend.

At this early stage of his movie career Woody Allen had made a few comedies, and they were hilarious. The one he would be previewing that weekend was Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.

The film was a series of vignettes linked to a sexual theme, and our surreal discussion dealt with the problem of costuming actors who played sperm, and the difficulty of finding a sheep pretty enough to wear a nightgown.

He showed a segment he never eventually used, of his then wife, Louise Lasser, as a black-widow spider catching a fly (Woody) in her web just before eating him for dinner. Better to leave it out, we attendees all agreed.

I spent most of the time that weekend taking notes and sticking as close to Woody Allen as I could. He noticed me after a while, and seemed relieved when I told him I was writing for a magazine and wasn't just a groupie.

Whenever I spied him walking alone I would run up and ask as many questions as I could before others would crowd him. He told me he most admired the moody Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and wanted to do serious films, which at the time seemed odd to me. He said he didn't like most cities, except for New York and Paris.

He was wary and seemed to want to be alone -- but not if I could help it. I was a pest, I guess, but I was a young reporter and couldn't stop querying him whenever possible.


A few years later, in 1980, I saw his Stardust Memories, now best remembered for Sharon Stone's movie debut in a tiny role with no dialogue. The plot was a parody of a put-upon film director at a movie weekend near New York City, and Woody played the lead.


And look, in a minor role was the host of our movie weekend, Judith Crist. More hmm.

And oh my, there was another character in that movie, a young woman in her twenties who hounds the Allen character with questions throughout the weekend! And even when he opens the door to his room, there she is, asking questions in his bed!

Now I'm not saying for sure that I was an inspiration for that questioning groupie, and I certainly didn't wind up in his bed.

But I can't help thinking that when I was following him around asking endless questions and taking notes, that he was taking mental notes too.

And he didn't have to exaggerate much to see we were a bunch of goofy, overbearing fans, offering all the absurdity a director could ever want.

So every time Stardust Memories comes on TV, I watch it and laugh, and wonder if I inspired that chatty, questioning woman in Woody's bed.

Who knows?