Column JN issue June 1
I’m sure there are many things of which one could accuse Woody Allen, but I must admit that being practical in an emergency is not one I had previously associated with the controversial film-maker.
Notorious for his (to say the least) complicated personal life, the one-time stand-up comedian, gag writer and idol of the French cinema, is also a musician and foodie — and, of course, still in the throes of an ongoing love affair with the city of New York.
Come with me, then, to dinner, only the other week, at an up-market restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Caravaggio. Seated round the table of this Italian “see and be seen” fine diner — hey, look, even Google describes it as a place “perfect for people watching” — is Soon-Yi Previn, 52, once Allen’s adopted daughter and since 1997, his wife; lawyer Alan Dershowitz, 84; Andrew Stein, a one-time president of New York City Council, 78; and Woody Allen himself, 87.
What, I wonder, could they have been discussing over dinner? Perhaps Dershowitz’s recently announced decision to act “pro bono” for the bereaved Rabbi Leo Dee in a multi-million lawsuit against the TV company CNN and, specifically, its presenter Christiane Amanpour. Dershowitz has been all over the media in recent days insisting that Amanpour’s “apology” to Rabbi Dee, for saying that his wife and two daughters had died in a “shoot-out” rather than a “shooting” by Palestinian terrorists was just that — an apology in inverted commas, in other words not an apology worth having.
It may well be that Dershowitz’s argument that there is no “moral equivalence” between “innocent victims of terrorism” and the terrorists themselves, has some justification. But something in me itches at what looks to me like bandwagoning. And do the tragic Dee family not have enough to cope with, without dealing with all too public lawsuits against CNN?
Ah, well, let’s not go there. Let’s move on to Diner Number Two, Andrew Stein, another man with a difficult reputation. In 2010, Stein, a seasoned New York politician, was indicted and arrested for lying about his involvement during the investigation of the multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme involving Ken Starr, a financial advisor to various celebrities. Stein pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour tax evasion charge and was sentenced to 500 hours of community service. Apparently, he shortened his name to Stein when he entered politics, having been born Finkelstein to a father who was a multi-millionaire publisher of the New York Law Journal.
I must say, I don’t know who he thought he was kidding — did he think calling himself Stein made him sound less Jewish?
Anyway, there they all were, three elderly Jewish men and Soon-Yi, possibly swapping terrible Jewish jokes involving heart conditions and recalcitrant spouses (Dershowitz, Stein and Allen have each been married twice).
And, suddenly! High drama! For Andrew Stein was eating and began to choke!
Who you’re gonna call? Why, SuperWoody, of course.
Stein — according to the New York Post — was turning an unbecoming shade of scarlet and was struggling to breathe. No problem — SuperWoody was there to help, leaping from his seat to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on Stein. Dershowitz and Soon-Yi, according to eyewitness diners, were as much use as chocolate teapots, merely “staring in horror”; but Allen, a diminutive five-foot five, and, less we forget, 87 years of age, put his arms round Stein and made him vomit out the food on which he had been choking.
And here’s the kicker. Andrew Stein admitted that he normally orders fish — “but this time I went for the pork”. Let that be a lesson to us all. Why, it could be a film. “Why eating treife could be life-threatening”. You would, as Oscar Wilde observed, have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.