What Falls Away: A Memoir

A Memoir

Mia Farrow

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A simply elegant memoir.”—Newsweek

In this exquisitely written memoir, Mia Farrow takes us on a journey into her remarkable life. As the daughter of actress Maureen O’Sullivan and film director John Farrow, she lived what was by all appearances a charmed a privileged childhood. But below the surface, money troubles, marital tensions, drinking, and occasionally violence marred the Hollywood illusion.


And when Mia was nine, she would be forever wrenched from childhood by the terrible isolation of a bout with polio. Her father’s death propelled her out into the world, where she embarked onto an acting career that included television, theater, and film—from her debut in
Peyton Place to her first starring role in
Rosemary’s Baby, and on to her thirteen films with Woody Allen.


Here is a luminous memoir of childhood and motherhood, a thoughtful exploration of a spiritual journey, and a candid examination of her marriages to Frank Sinatra and André Previn and her close but troubled twelve-year relationship with Woody Allen. Told with grace and deep understanding, as well as humor,
What Falls Away is an unforgettable book, an extraordinary record of an extraordinary life.

Praise for
What Falls Away

“Compelling and convincing . . . a story of survival.”
—Chicago Tribune


“A beautifully written memoir . . . about complex people and issues.”
—The Atlanta Journal


“A juicy book and a good one.”

“Farrow’s book possesses an elegance of prose and sensibility that elevates it way beyond the typical gorefest of sex, gossip, and betrayal.”
—USA Today

“A stellar new memoir . . . it’s all there, every wondrous, scandalous, inhumanely difficult thing.”

“Mia Farrow tells the story of her fascinating life with uncommon grace and insight.”
—William Styron

“Word by word, page by page, we’re convince. We believe her.”

“One of the best writers to ever come out of Hollywood. She writes with extraordinary wit and polish. This is good news from Frank Sinatra, André Previn, and the hundreds of other celebrities who make cameo appearances in her fabulous life, but it is very bad news for Woody Allen.”
—Pat Conroy

Mia Farrow is an American actress who became an icon for her award-nominated performance as Rosemary Woodhouse in the horror classic
Rosemary's Baby. She was born in Los Angeles in 1945 and is the eldest daughter of Australian director John Farrow. Before she became an actress, Farrow was a model for many years. Mia Farrow is also an activist and has done extensive work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Time magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world in 2008. Farrow has starred in dozens of movies, including
John and Mary,
The Great Gatsby (1974),
Widows' Peak, and Luc Besson's
Arthur series.


Einband Taschenbuch
Seitenzahl 384
Erscheinungsdatum 01.12.1997
Sprache Englisch
ISBN 978-0-553-76334-8
Verlag Random House N.Y.
Maße (L/B/H) 21,6/14/2,2 cm
Gewicht 458 g


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  • Chapter One

    I was nine when my childhood ended. We had celebrated my birthday the day before, which was a Saturday, and it hadn’t gone well. Healthy, noisy kids were all over my backyard, and I had a feeling that had become familiar to me during those last weeks: that I was watching everything from a great distance. My mother had taken me to a number of doctors, but they could find no reason for the fatigue or the insomnia that now plagued me.   

    So on this day of my ninth birthday party I was used to being tired. That it hurt to move wasn’t unusual either, and I was sitting on a low wall watching my friends playing ball down the driveway. When the ball smacked the bricks under my feet, everybody yelled, Come on kick it back, hurry up, and even though I clearly remember thinking, Don’t, I pushed myself off the wall and a surprise pain, a bad one, shot through my legs, back, and neck as I dropped straight down onto the pavement. As my friends crowded around, I tried to laugh. I was mortified. It was my birthday and I couldn’t even get up. Then Eileen, our Irish cook, and Barbara or Lucille, I forget which nanny, carried me to bed, where I lay flat and quiet, listening to the party outside my window.   

    The next morning was Sunday, and missing Mass was a mortal sin in the fifties, but again I fell to the floor. Everything hurt. It was a bad sign when Dr. Shirley, our pediatrician, came into the nursery and didn’t even smile. His daughter Becky went to school with me every day on the bus, but now he was showing me a big long needle, saying he was going to put it into my spine so he could get fluid and find out what’s wrong with me, it’s called a spinal tap. I never knew there was fluid in my spine. I felt like throwing up.   

    I had to curl into a ball so he could get inside my actual spine. My mother said she had to do something like this too, every time she went to have a baby—that’s seven times. But I was nine, and I didn’t want babies. I didn’t want any of this. I considered Dr. Shirley among the most handsome of my parents’ friends, so it was embarrassing being curled up in front of him with a needle in my spine. I didn’t even like him seeing me in my undershirt, and I certainly didn’t like to hear him breathing so loud and close. I shut my eyes tight; he wastaking forever and it really hurt. I went through the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins, all my times tables, and the planets, starting with Mercury. But the main thing I kept thinking was, I just hope I don’t die.   

    Then Dr. Shirley took my fluid away and we had to wait. In the next room I could hear the drone of the Rosary. Beside my bed was a pretty miniature wooden chest with flowers and birds painted all over it. I kept my best stuff in the drawers: my First Communion prayer book with the pearl cover, some dolls’ eyes, a piece of blue eggshell, almost all the parts from my first watch including the changeable colored bands that you could wear as bracelets, a parrot feather from Mexico, a real silver bullet, my dead turtle’s dried-up shell, a pen-and-pencil set that was too good to use, the thumbtack my brother Johnny had stuck in my foot when I was asleep, three Irish coins, a painted fan, a desiccated beetle, our collie Billy’s tooth. I can’t remember everything, but I picked out what I thought each of my brothers and sisters would want, dividing everything fair and square into six neat piles, eldest at the left…Then an ambulance’s siren drowned out the prayers of my family.   

    Dr. Shirley walked in, not looking me in the eye, picked me up, and carried me out of the bedroom past my mother, who was cheerfully saying how she got to ride in ambulances whenever she had to go to the hospital to have babies. I heard him tell her, “Better burn all that,” referring to the six piles, each with a note. There were no good-byes. Perhaps my brothers and sisters waved from the window, but I didn’t look back.   

    My father, my mother, and I were headed to the public wards for contagious diseases at Los Angeles General Hospital. Inside the ambulance I squeezed my mother’s hand while, through a rear window, tall, drab buildings skimmed past. I had never seen downtown Los Angeles before. It was nothing at all like Beverly Hills.   

    After entering the hospital, I was abruptly taken away from my parents, without explanation, and wheeled into an elevator. That was when I came apart. I screamed all the way upstairs to a big room where there were curtained cubicles and lots of children, all on gurneys, all screaming, just like me. A nurse wearing a mask over her nose and mouth hissed, Be quiet, you’re only making things worse for everybody, but I was beyond terror. I threw up.

    Everything hurt—my back, neck, legs, arms, and chest; it even hurt to breathe.   

    Somewhere downstairs my parents were eventually informed that the second spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis of polio. I didn’t see them for two days, until visiting time, which was twenty minutes, three times a week, behind the glass window at the end of my room. By then, I was a different person.

    The nurses and doctors dressed protectively and kept contact to a minimum. They always seemed busy, which of course they were, and some of them seemed frightened of their patients. Who could blame them? It was 1954, and polio was sweeping the country. Nobody knew how it was spread, so you didn’t go to movies or swim in public pools because of germs. But we lived in Beverly Hills, and we had our own screening rooms, our own swimming pools. I used to worry about leprosy. I never thought I’d get polio.   

    It was supposed to be a children’s ward, but the iron lungs that lined the halls must have contained some adults too. I could hear men’s voices wheezing and shouting in the night. When my turn came to be in the iron lung, I kept calling out, I’m okay, I feel fine now, please. But nobody came, and you can’t even scratch your own nose.   

    There were four beds in my ward, and a crib in which lay a little girl about two years old with brown curls, a quiet little thing who never made a sound, except for an occasional soft whimper, but I don’t remember seeing her move. One night the lights went on and the curtains were pulled around her crib, and doctors and nurses all crowded into that corner in a hurry, talking loudly. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to pretend I was somewhere else, but that’s not so easy when terrible voices fill the room. The next morning the crib was empty, and then I had to put that quiet little girl right out of my mind.   

    The nights were hardest. I started sleeping with my head under the covers all the time. Cathy’s bed was across the room from mine. She was ten, and unlike me she never cried, even if it hurt, except for once when nobody came at visiting time. Cathy was lionhearted brave, and I tried my best to be like her.   

    Life in the hospital settled into a routine. As I improved, there were daily hot-pack treatments—loathsome—and later water therapy, which was almost fun. When I was accidentally given a pair of boy’s pajamas with fire engines on them, instead of those humiliating gowns that open at the back, I wore them for a week, and hid each day’s clean nightgown under my mattress. This small thing gave me some sense of control and was a boost to my morale.   

    The days passed without much variance until one afternoon, with cold mashed potatoes still on my dinner tray, I hung on to the doctor’s hands and, staring hard into his bored face, I stood trembling on my own two feet.   

    But that didn’t mean I could go home. Every day they made me try to do two more things. You stand and put your palms flat on top of the doctor’s, and then you try to get up on your tiptoes without putting any weight on the doctor’s hands. Well, one day I could do that—I did it, even though it still hurt. And I could touch my chin to my chest too, which was the other thing you had to do before you could go home, and which I couldn’t even come close to doing at first. The doctor’s expression never changed—but two days later my father came to take me home.