In an exclusive new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, former model Babi Christina Engelhardt claimed for the first time that she had a secret eight-year affair with director Woody Allen that began in 1976, when she was just 16 years old and he was 41. While Engelhardt, now 59, said she has no regrets and described being a willing participant, the legal age of consent in New York — then and now — is 17. The ongoing discussion of gender, power, and exploitation prompted by the #MeToo movement have made Engelhardt’s memories more uncomfortable, provoking mixed emotions about their unequal dynamic, including the “make-believe” version Allen portrayed in his 1979 film, Manhattan.
“What made me speak is I thought I could provide a perspective,” Engelhardt told THR. “I’m not attacking Woody. This is not ‘bring down this man.’ I’m talking about my love story. This made me who I am. I have no regrets.”
According to Engelhardt, she was the one who made the first move on Allen when she saw the director at a restaurant in 1976, dropping a note with her phone number on his table. At the time, she was still living in New Jersey with her parents, but was frequently in Manhattan pursuing her modeling career. Allen knew she was still in high school, Engelhardt said, but never inquired about her age. From the beginning, Allen dictated the terms, barring any discussion of his work and limiting their relationship to the bounds of his Fifth Ave apartment facing Central Park. She never pushed back.
“I was a pleaser, agreeable,” said Engelhardt. “Knowing he was a director, I didn’t argue. I was coming from a place of devotion.”
That dynamic played out in other personal and professional relationships. In addition to her affair with Allen, Engelhardt was also a platonic muse to the Italian director, Federico Fellini, and worked as a personal assistant to several powerful men, including disgraced billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein and producer Bob Evans. They liked her for the same reasons Allen did, she told THR.
“I was pretty enough, I was smart enough, I was nonconfrontational, I was non-judgmental, I was discreet, and nothing shocks me,” Engelhardt said.
For Engelhardt, Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan has always felt like deja-vu. Allen plays Ike, a 42-year-old man who takes up with 17-year-old Tracy, played by Mariel Hemingway.
“It was why I liked him and why I’m still impressed with him as an artist,” Engelhardt said about the film. “How he played with characters in his movies, and how he played with me.”
Like Tracy, Engelhardt also wasn’t allowed to spend the night. After each of their trysts, Allen would send her on her way, having his driver chaperone her as far as Port Authority in his white Rolls-Royce. But in reality, their romance was much more secluded than what appears on screen in Manhattan. “I was kept away,” Engelhardt said, while Ike brought Tracy out in public and introduced her to his friends, who are either amused or ambivalent about their significant age difference, and hardly judgmental about the ethical implications of a middle-aged man being sexually involved with a barely legal teenager. Ike who is most concerned about the appropriateness of their relationship, but it’s as if his persistent fretting amidst a fantasy world where no one else cares is “tantamount to absolution,” The Hollywood Reporter writes.
When Engelhardt first saw Manhattan, she expected the film to be about the two characters played by Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, and was stunned to realize it centered on Allen’s fictional infatuation with a teenager. She was brought to tears by the realization that “our partnership not something more than just a fling,” Engelhardt wrote in an unpublished memoir. When she told Allen that she noticed several similarities between herself and Tracy, his only response was “I thought you would.”
In hindsight, Engelhardt said she recognizes that she was a “fragment” of a composite character inspired by several young women who caught Allen’s eye — including several “beautiful young ladies” that Allen began inviting to his apartment for threesomes about a year into their relationship. A few years later, when Allen began dating Mia Farrow, she felt jealous, but not enough to walk away. Ultimately, she came to like Farrow, and the trio had a handful of threesomes. (Both Farrow and Allen declined to speak with The Hollywood Reporter for the story; representatives for both did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone.)
“It wasn’t until after it was done when I really had time to think of how twisted it was when we were together … and how I was little more than a plaything,” Engelhardt wrote in her memoir. “While we were together, the whole thing was a game that was being operated solely by Woody so we never quite knew where we stood.”
Eventually, Engelhardt grew dissatisfied, and left both the relationship and New York. The last time she heard from Allen was in 2001, when he sent her a thank you note for sending him a documentary she appeared in about Fellini. For the most part, she looked back on their relationship with a sort of bittersweet feeling; then in January, The Washington Post published an article about Allen’s archival papers at Princeton University, focusing on the “misogynist and lecherous musings” about young women contained in his writings, including several short stories, a television pitch, and a draft of the script to Manhattan. Something clicked, and she realized that she “was part of a pattern.”
“I used to dream of making love to Woody,” Engelhardt told THR. “Now I’m dreaming of him dying in my arms.”