Christina Engelhardt was only 16 when she first met Woody Allen in a New York restaurant.
At the time, she was a blonde high school student with green eyes, a figure that had won her a few modelling contracts and a dream in her heart of being famous.
He was 41, had already had a hit with the film Sleeper and would soon release Annie Hall and Manhattan, two of his greatest films.
In the latter he played a middle-aged man in a relationship with a 17-year-old high school girl, played by actress Mariel Hemingway, who was then aged 16.
Only now, four decades after the film premiered, can Christina see the cruel irony of the storyline that captivated generations.
‘The film always reminded me of how he played with characters in his movies, and how he played with me,’ says Christina today.
Christina Engelhardt (pictured recently) was only 16 when she first met Woody Allen in a New York restaurant.
For after that first restaurant rendezvous, she claims she went on to have a clandestine eight-year relationship with the Hollywood director, under the nose of — and indeed, she says, with the full but reluctant knowledge of — his then long-term partner, Mia Farrow.
Allen never mentioned her young age —despite their 25-year age gap — and from the beginning he laid down rules that they would not discuss his work and would meet only at his place.
Christina feels it was a crude and cruel introduction to the world of relationships for a young girl and, for many years, she refused to see herself as a victim.
Young, ambitious, starstruck and entirely smitten with her famous ‘boyfriend’, it’s only now, as an adult, that she says she can see how she was manipulated.
‘The fact that I was a teenager was never mentioned, and that was actually very clever because it made me feel adult-like.
‘He would ask me questions — what did I think about this and what did I think about that — and I was thrilled that he wanted my opinion.
‘To me, that was exciting, to be seen not just for being attractive. I thought he cared for my mind as well as my body,’ she says, ruefully. ‘But he never took me out to dinner or on a date, not once.’
Christina, now an attractive and bubbly 61-year-old divorced mother of two adult daughters, is one of the voices in a new HBO documentary, Allen v Farrow, which chronicles troubling claims about the Hollywood legend’s sexual history.
It brings fresh scrutiny to some of the serious allegations that have been levelled against him for decades and examines his apparent predilection for young women.
In Manhattan he played a middle-aged man in a relationship with a 17-year-old high school girl, played by actress Mariel Hemingway, who was then aged 16 (pictured)
Secretly made over three years by respected filmmakers known for uncovering new evidence and aggressively holding alleged sexual predators to account, the documentary has led to questions about whether this will finally see the director hounded out of Hollywood for good, and his films shunned for ever.
The four hour-long instalments examines his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, the Korean-born adopted daughter of his former partner Mia Farrow whom he met when she was ten and accusations — which Allen has always denied — that he molested another of Farrow’s adopted daughters, Dylan, when she was seven.
In particular, Allen v Farrow allows Dylan, now a 35-year-old mother of two, to tell her side of a deeply troubling story, claiming that a little girl never received justice and the film director has not been fully held to account.
It also highlights what ‘girlfriends’ such as Christina have long claimed — which is that the Oscar-winning director’s interest in portraying deep infatuations between teenage girls and older men in his films mirrored his penchant for young women in real life.
Christina tells me how she would regularly take a two-hour bus trip from her parents’ home in New Jersey for ‘dates’ with the esteemed director at his home — but, by her account, their relationship was far from any young girl’s dream of romance.
‘I never once stayed overnight. It was only for a couple of hours, including sex. A glass of wine, a little chit-chat, a game of chess and some sex. Then it was always, “OK. Time to go. Next time, you’re in the city, let me know.” ’
The vulnerable teenager said she was hurt and confused by the secret nature of their relationship, evidenced by the fact that Allen wouldn’t even take her out for a meal.
Engelhardt (modelling in 1977) claims she went on to have a clandestine eight-year relationship with the Hollywood director, under the nose of — and indeed, she says, with the full but reluctant knowledge of — his then long-term partner, Mia Farrow.
‘I gave him a hundred opportunities to say, “Hey, let’s go out to dinner” and I think that’s where my low self-esteem came in. I thought that maybe if I was more interesting and accomplished, then things would change. It felt very unrequited. I was only 16 and felt flattered that someone as talented and witty as Woody was interested in me.’
There are other, sadder, memories. She recalls turning up, unannounced, to the New York jazz club where Allen, an amateur clarinettist, would play once a week.
One can only imagine what Allen must have thought, seeing his secret teenage mistress in the crowd, when he was cranking out tunes with his jazz friends.
‘He would give me a hug like I was a good friend. I’d sit and watch him perform but I was on my own. He never introduced me as his girlfriend.’
Yet, according to allegations made in the HBO series, which is now available to watch in the U.S., even darker events would take place in Allen’s life.
It questions whether Allen ‘groomed’ Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi while she was still in high school, though Allen and Soon-Yi, who are now a couple, have always said that their affair began when she was older.
It features testimony from Dylan, who first accused her adopted father in 1992 of abusing her — allegations he has always denied, suggesting they may have been fabricated under Mia’s influence.
The most compelling is never-before-seen film, shot by her mother on the family’s camcorder, of the then seven-year-old Dylan describing what happened when Allen took her to ‘hide’ in an attic of Farrow’s Connecticut country home and touched her ‘private parts’. The little girl looks visibly upset and angry.
There’s testimony from the adult Dylan and other family members claiming Allen showed ‘obsessive interest’ in her, cajoling her into sucking his thumb and ignoring the other children in the family to spend time with her.
The four hour-long instalments examines his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn (pictured together), the Korean-born adopted daughter of his former partner Mia Farrow whom he met when she was ten and accusations — which Allen has always denied
Interviews with former babysitters and with child welfare workers and law enforcement who were involved in Allen’s 1992 failed custody suit against Mia Farrow paint a pattern of inappropriate behaviour with the child.
Allen is not interviewed in the documentary. Instead, the filmmakers had to rely on excerpts from his controversial audio book released in 2020 called Apropos Of Nothing, in which he gives his version of one accusation that he was spotted with his head in young Dylan’s lap.
‘While Mia had gone shopping, after explaining to everyone that I had to be watched carefully, all the kids and the babysitters were in the den watching TV, a room full of people. There were no seats for me, so I sat on the floor and might have leaned my head back on the sofa on Dylan’s lap for a moment. I certainly didn’t do anything improper to her.’
For her part, Christina believes she got caught up in Allen’s sexual vortex because she was both ambitious and in awe of him.
Many groomers of teenagers focus on vulnerability and low self-esteem — and she was no exception. ‘Predators see that lack of confidence in young people and take advantage of it.
‘I thought I was special to him, but I ended up feeling like his plaything, like a toy, and that’s all I was. He wasn’t the person I thought. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because I thought he was a genius.’
Her parents knew she was seeing Allen, now 85, because he would call her at home, but they didn’t know their daughter was sleeping with him. ‘When he called, I would just say, “Oh, that’s my director friend.” ’ About a year into their relationship, Christina claims Allen introduced her to other young girls for threesomes. ‘I thought it was part of life’s experience and I went along with it, yes,’ she says.
When she first saw Manhattan in 1979, she says she cried. The storyline took her completely by surprise: ‘I said to Woody, later, “Wow that resembles me” and he laughed and said, “Does it?” I felt like he’d taken fragments of me and put them in the film.’
Allen (pictured) never mentioned Christina’s young age —despite their 25-year age gap — and from the beginning he laid down rules that they would not discuss his work and would meet only at his place
Four years into their relationship, on one of Christina’s trips into New York, Allen sounded excited when she arrived at his place. ‘He introduced me to Mia Farrow and said, “I want you to meet my girlfriend” and I remember thinking, “I’m not your girlfriend”. I could see then that I was nothing [to him] but Mia was so kind and so nice. She was wonderful.’
The star of 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby was 16 years her senior and the two women grew to like each other, so much so, they took part in threesomes, Christina alleges.
‘We were his two favourite girls and he was very much the director in that situation. I think Mia was under his spell, too. If you’re in a happy and healthy relationship, you don’t have to bring a third person in.’
The final straw for Christina came when Allen refused to help her with her acting career. She left the U.S. in 1983 and went to work in Rome.
Along with the rest of the world, Christina says she was shocked when she heard about Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn.
Mia Farrow discovered naked photos of her then college-age adopted daughter in Allen’s apartment and Allen admitted the affair as part of his defence against the abuse allegations.
Allen and Soon-Yi married in Venice in 1997 and have two adopted daughters. Christina says: ‘I believe he only married Soon-Yi because he got such bad press. I think it was going to be a fun little secret and he married her because it made him look legit. I really hope they are happy together.’
As for Dylan’s shocking allegations of molestation when she was a child, Christina says only she and Allen know what really happened.
Each episode of the documentary ends with Allen’s categorical denial that he has ever been violent or sexually abusive towards Dylan, or behaved inappropriately with any teenage girls.
‘She’s never changed her story and I think she should be given the benefit of the doubt,’ says Christina. ‘I do believe something inappropriate went on.’ As for Christina’s romance with the film director, she adds: ‘I don’t regret that it happened, but I regret I let it go on for so long.
‘I’ve never doubted that he’s witty and talented but it’s disappointing to put someone on a pedestal, artistically and intellectually, and then they let you down, badly.
‘I feel like he’s dug his own grave and I’m sorry that he didn’t think of the consequences of the choices he has made.’
This post was first published on DailyMail.