A woman who partially inspired the character of Tracy ― the teenage love interest in Woody Allen’s 1979 film “Manhattan” ― opened up about her eight-year relationship with the director in a rare interview published Monday.
Babi Christina Engelhardt, who now goes by Christina Engelhardt, told The Hollywood Reporter that she was a 16-year-old aspiring model in October 1976, when she gave her phone number to then-41-year-old Allen at a restaurant in New York City. At the time, Engelhardt was a year younger than the legal age to consent in the state of New York.
Engelhardt, now 59, described the relationship as a “love story,” but one that was complicated. Her retelling of the relationship depicts a consensual but lopsided power dynamic that raises questions about whether she had any real agency at such a young age.
“I’m not attacking Woody,” she said. “This is not ‘bring down this man.’ I’m talking about my love story. This made me who I am. I have no regrets.”
Engelhardt said she and Allen kept their affair a secret, and she often visited his Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan. A year into the relationship, Engelhardt said, Allen began bringing other women into the bedroom for threesomes, which Engelhardt described as “interesting ― a ’70s exploration.”
Three years after the pair met, Allen released “Manhattan,” in which 42-year-old Isaac “Ike” Davis (played by Allen) enters into a sexual relationship with 17-year-old Tracy (played by Mariel Hemingway). The iconic film has always been controversial for its depiction of a barely legal woman bedding a middle-aged man with little commentary about her age.
Engelhardt said the film reminded her of what she’d seen in Allen. “It was why I liked him and why I’m still impressed with him as an artist,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “How he played with characters in his movies, and how he played with me.”
Allen’s controversial relationship history, and the accusations of child abuse that have been leveled against him, inevitably put Engelhardt’s account of their “love story” in a certain light. In 1993, Allen’s adopted daughter Dylan Farrow accused him of sexual abuse, which he has denied. Five years later, Allen married Soon-Yi Previn, then 27, the adopted daughter of Allen’s former partner Mia Farrow.
Over the years, Engelhardt has had conflicting feelings about her clandestine love affair with the famed director. Engelhardt, who now has two daughters in college, said things took a turn for the worse when four years into their relationship Allen introduced Engelhardt to his new “girlfriend,” Mia Farrow.
At first, Engelhardt said, she was confused why he wanted the two to meet, but she grew to like Farrow. The relationship blossomed after what The Hollywood Reporter describes as a “‘handful’ of three-way sex sessions.”
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. Christina Engelhardt on her relationship with Woody Allen
“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 said. “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.”
She said that she thought of Farrow and Allen as a sort of “mother-father” duo. “To me, that whole relationship was very Freudian: how I admired them, how he’d already broken me in, how I let that be all right,” she said.
Engelhardt told The Hollywood Reporter she often dreamed of “making love” to Allen. More recently, she had a dream where her 19-year-old daughter was being pursued by an older celebrity.
“In the dream, I was OK with it,” she said. But now, when she’s awake, what would be her response to her 19-year-old daughter sleeping with a middle-aged man? “Um, no.”
Head over to The Hollywood Reporter to read Engelhardt’s full story.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.