- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2008

What do you have to do to get recognized by the Kennedy Center these days?Get your short stories published in the New Yorker and win the O. Henry Award?

Have one of the greatest stand-up comedy acts of all time?

Win three Oscars and be nominated for a total of 21 (including more best-screenplay nominations than anyone in history) as a writing-directing-acting triple threat?

Be one of the top male box-office stars (No. 8 in Quigley Publications’ rankings) of the ‘70s?

Win a lifetime-achievement award from the Directors Guild and be one of just two people (Ingmar Bergman is the other) to win a Cannes lifetime-achievement award?

Write for some of the biggest names in early television? Appear on the cover of Life magazine?

Woody Allen has done every one of those things. Yet he continues to be passed over year after year for both the Kennedy Center Honors, which recognize a lifetime of achievement in American culture, and the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Why is he continually snubbed?

It’s not that he has signaled (as he has in the past with the Oscars) that he wouldn’t show up to accept such honors.

“I’ve never been asked,” he admitted with obvious discomfort when I interviewed him recently.

It’s not that he’s never been nominated.

Actor Tony Roberts has been on the Kennedy Center’s national artists committee for 10 years. Its members, along with past Honorees, give their recommendations each year to the center’s board of trustees. Mr. Roberts, currently on Broadway in “Xanadu,” has been in many of Mr. Allen’s films, including “Play It Again, Sam” and “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.” He played Mr. Allen’s character’s best friend in “Annie Hall.”

Mr. Roberts says he writes Woody Allen’s name on the ballot every year. “He deserves it merely on the basis of his ingenuity and imagination and his output,” Mr. Roberts says. “The sheer volume of work that he has produced as a director and a writer in the movies is unequaled.”

“It’s a tremendous oversight on their part not to make him the number one priority,” Mr. Roberts concludes.

There’s no doubt Mr. Allen is one of America’s greatest living directors. His films may not have made as much money as those of 2006 Honoree Steven Spielberg, but his body of work is more consistently intelligent and sophisticated. He also has made about twice as many films (and twice as many memorable films) as 2003 Honoree Mike Nichols. And these are two of the heavyweight Honorees. Can anyone claim with a straight face that the unproductive Warren Beatty or screen hearthrob Robert Redford ranks with Woody Allen as filmmaker and artist?

C’mon, if actress Joanne Woodward can get a Kennedy Center Honor (she won alongside husband Paul Newman in 1992), why not Woody Allen?

Then there’s the Mark Twain Prize. Isn’t Mr. Allen a more influential figure in the field than even the eminently deserving 2005 winner (and 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree) Steve Martin? Their colleagues think so. In a British poll two years ago called the Comedians’ Comedian, fellow comedians voted Mr. Allen the third-greatest comedy act ever. Mr. Martin was No. 15.

The American Film Institute produced a list of the 100 greatest comedic films of all time a few years back. Woody Allen was the most represented director on the list, with five films, including “Annie Hall” at No. 4. He starred in more than Mr. Martin, too.

Really, I only need to say two words to show that Mr. Allen is long overdue for a Twain Prize: Whoopi Goldberg. This moderator of the chat fest “The View” and former “Hollywood Squares” center square won in 2001.

Why are his accomplishments ignored?

“Whatever I would say would be impolitic of me,” Mr. Roberts says carefully. “It might be that there are many considerations that they take into account, and perhaps some of his politics or his personal life in some way has offended some of the sensitive people who run this. I know the network has a lot to say about it. …” (CBS televises the awards ceremony.)

Mr. Roberts doesn’t want to go into details, but every time Mr. Allen’s name comes up, people inevitably think of his personal scandal of more than 15 years ago. Actress Mia Farrow, with whom Mr. Allen had lived for more than a decade, found nude photographs of her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, taken by Mr. Allen. Mr. Allen had never been a stepfather to her, but the details, combined with a 30-plus-year age difference and a nasty custody battle with Miss Farrow over their own children, proved fatal to Mr. Allen’s public image.

It may have seemed like a reckless romance, but Mr. Allen and Miss Previn have a respectable relationship — they have been married for more than 10 years and have two adopted daughters. Though one can’t condone his actions, one likely could find an unsavory bit of business in just about every Honoree’s past. Miss Goldberg famously helped end Ted Danson’s marriage to his second wife, Casey Coates.

Important national awards such as those the Kennedy Center bestows speak volumes about how we value artistic achievement. The rest of the world continues to honor Mr. Allen, who after a four-decade career in the business still puts out a quality film every year. His homeland should, too.



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