New documentary tells story of Dory Previn, boldly original ’70s singer-songwriter

dory previn documentary

Singer-songwriter Dory Previn, whose life and music are explored in a new documentary.

As the 1970s began, four female singer-songwriters began to make their mark.

There was Carole King, whose Tapestry quickly became anthemic. Joni Mitchell, who hit with the one-two of Ladies of the Canyon and Blue. Carly Simon, whose self-titled debut featured her first Top 10 hit, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” And the fourth was …

Need a minute?

Dory Previn may not immediately come to mind, today. But she was well-known at the time. And maybe the most singular ‘70s singer/songwriter of all, an introspective artist who mixed poetic musings with dark explorations of sexism, abuse and her own struggles with mental health.

Previn, who was raised in Woodbridge, fled a violent childhood home for Hollywood, where she ended up writing song lyrics for “Inside Daisy Clover” and “Valley of the Dolls.” Then, in 1969, her husband, composer André Previn, left her for Mia Farrow. Dory had a nervous breakdown and was briefly hospitalized.

The cover of Dory Previn’s 1970 album, “On My Way to Where.”

And then re-emerged in 1970, at age 45, with her own pop album, On My Way to Where. She would release six more over the next six years, building a fervent audience. And then step away from recording, eventually moving to The Berkshires. She died in 2012.

But West Orange singer-songwriter Julia Greenberg was determined that she not be forgotten. Working with documentarian Dianna Dilworth and East Orange animator Emily Hubley, she created “Dory Previn: On My Way to Where,” which will screen June 29 at The Clairidge in Montclair, as part of the North to Shore Festival.

Q: Julia, how did you get to know Dory Previn? And how did you decide there was a film there?

Greenberg: I first heard the song “The Holy Man on Malibu Bus Three” in my friend’s car and it stunned me into silence, both the lyrics — which were so deep and funny — and this mixture of classic songwriting with a ’70s vibe. I thought, “How do I not know about this person? How is that possible?” So I started Googling her, and went down the research rabbit hole. Eventually, I did a small performance of her work up in The Catskills and posted it to this fan site — which turned out to be administered by her stepson. He asked me to send her the recording, and Dory invited (my husband and I) up to see her. And kind of anointed me as, “OK, not everyone gets this music, but I’ll let you interpret this music.”

And Dianna can take it from there.

Dilworth: Yeah, so Julia is a good friend of mine and during COVID, when she was helping organize Dory’s archives and transfer them to the New York Public Library, I told her, “This sounds like really rich material about an interesting and important person. This should be a movie.” And she said, “Oh, you should make it.” But I said, “No, no. I make movies but you’re the Dory expert.” So we collaborated and it’s been a really wonderful journey.

Q: Dory was such a poetic writer — is it wrong to read songs like “With My Daddy in the Attic” literally? That it’s about actual sexual abuse?

Greenberg: I think you should absolutely read them literally. She did write poetically, so in “With My Daddy in the Attic,” she says nothing specifically about sexual abuse, but the metaphors she does use … you get her meaning, you know there was trauma there. She leaves it somewhat open in her songs, but you listen to the interviews she gave, you read her memoirs, she’s saying, “This is my life I’m writing about.” I would say of all the sort of confessional singer-songwriters, she’s the one who always went straight to her own experiences.

The cover of Dory Previn’s 1976 album, “We’re Children of Coincidence and Harpo Marx.”

Q: It’s not hard to see childhood abuse leading to these dissociative issues later — voices she heard in her head, visual hallucinations. But even here, Dory Previn was unconventional. She writes about sort of making friends with these voices, or at least reaching an understanding with them.

Dilworth: She had this very public, very social external life but there was also this starkly different interior side. She definitely heard voices, and they belonged to distinct characters, which she drew and wrote about in her journals. She struggled with that — they weren’t always her friends — but she came to accept them and find a way she could live with them.

Q: You choose to illustrate this through Emily Hubley’s animation, which I think is so perfect here. It reminded me of her work in the movie “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Greenberg: For (the musical number) “The Origin of Love”! That’s right. I really hadn’t thought about that connection but that’s right. They’re both about integrating your different selves.

Q: On top of the childhood trauma Dory lived through, there was the adult trauma of having her husband leave her for Mia Farrow — something she wrote about in “Beware of Young Girls.” Yet if it weren’t for that, would she have become the singer-songwriter she did?

Greenberg: I do believe she would have. Even without those personal crises, she was still facing the end of the golden age of Hollywood musicals, which she’d been a part of. Even if her marriage hadn’t ended, I think she would have found her way to this. She wanted to continue her musical career. And songwriting had also become a kind of therapy.

Q: Did you reach out to Mia Farrow for an interview?

Dilworth: The more archival footage we uncovered, the more material we realized we had, we decided early on not to rely on a lot of interviews. And as to Mia Farrow … we thought hard about how to include that story, and I think we handled it well, but we didn’t want it to take over Dory’s story.

Q: What do you feel about Woody Allen’s claim that Farrow’s charges of child abuse were inspired by the lyrics to “With My Daddy in the Attic”? That Dory even suspected that, too?

Dilworth: Well, we know that Allen and Dory spoke during the height of the scandal, as two people who’d been affected by Mia’s behavior. But beyond that, how can we possibly know?

Greenberg: Basically, we have no idea. Our focus was on Dory’s story — which is much more inspiring, of course.

Dory Previn, in a vintage publicity photo.

Q: On a brighter note, let’s talk about Dory’s style. I see the pictures of her, once she started this new career, and she’s almost a poster child for the ’70s — big glasses, peasant blouses, this untamed ‘fro …

Greenberg: Definitely, and it was so fun when we got our hands on footage from the 1950s, showing her in these bouffant hairdos. And you see that compared with this! Although, actually she emerged with her new look in 1969, so I think she was more of an influence on ’70s fashion than a follower. Barbra Streisand’s look in “A Star Is Born” … that’s all very Dory.

Q: Why didn’t she have a bigger career?

Dilworth: Well, she wasn’t some 20-something running around L.A. when she started her solo career; she was in her mid-40s. So there was that. Also, she was afraid of flying, so she wasn’t really touring.

Greenberg: And then there’s her material. Dory is boldly, nakedly, singing about trauma, misogyny, mental health — she was really addressing taboo subjects.

Dilworth: She never stopped writing — she wrote two memoirs and worked on several musicals. But by the ’80s, she felt it was time to step back. She made a concerted decision to get out of the Hollywood scene.

Q: What can she and her music teach us today?

Greenberg: I hope people take inspiration from her courage, and her insights. She really did anticipate what is now considered the neurodiversity movement — the recognition that our brains are not all alike, that the voices we hear aren’t necessarily meant to be muffled. People at screenings have really responded to that.

Dilworth: I just think Dory and her music are ripe for rediscovery. And I hope they inspire any artist who may be middle-aged, or maybe struggling with their own issues, to still go for it.

“Dory Previn: On My Way to Where” will be shown at The Clairidge in Montclair, June 29 at 3 p.m., with a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers following. Visit

For more on the film, visit


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