When asked to speak about his co-star/muse Diane Keaton at her Lincoln Center Tribute, Woody Allen fondly said: “It’s grammatically incorrect to say someone is the “most unique” or “so unique,” but, you know, Diane is the most unique person that I’ve ever known. That could be interpreted as weirdness but she’s, you know, she’s truly one of a kind….I think.”
"Diane Keaton is known for being one of the 'most unique' actresses of our time, so when it came time for her to write a memoir, why would she go the usual route of an ordinary tome?"
Diane Keaton is known for being one of the “most unique” actresses of our time, so when it came time for her to write a memoir, why would she go the usual route of an ordinary tome? THEN AGAIN is her two-pronged approach of telling not only her story, but the story of her mother, Dorothy Keaton Hall, and how their paths mirrored each other and how they differed: “Mother made her big choice early. She married. I made mine late. I adopted. At fifty-four Dorothy was put out to pasture with thirty-two more years of living staring her in the face. At sixty-five there is no pasture, and I’m not lonely.”
Life began for Diane Hall (she took her mother’s maiden name when she joined the actors’ union) in southern California, the oldest of four children to Dorothy and Jack Hall. From an early age, she wanted to stand apart from the crowd, with dreams of being a musical comedy star on Broadway. Always encouraged to “think” by her father and to express herself by her artistic mother, who thought everyone should be forced to write their own autobiography, she combined their advice as she pursued her artistic endeavors. Told through letters, family photos and collages, Keaton incorporates all these to tell the dual story of a mother struggling to find meaning after her children left the nest, and a daughter trying to make her way in the world.
After starring in Hair on Broadway, Keaton met and began to work with one of the most influential men in her career: filmmaker Woody Allen. The pair dated after meeting for his play, Play It Again, Sam, and he continued to use Keaton as his muse for Love & Death, Sleeper, and, perhaps most importantly, Annie Hall, which was loosely based on Keaton’s own family. Living in New York and being with Allen exposed Keaton to a whole new world, although her Grammy Hall back home in California was nonplussed: “That Woody Allen must be awfully broad-minded to think of all that crap he thinks of.” In addition to the Woody Allen comedies, there were also the Godfather films and Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
But even with her career ascending new heights, Keaton always remained grounded, grateful, and not at all confident in her abilities. Even after winning a Best Actress Oscar for Annie Hall, Keaton didn’t understand what all the fuss was about: “I knew winning had nothing to do with being the ‘best’ actress. I knew I didn’t deserve it. And I knew I’d won an Academy Award for playing an affable version of myself. I got it. But the fact that Annie Hall, a comedy, won best picture thrilled me…” Or, as Annie Hall herself might have said, “La de da. La de da.”
But as her mother’s daughter, Keaton was taking in all these experiences and learning from them. In her relationship with Woody Allen, the two bonded through insulting and teasing each other: “We were quite a couple, one more hidden than the other…. People were to be avoided…. We shared a love of torturing each other with our failures. He could sling out the insults, but so could I. We thrived on demeaning each other. His insights into my character were dead on and --- duh! Hilarious. This bond remains the core of our friendship and for me, love.” And from her affair with Warren Beatty, she quickly learned, “I wanted to be Warren Beatty, not love him.” Al Pacino was another great love who appealed to her creative side: “He was an artist. He made me think about the difference between being an artist and being artistic.” Theirs was an on-again, off-again relationship that lasted years, up until the last Godfather film.
Keaton beat herself up for many years over not finding true happiness and contentment with one man, until she adopted the first of her two children, Dexter, at age 50. Finally realizing “I was a late developer…Dexter was my ‘in sickness and health, till death do us part,’ unconditional love. She was my new family….” This huge leap of faith into parenthood coincided with her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. As Keaton was beginning her own family, the family that she came from was falling apart. She watched as her mother battled the disease for nearly 15 years. It wasn’t until after her mother’s death that she was able to comb through the many volumes of writings and collages that she assembled throughout her life. It was here that Keaton saw the potential to help her mother one last time: “She lost something on the way. Mom’s strength as a writer came out of assemblage…. She knew one thing: It all boils down to family. One day you end up having spent your life with a handful of people.”
Using these journal entries and her own stories, Keaton could finally give her mother the autobiography she could never write in her lifetime. Through these stories --- some poignant, some difficult --- Keaton shines a light on the humanity and humor in life’s follies: “Humor helps us get through life with a modicum of grace. It offers one of the few benign ways of coping with the absurdity of it all.”
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on December 5, 2011