By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Dec 12, 2011
Close your eyes and picture Diane Keaton.
I bet you see her as she was in “Annie Hall.”
Man’s clothes. Floppy hat. “La-de-da.”
Please return to reality.
“Annie Hall” was 1977 --- 34 years ago.
Diane Keaton is now 66 years old --- for an actress, that might as well be 100.
Indeed, here’s her latest role:
The memoirs of a Senior Citizen who was a Movie Star --- it reminds me of what Jean Cocteau said about the movies: You’re watching “death at work.” In Keaton’s case, that means we’ll be hearing about actors who are also aged-out. Like her lovers --- Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino --- who were her co-stars in such long-ago classics as “Annie Hall” and “Reds” and “The Godfather.”
The brilliance of “Then Again” is that Keaton doesn’t ignore these men and those movies. They are the reason we know her, and she’s grateful and tender and respectful of them. Also, honest. She didn’t want to love Beatty, she wanted to be him. She pushed Pacino to marry her, though she knew he never would. As for Woody Allen, she finds him quite the hunk --- and those glasses are totally hot.
But her career is not center stage in these pages. She has urgent personal business to explore here, deeper in her past. Go further back, to her California childhood, to her parents and, mostly, her mother, Dorothy Hall. “Mom continues to be the most important, influential person in my life,” she writes, three years after her mother’s death.
Dorothy Hall. Mother of four. Wife. Amateur --- it’s too easy to say “frustrated” or “thwarted” --- artist. Who entered the Mrs. America contest and was crowned Mrs. Los Angeles. Who died of Alzheimer’s. Whose journal entries filled 85 notebooks that her daughter avoided until she was 63 and writing this book. [To buy “Then Again” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle download, click here.]
In these pages --- in this double memoir --- Dorothy Hall gets her props:
From the outside looking in, we lived completely different lives. She was a housewife and mother who dreamed of success; I am an actor whose life has been — in some respects — beyond my wildest dreams. Comparing two women with big dreams who shared many of the same conflicts and also happened to be mother and daughter is partially a story of what’s lost in success contrasted with what’s gained in accepting an ordinary life. I was an ordinary girl who became an ordinary woman, with one exception: Mother gave me extraordinary will. It didn’t come free.
That last is Keatonian understatement. Oh, there’s the childhood at the beach. The teen crush on Warren Beatty. The clothes she designed in high school. The applause for her in the high school production of “Little Mary Sunshine.” Going out to dinner with Woody: “I think I had a date with him.”
What didn’t come free?
Consider her meals while she was Woody’s girl. Breakfast: a dozen corn muffins, three eggs, bacon, pancakes, chocolate milk. Lunch: three steaks, two baked potatoes and two chocolate sundaes. Dinner: a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, several TV dinners, a pound of peanut brittle, a Sara Lee pound cake, three banana-cream pies.
It all went down. It all came up. And after a year-and-a-half with a therapist, it ended.
I have known women with bulimia. But nothing like this. To read about 20,000-calorie days --- it hurts just to think about self-esteem that low. In comparison, Brando walking by and saying “Nice tits” seems unimportant.
“Then Again” is not a howl of pain. It’s more like a steady look at how things really are --- how transient life is, how fast it goes, how we never get to tell the people who shaped us how much we owe them and love them, how we reach for one another and, more often than not, miss. Her role in ‘The Godfather,” for example, comes down to this: “a woman standing in a hallway waiting for permission to be seen by her husband.” A brilliant observation. An even more brilliant sentence --- you’ll think of it whenever you think about “The Godfather.” And, I suspect, at other, more personal moments.
Diana Keaton is wonderfully appealing. We think we know her, and she obliges in interview after interview. And, now, in her book trailer:
She can’t help herself --- even now, after all the therapy, she has a ferocious desire to please.
But not, it turns out, on the page. On the page, she bleeds.
Because “Then Again” reads as if it was written at three in the morning, it’s on a lot of “10 best” lists. It’s deserves to be. A woman standing on her mother’s shoulders, having the life her mother wanted --- that’s not just Diane Keaton’s story. But because it’s Keaton, you’ll stay with it, cry with it, and, in the end, be so glad she wrote it.