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Diane Keaton Tells Her Story

Mother's journals inspire a revealing autobiography

Emboldened by hits like those in the minor leagues, Keaton left home in 1965 (at age 19) to study acting under Sandy Meisner at Manhattan’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. By 1968, she had landed a role in Hair on Broadway. Yet as one unintentionally comedic letter home makes clear, Keaton hadn’t quite embraced the let-it-all-hang-out ethic of the times: “It’s a really weird show, to put it mildly .… We look like hippies; we sing like hippies; we’re the turned-on youth of today. It doesn’t really appeal to me!” Cast members who got naked on stage stood to pocket an extra $50 per night; according to IMDb.com, the reluctant Aquarian collected not a single bonus.

Then came Keaton’s legendary association with Woody Allen, a professional and romantic collaboration that would make her the leading lady of filmed comedy in the 1970s thanks to Play It Again, Sam (1972), Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975), and Annie Hall (1977). (About 1978’s Interiors, the less said the better.) The Allen-Keaton alliance was forged in the fall of 1968, when Keaton showed up for — and nailed — an audition for the role of Linda Christie in Allen’s stage production of Play It Again, Sam. “During rehearsals,” she reveals, “I fell for [character] Allan [Felix] as scripted but for Woody as well. How could I not? I was in love with him before I knew him. He was Woody Allen.”

Keaton keeps the disclosures coming throughout Then Again. Among the juicier tidbits, we learn that:

  • She hated her nose so much as a pre-teen that she slept with a bobby pin clipped to it at night, “hoping the bulb would squeeze into a straight line.”
  • She found Woody Allen “even better looking in real life. He had a great body, and he was physically very graceful.” (Compounding her deafness to the Ick Factor, she notes that “his body was fit and well proportioned” during the filming of Love and Death.)
  • She suffered from bulimia for five years, including the period during which she dated Allen (roughly 1969 to 1975). “Woody didn’t have a clue what I was up to in the privacy of his bathrooms,” she writes. “I made sure he never caught me.” (Her mother may have had an inkling, though: Dorothy’s journal entry of February 6, 1969, reads in part, “She’s on a thing these days, always eating. I wish I knew how she stays so thin.”)
  • That trend-setting “vintage” look from Annie Hall? Encouraged by Allen to wear whatever she liked on the set, Keaton “stole” her signature fashion statement “from cool-looking women on the streets of Soho. Annie’s khaki pants, vest, and tie came from them.”
  • She’s had a lifelong bad habit of chasing “unattainable greats.” This regrettable trend began with her ninth-grade crush on Dave Garland (who broke things off with a note passed in algebra class reading “You’ll make a good wife someday”) and would ultimately lead to her recurring, 20-year infatuation with Godfather co-star Al Pacino (she taught the 34-year-old Pacino to drive in the parking lot of Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva Hotel).
  • She thought boyfriend Warren Beatty was “smart, lawyer-smart… [and] a mind-blowing dream of drop-dead gorgeous.” But their romance “was not destined for the long haul.” What bond, after all, could survive director Beatty’s insistence on filming “65 excruciating close-ups” of her character Louise Bryant in Reds (1980)?
  • “Warren’s tenacity” — and Keaton’s acting — netted Beatty a Best Director Oscar for Reds. Their working arrangement suited the surprisingly conventional-sounding Keaton just fine: “Without a great man writing and directing for me, I was a mediocre movie star at best.”
  • At the age of 50, after a lifetime of “seeking an audience in lieu of intimacy,” Keaton “suddenly got intimate in a big way,” adopting first a baby girl (Dexter, born December 14, 1995) and then a baby boy (Duke, born February 16, 2001). “As Mother struggled to complete sentences,” she poignantly observes, “I watched my daughter and my son begin to form words.”

Keaton may have “never found a home in the arms of a man,” as she muses here, yet she has found much to treasure in this honest and hard-hitting long look back. Above all, Then Again gave her a way to keep her mother from disappearing, “even though she has.” Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall “continues to be the most important, influential person in my life,” Keaton tells us, so it’s fitting that her memoir captures such a vivid dual portrait of mother and daughter. Dorothy’s message never wavered, Keaton recalls — nor did the efficacy with which her daughter put it into practice: “Don’t be so sensitive, Diane. You’ll show them one day. Go for it.”

Allan Fallow is the books editor of AARP The Magazine.

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