Then Again by Diane Keaton

It’s interesting to read Diane Keaton’s memoir after Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. In contrast to Tony’s hazy past in Barnes’s novel, here we have memories strung together with clarity and adequate documentation. Take a look at these insert photos. I admit, they were the very reasons the second I opened the library copy that I decided I must get my own to keep.

Dorothy Keaton’s Journals

These are journals belonging to Diane’s mother Dorothy Keaton.  She first started with a series of letters she wrote from her California home to her eldest daughter Diane, who had moved to NYC at age 19. Letter writing developed into full volumes of family journals and scrapbooks. Further, she had kept detailed documentation of Diane’s career from 1969 to 1984. With the onset of Alzheimer’s, Dorothy still kept close contact with her daughter through letters and phone calls, leaving phone messages which showed the signs of a mind quickly sliding down the slope.

Stacks of memories

Diane has poignantly interwoven her own thoughts and memories with her mother Dorothy’s, a daughter’s attempt to capture life that was THEN in order to relive the moments AGAIN. Diane’s father Jack Hall died of cancer in 1990, only a few months after the diagnosis. Dorothy died of Alzheimer’s in 2008. This memoir is a joint endeavor of a daughter with her mother who has passed on, yet whose presence is strongly felt:

Now I’m alone, juggling with a memoir that’s also your memoir.

Family Scrapbook

Diane Hall grew up in California and had enjoyed a vibrant suburban family life before she moved to NYC to study at The Neighborhood Playhouse. She kept close contact with her family through letters. I admire her courage to reveal these correspondences, for through them, we see the private side of Diane Keaton, a persona with all the insecurities and non-glamorous aspects of a real life human being. After the Neighborhood Playhouse, she decided to change her name from Hall to Keaton. She got her first break in the musical Hair. This is her letter home:

Hi, Everyone,

Well, I’m in a hit, we opened the 29th… A real job, and on Broadway. Big stars have come to see it, like Warren Beatty (remember my crush on him from Splendore in the Grass) and Julie Christie, who is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and Liza Minnelli… Apparently Hair is the in thing to see. People stand in lines every day to get tickets.

Things are pretty much the same. I’m certainly the same. Will I ever change? I’m still the dumbest person alive. One apparently does not grow out of stupidity. Oh, also I’m on a diet…

And on that note, Diane goes on to reveal her past battle with bulimia in the next chapter, a piece of private history that has been kept secret until now.

From Hair, to Play It Again, Sam, and later from stage to screen. Thanks to Woody Allen, we have many fabulous movies but the most memorable probably is Annie Hall (1977), which brought Diane Keaton the Best Actress Oscar, and Woody Allen the Best Director and Best Writing Oscars. It also won Best Picture. Here’s Diane’s memory of the production:

Woody’s direction was the same. Loosen up the dialogue. Forget the marks. Move around like a real person. Don’t make too much of the words, and wear what you want to wear. Wear what you want to wear?  That was a first. So I did what Woody said: I wore what I wanted to wear…

And her choice of ‘costume’ became a classic:

And yes, there was a real life Grammy Hall. She was Jack Hall’s mother Mary Hall. She could have given Woody the idea of the movie character, for she was just as nasty. Regarding Diane winning the Oscar, this is Grammy Hall’s response when interviewed in the local paper:

People say I’m in the clouds, I ain’t in no clouds. I’ll tell you one thing about the Academy Awards. It’s something big for a small family. That Woody Allen must be awfully broadminded to think of all that crap he thinks of

As for Woody Allen, he didn’t even attend the Awards ceremony nor did he talk about it afterwards.

Diane is also candid about her ‘romantic failures’, beginning with Woody Allen, then Warren Beatty whom she co-starred in Reds, and Al Pacino as they worked together on Godfather II & III.

At age 50, Diane stepped out to make a most courageous move: she adopted a newborn baby girl, Dexter, and  five years later a baby boy, Duke. Her role as a single mother bringing up a daughter and a son is probably the most gratifying.

In between some serious skirmishes–like when he refuses to have his diaper changed, or when he starts crying because he’s been put down or Dexter has stolen his waffle, or when he bangs his head on the sidewalk… –in between these scuffles, there are moments that feel like an eternity of bliss.

The final pages of the memoir are the most moving for me. Diane Keaton as daughter who ultimately had to say farewell to both parents, writing at 63 and as mother to a 14 and 9 year-old, she could hear as if Dorothy is telling her: “Dear Diane, my firstborn, take a deep breath, be brave, and let go…”

Here’s her reply:

I’m trying, Mom, but it goes against every instinct I possess. I promise you one thing though. I promise to unleash Duke and Dexter from the stranglehold of my need before it’s too late. I promise to give them their freedom no matter how much I want them to hang on. I promise to let go of you too, the you I created for the benefit of me…

Through her memoir, moments Then are relived Again. It is also a catch and release, the challenging process of gathering and letting go.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples