Diane Keaton in Real Life
She thought her nose was too big, so she slept with a bobby pin pinching it at night, “hoping the bulb would squeeze into a straight line.”
Her mother was the “most important, influential person in [her] life,” but she didn’t really get to know her until after she lost her Mom to Alzheimer’s disease and adopted two children of her own.
Keaton turned the pages herself when she read from her book recently at the historic 6th and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C. The beautiful building was the perfect backdrop for an actress, author and artist whose masculine sense of fashion once set off a women’s craze for big hats, baggy men’s trousers and floppy ties.
In fact, even today the leading lady strode into the venue wearing a long olive green trench coat, matching big-brimmed hat, black turtle neck and yes, baggy pants.
THEN AGAIN: [Left] DIANE KEATON ON THE SET OF ''ANNIE HALL''.1977.(Credit Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com) ; [Right] DIANE KEATON.ACTRESS.SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE.2/6/2004.BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL. / 2004.K35366(Credit Image: © Allstar/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)
The sold-out crowd cheered and gave her a standing ovation before she uttered a single word. She smiled broadly at the house packed with adoring fans, mostly women but a few men, too, all of whom came to see the woman whose forty-year career has given them many of their favorite movies.
Before she’d appeared, the audience was treated to a short collage of some of those films: Annie Hall, of course, Reds, Waiting for Mr. Goodbar, Manhattan, First Wives Club, and The Godfather trilogy. The cinematic collage was appropriate, given the big part collage art played in her family. The inspiration for Keaton’s memoir came from the 85 journals her mother filled with writings and picture collages of one sort or another, and her brother Randy is a successful collage artist. In her book, Keaton writes that, upon returning home to southern California after an art trip to New York City, she decided to collage an entire wall of her bedroom. “Mom was way into it,” she reports, “adding pictures she thought I might like, like James Dean standing in Times Square.” (Does that sound like YOUR mother?! )
After thanking the audience for their generous welcome, she began reading from the memoir’s introduction. The book is really a love letter to Diane’s mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall, who died in 2008 after losing a 15-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Dorothy’s dreams to attend college had been dashed when her father abandoned her mother, Dorothy and her two sisters. But she soon met Keaton’s father, Jack Hall, and life began anew. Dorothy’s parenting style might strike some today as unconventional. “She didn’t particularly value education,” Keaton said. Instead, persistence and a strong will were the traits that mattered most. Keaton appreciated the guidance, given her "consistently C-minus" performance as a student.
“Like the rest of the nation, I was tested for intelligence in 1957,” she writes. “The results were not surprising.” Evidently, Keaton excelled in only one area: Abstract Reasoning. She rushed home to tell her mother, who promptly congratulated her on being a master of the only topic that really mattered. Keaton says that, to this day, she has no idea what Abstract Reasoning actually is, but she appreciates that her mom made her feel so good about it!
After the reading, Keaton took questions from the audience. One woman wanted to know who she’d prefer to be stuck on a desert island with: "Alvy" from Annie Hall or "Jack" from Reds? Of course, the clear question was, Woody Allen or Warren Beatty, her costars in those films, and beaus in real life. Keaton laughed and said there was “no way” she was going to answer that question.
But her book may betray her answer -- she writes,
“I miss Woody...He’d cringe if he knew how much I care about him, but I’m smart enough not to broach the subject. I know he’s borderline repulsed by the grotesque nature of my affection. What am I supposed to do? I still love him.”
Keaton was actually born Diane Hall, on January 5, 1946 in Los Angeles, California. She changed her name to Keaton, her mother’s maiden name, when upon trying to register with the Screen Actors Guild and realizing another actress named Diane Hall had beaten her to it. The Annie Hall film was in part based on Diane’s own family, including the infamous Grammy Hall, who really did exist, though Keaton vigorously denied that her Grammy Hall was anti-semitic, as the film character was portrayed.
The actress revealed to laughter and applause that her favorite movie is Something’s Gotta Give, a recent film in which she plays a middle-aged, highly successful playwright who falls in love with an equally successful businessman with an annoying taste for younger women. Jack Nicholson plays the businessman, and Keaton revealed that she loved kissing him. “I intentionally flubbed my lines,” she laughed, “just so I could keep kissing him over and over again.”
But it wasn't all about Jack. “I never disliked one movie where I had to kiss a man,” she said.
The audience wanted to know which role she thought was her worst. “Crimes of the Heart,” she answered without hesitation about the film in which she co-starred with Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard. “I completely botched the southern accent I was supposed to do.”
Keaton revealed that she her start in theater, first in the highly successful musical Hair, where she made headlines for refusing to take her clothes off, then in Play it Again, Sam. But to this day, she notes, she doesn’t consider herself a theater actress.
“I didn’t like the hours...Theater is all about the night. I prefer to live life in the moment,”
Besides, she felt she paled in comparison to the legendary “Geraldine Page, who was a genius.”
She said she often worried about making enough money, especially after she adopted her daughter, Dexter, when she was 50 years old, and her son, Duke, a few years later. Despite being an Oscar winner and four-time nominee, “People used to call me kookie,” she said ruefully, and she lost a lot of parts. After several ‘clunkers’, she landed the role of Steve Martin’s wife in the hit, “Father of the Bride.” ‘That was so much fun,” she remembered. “Can you imagine coming to work with Steve Martin and Martin Short every day?”
Keaton said her mother was so remarkeable because, in part, “She was the greatest listener, an active listener.”
It's clear listening to Keaton speak, Dorothy Hall was not only her daughter's first audience, she was her most important one.
Someone asked how her kids saw her, and she replied, charmingly “I’m not that charming in person, I’m just trying to guide my kids the way anyone would.”
She said her son Duke sometimes calls her "FatherMother" because she's both breadwinner and nurturer. For her part, Keaton says she is putting more emphasis on education than her own mom did.
Does that also mean coming up with campaign slogans if one of the kids decides to run for student government? No doubt, though Keaton may not be able to top the ditty her mother wrote for her when she aspired to a class position:
"Vote for Hall. It'll be a ball."