Review: Not your typical dirt-dishing tale
BY DEBBY WALDMAN
January 28, 2012
304 pp; $30
If you pick up Then Again expecting catty gossip about Diane Keaton’s co-stars and lovers, among them Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, and Al Pacino, prepare to be disappointed.
Keaton is from the “if you don’t have something nice to say about somebody, don’t say anything at all” school of social behavior. The closest she comes to criticizing her fellow Hollywood icons is to call Goldie Hawn “always a contradiction in terms,” for drinking some awful green health concoction while she smoked during a press conference for the hit movie First Wives Club in the mid-1990s.
This being the memoir of a successful Hollywood actress, there is plenty of name-dropping. Keaton recalls the day Marlon Brando acknowledged her in passing on the set of The Godfather, with the comment, “Nice tits.” She mentions the baby gifts she received from Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Martin Short. She says that her Interiors co-star Geraldine Page, who spent her time in the makeup chair patching pants for her husband, the aptly named Rip Torn, reminded her of a bag lady.
But those stories are more backdrop more than the main plot, because Then Again is not your typical dirt-dishing Hollywood tale. For starters, the Keaton who emerges from these pages is such a straight-shooting, dignified, and decent gal that dirt would seem not only superfluous but out of place. More to the point, at its heart, Then Again is a tribute to Keaton’s mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall, who died in 2008 after living the last 15 years of her life with Alzheimer’s.
“Mom continues to be the most important, influential person in my life,” Keaton writes by way of explaining her motivation for writing a memoir that’s as much about her mother as it is about herself. “I don’t want her to disappear even though she has.”
Among Dorothy Keaton’s many dreams, one was to become a writer. And write she did, leaving behind 85 journals. Keaton was close to her mother, but there’s no question that the journals helped her to better understand and portray for others the woman who put aside her own dreams so that her four children could realize theirs.
“The story of a girl whose wishes came true because of her mother is not new, but it’s mine,” Keaton writes. “The profound love and gratitude I feel now that she’s left has compelled me to try to ”˜unravel’ the mystery of her journey.”
Born in Kansas in 1921 and raised in southern California, Dorothy began putting others’ needs ahead of her own when she was 16 and her father abandoned the family. When her mother took a job as a janitor, Dorothy took over at home, which meant she couldn’t attend college as she’d planned.
In her early 20s, she eloped with Jack Hall, a civil engineer and a difficult, often distant man. When Keaton, the eldest of four children, was born in January 1946, Dorothy again put aside her dreams, this time throwing herself into becoming the perfect wife and mother.
Indeed, so good was she at her role that when she entered the Mrs. Highland Park competition when Keaton was nine years old, she won. Keaton’s memory is as vivid as if it happened last week: “This was something terribly exciting yet extremely unpleasant at the same time,” she recalls. “Mom had abandoned me, but, even worse, much worse, I secretly wished it could have been me on that stage, not her.”
At age 19, Keaton began making that wish come true when she went to New York to study at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse. She nabbed roles in regional theatre and on Broadway in Hair and Play it Again, Sam, a role that led to her relationship with Allen, who based Annie Hall on Keaton’s family, creating the role that led to Keaton’s Academy Award for best actress.
Keaton reflects on her successes and failures, but even as she’s reminiscing about Sofia Coppola, Bette Midler, Jack Nicholson and other colleagues, she pulls her mother into the story. The result is a warm, loving book that will inspire stay-at-home moms everywhere to keep journals and hope that their offspring grow up to be creative successes. It should also inspire future Hollywood memoirists to realize that you can share the spotlight and still write a compelling story.
As for Keaton, now a (single) mother herself, she can take heart knowing that once again, she’s done her mother proud.
Debby Waldman is a local reviewer and author. Her latest books are Room Enough for Daisy (with Rita Feutl) and Addy’s Race, both published by Orca.