The first quote in Diane Keaton’s new book Then Again is from her mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall. “I always say my life is this family, and that’s the truth.” The first word of the book is “Mom.”
While at first blush, Keaton’s book appears to be a memoir about her life and experiences in the entertainment industry, it’s as though when Keaton looks in the mirror and reflects upon what she sees, she sees her mother Dorothy Hall standing beside her. Mother and child (even a grown one) as two halves of a whole.
As Keaton takes stock of her own life as a sixtysomething working mother, she does so in comparison to her mother’s journal entries from when Hall was her age.
Her book is a parallel depiction of two generations of Keaton women who took very different life paths: Hall didn’t have a full blown career but was married for most of her adult life and stayed home with her four children. Keaton never married, has had a remarkable career which has included an Oscar and adopted two children on her own after the age of 50. “
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,” the actress says of her mother, who sacrificed many things for the good of her family.
“Even though most people saw Dorothy as a housewife, I saw an artist struggling to find a medium,” Keaton writes of her mother, whom she called “the most important, influential person” in her life. Hall had many aspirations for herself and while she was artistic, she never really was able to develop her own sense of self, Keaton reports, and that made her pretty darned depressed, something Keaton wishes she’d known at the time.
As Keaton quotes from some of her mother’s darkest journal entries, she follows them up with agonizing letters to her mother, who died of Alzheimer’s, telling her that her loving parenting was a priceless present that she gave to her children: “You were the perfect find . . . Did you ever pat yourself on the back for your greatest gift, just being you? I’m sorry the small rewards weren’t enough for you . . . I wish I could have made the disappointment of your unfulfilled longings magically disappear with the memory of our Wednesday evening adventures, now lost in time.”
“If only we could re-edit our lives and make a couple of different choices, right, Mom?” Keaton asks. Puts a lump in your throat.
When Dorothy Hall was 63, she did an assessment of her life and didn’t like what she saw as she listed all the domestic and oftentimes lonely tasks that filled her days. “I’ve changed in ways beyond my imagination,” she observed. “. . . I enjoy working in the darkroom and doing a variety of art projects, with nothing to show for it, of course. I guess I’m a fragmented person. I do nothing really well.”
Diane Keaton responds with her own appraisal of where she was at age 63 (she’s now 65), noting that she thinks she leads an even more “fragmented” existence than most people. “The difference is – Dorothy was finished raising her four children,” Keaton says. “At 63, I’m doing what Dorothy did when she was 24.”
One of her mother’s biggest accomplishments, Keaton wrote, was being crowned Mrs. Los Angeles when Keaton was 9 years old. Hall, however, didn’t go on to win the Mrs. California crown. “What would have happened to my dreams of being in the spotlight if hers had been realized?” Keaton wonders. “Another mother took her opportunity away, but I didn’t care; I was glad I didn’t have to share her with a larger world.”
Yet it was ironic that when her newborn daughter was only a couple weeks old, Keaton took the baby with her from California to New York so she could finish filming a movie. That’s a heck of a lot more disruptive than the events and gigs Hall had to do as part of the Mrs. California contest. Five years after adopting her daughter, Keaton adopted a son but didn’t stop plugging away on films. And while Keaton does the sports mom thing of driving her children to swimming practices at ungodly early hours, Keaton is the first to admit that she’s got it easier than her mother, who had four kids and no household help.
“The state of being a woman in between two loves – one as a daughter, the other as a mother – has changed me,” says the woman who played Annie Hall, the mom in the popular remakes of The Father of the Bride and the playwright who romanced Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give.
And while her memoir does include the requisite details about her love affairs with Woody Allen, Al Pacino and Warren Beatty, what strikes a reader most is how it really is a love letter not to the men in her life, but to the women, in particular, her mom. She’ll be a lucky lady if, someday, her children speak as lovingly and highly of her as she does of her beloved Dorothy. Come to think of it, we all would.