Then Again

By Diane Keaton

Random House. 304 pp. $26

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Reviewed by Carrie Rickey


Then Again, Diane Keaton's tasty if not exactly juicy memoir, is a double-take in more than one meaning of the expression.

This volume, slender, wry, and eccentric as the Oscar-winning actress herself, collages the journal entries of her late mother, Dorothy, with her own memories of generation-defining films such as The Godfather, Annie Hall, Reds, and Something's Gotta Give.

Intriguingly, the tribute from Diane to Dorothy contrasts the war bride and stay-at-home mom with the unmarried working mother surfing feminism's third wave. Keaton writes of herself as the realization of her mother's aspirations, crediting Dorothy, onetime singer in a Swing-era trio, with developing her fashion eclecticism, her photographic eye, and most of all, her love of family.

Dorothy was 24 when Diane, her firstborn, was delivered in 1946. Keaton was a month shy of 50 when she adopted Dexter, elder of her two children, in 1995, about the time Dorothy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. From its warm evocations of Dorothy, who passed away in 2008, to its affirmations of Dexter and her brother, Duke, the book is a mighty river of motherlove that occasionally pauses in the eddies to reflect on Keaton's liaisons with Woody Allen, Al Pacino, and Warren Beatty.

Though the actress, who shed her father's surname for her mother's, says she was a mediocre high school student who didn't know a preposition from a conjunction, Keaton is a vivid, articulate writer, as self-deprecating today as she was in 1968. Then she wrote home to tell the family that a little tribal rock musical called Hair that she had a part in was Broadway-bound. "I've gotten carried away with the FOOD LIFE," she added. "Obese is an understatement."

She had a secret. She was bulimic. After gorging on 20,000 calories a day in bacon, Sara Lee, and Kentucky Fried, she spent hours throwing up. Woody Allen, with whom she had worked onstage in Play It Again, Sam, didn't know about the food disorder. Thinking Keaton was anxious about being between jobs, he suggested analysis. "It was the talking cure; the talking cure that gave me a way out of addiction," she writes, "the damn talking cure."

After the cure, Keaton's career took off. On the movie set of Play It Again, Sam, her costar Susan Anspach told her to stop smiling so much. It would provoke more laughs. The Godfather led to meeting Pacino, on whom she nursed a crush that would be unrequited for nearly 15 years. Not long after came Annie Hall, Allen's valentine to their love affair, which for better and worse established Keaton's persona as the insecure, stammering kook unconscious of her beauty and intelligence. "I know I didn't deserve it," she humblebrags of winning the Oscar for Annie Hall.

In correlating her career with her mother's journals, Keaton realizes that just as her possibilities were infinite, her mother felt trapped and helpless in the empty nest. "Why couldn't you stop beating up yourself and the people around you?" Keaton asks the late, lamented Dorothy. Unsurprisingly, the apple-cheeked self-deprecator didn't fall far from the tree.

Like many actors and directors (and she is both, although she doesn't spend much time on her work as a photographer or filmmaker), Keaton equates a film's success with its box office. She puts down her work in the decade after Reds, directed by paramour Beatty. "Without a great man writing and directing for me, I was a mediocre movie star at best."

Puh-leeze. She was extraordinary in Gillian Armstrong's Mrs. Soffel and Alan Parker's Shoot the Moon, hilarious in Charles Shyer's and Nancy Meyers' Baby Boom. Meyers, who cowrote the Father of the Bride remakes and wrote and directed Something's Gotta Give, the film that Keaton calls her favorite, turned out to be the force behind the actress' screen comeback.

Her screen resurgence coincided with motherhood. Like many sandwich-generation mothers, she cared for an ailing parent and school-age children while balancing a busy career. I was warmed by Keaton's chronicle. It reminded me of her under-known performance as Bessie in Marvin's Room, the daughter with the bottomless heart and transparent goodness.

I just wish that, rather than ascribing them to everybody else, she could own her considerable talents.

Contact Carrie Rickey at carriedrickey@gmail.com.