Diane Keaton: Live from the NYPL 14 November 2011

Yes – she was dressed like Diane Keaton. White crocheted beret, white turtleneck with long sleeves that had thumbholes, white blazer, wide white pants, and white Christian Luboutin heels. The clothes all fuzzy and cashemere-y if not actual cashmere. Her real name is Diane Hall and her father called her Di-annie. Annie Hall, made after Keaton and Woody Allen had broken up, is a love letter to her and the story of their relationship.

This interview took place in one of the smaller rooms upstairs. I knew the event was sold-out. It looks like they limited the number of tickets. Each person was given a book ticket, which we could exchange for a copy of her new book, Then Again, being released the next day. This was a first for me at any of the New York Public Library events.

The event opened with a short film of the Patti Smith interview – you can see videos of some of the interviews at Live from the NYPL webpage. Then we saw a video of Flash Rosenberg’s drawing of the conversation with John Lithgow. The videos were interesting because I had been in the audience for both. Paul Holdengräber told us that there would be no filming tonight so the experience was once-in-a-lifetime. In another break from tradition, Holdengräber would take written questions from the audience and would try to talk less (but he made no promises).

Keaton walked out to the podium and read from her book. The audience took the no filming seriously. Despite no announcement, no one was taping or taking photos with their cellphones. While reading she provided a running commentary of how she felt now about the things she had written about – there were laughter and tears. The book is not a gossipy biography but a memoir both of Keaton’s life but mostly about her mother’s life. Dorothy Keaton Hall raised her children, nursed her beloved husband when he had cancer, and then struggled with Alzheimer’s for many years. Through all this she kept journals – not just words but collages. The books themselves are works of art. She was a woman of her time and frustrated in not being able to do want she wanted to do, so she encouraged her children’s dreams. Keaton’s brother Randy is a collage artist. As the Alzheimer’s got worse the sentences became just words. Then no more words and just numbers.

Jack Hall and Dorothy Keaton were Depression children. His mother (who never identified his father) and her parents moved from the Midwest to southern California, which is where they met. Her father left the family and Grandma Keaton raised her three daughters on her own. She was full of faith and made angel’s food cake. Grammy Hall was a skeptic and a gambler, who didn’t take very good care of her son (he had rickets) and made devil’s food cake.

And, yes, Keaton grew up in southern California and is very much a California girl – surfing and driving to the desert. She lived in NYC for 20 years and loves the city but Los Angeles is home.

Keaton was 50 when she adopted her daughter – this was after her father’s death – and when her mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Later she adopted her son. She loves being a mother although the thought of it frightened her for long time. She loved the intimacy and relationship her parents shared but she never saw that for herself. She was going to be an actress – she got the bug as a young girl when she saw her mother onstage for a local Mrs. America contest – and she never felt that she could have it all.

Woody Allen saved her life. She was bulimic when she was in her twenties and with Allen but he never knew about the bulimia. He did suggest she see an analyst and that saved her. He also introduced her to high culture. When they made Annie Hall he told her to do whatever she wanted and to wear whatever she wanted. She loved the script because it was all about her. At that time, at most of the auditions, her competition was Jill Clayburgh and Blythe Danner and Keaton was always told she was too kooky.

Keaton has always dressed the way she wanted. Her mother would sew the clothes that Keaton designed. They got fabric by going to the Goodwill and cutting up old clothes. For her high school prom they started with a polka dot shirtdress from Goodwill. Keaton was going to add a bowler hat but her mother told her to wait for a better time. Not the bowler but the bolero hat in Annie Hall was the better time.

Keaton touched briefly on her romances with Warren Beatty and Al Pacino but when asked about her greatest romance she replied, “My mother.” The greatest lesson she learned from her mother was being a non-judgmental listener.

She also talked about her work with the LA Conservancy and in real estate – renovating old mansions. She loves architecture and lived in the San Remo when she was in NYC. They tried to save the Ambassador Hotel in LA but lost that battle. In LA there is no sensibility to saving structures.

Holdengräber suggested that her book was saving the legacy of her family the same way she saves buildings. Keaton did the Annie Hall laugh and wondered if she was being psychoanalyzed.

Her favorite movie line? “La-di-da.”

Keaton always reminded me of Katharine Hepburn in many ways. Sure, there are also a lot of differences but there is definitely a straight line from one to the other. They are both strong independent women with parents who loved and supported them and who don’t seem to care much what the world says or thinks about them.

Leaving through the main entrance I ran across Legos sculptures of Patience and Fortitude in the main lobby. Not life-sized lions but certainly fun representations and if you’re passing by the library, you should stop and look in on them.

By Carene Lydia Lopez