Nov. 30 2011 12:00 AM

Diane Keaton’s memoir makes for lovely listening


When should you choose the audiobook
over the printed version of a new memoir? When the author is Oscar
winner Diane Keaton. Reading her recently published “Then Again,” the
endearing, feisty and sometimes remarkably frank star sounds as if
she’s sharing these stories in an intimate conversation over tea and

She’s an irresistibly charming narrator
as she guides you through not only her own story but also the chronicle
of her late mother. Dorothy Dean Hall Keaton kept dozens of private
journals throughout her life, and Keaton uses excerpts from them to
contrast her own experiences. For example, by the time she was 60, her
mother had seen her four children grow up and move on; just before her
50th birthday, Keaton adopted her first baby, so by the time she is 60
she’s only midway through the mothering years.

By any standards, Keaton’s life is
charmed. In the early 1960s, she admires Woody Allen while he performs
stand-up comedy on TV and she swoons over Warren Beatty’s performance
in “Splendor in the Grass.” Less than 20 years later, she will have had
long-term relationships with both men, associations that brought out
the best in her as an actress as well: She won an Academy Award as best
actress in Allen’s 1977 hit "Annie Hall," then earned another Oscar
nomination (and some of the best reviews of her career) playing the
opportunistic would-be journalist Louise Bryant in “Reds,” Beatty’s
1981 epic.

Keaton acknowledges these triumphs —
and, lest she start to sound too egocentric, she also shares a telling,
unflattering story about her aloof reaction to being praised by Audrey
Hepburn after collecting her Oscar for “Annie.” She’s equally willing
to talk about her disappointments, bad reviews and her down periods in
the mid-1980s and mid-1990s in which she lost her box office appeal and
felt “washed up as an actress” and yearned to become a director or a
documentarian. Her turbulent affair with Beatty eventually collapses
because, she realizes, “I didn’t want to love Warren Beatty — I wanted
to be Warren Beatty,” the self-assured, multi-talented artist who acts,
produces and directs. 

As for Keaton’s mother, she balances
maintaining a picture-perfect 1950s home with dabbling in photography
and art (she and her daughter are both collage enthusiasts),
although there’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction in her diaries.
When she expresses admiration for her daughter’s accomplishments,
there’s an inescapable hint of envy, as well. In the final chapters of
“Then Again,” keaton provides a heart-wrenching study of her mom’s slow
deterioration as Alzheimer’s wipes away her memories and eventually
forces her to stop writing because she can no longer put together
sentences. In a wickedly ironic twist, the maternal Dorothy fades away
just as Diane is beginning to feel comfortable with her new role as a

“Then Again” supplies some fascinating
anecdotes about moviemaking — including notes about Al Pacino’s love of
long, late-night conversations and an aside about “First Wives Club”
co-star Goldie Hawn guzzling health-food shakes while she smoked — but
it’s ultimately a wonderful mother/daughter story,

It would undoubtedly be a moving tale on
the page. But hearing it adds a completely different dimension. Keaton
jokes, sings, sighs and sometimes sounds as if she can barely hold it
together long enough to finish reading the sadder sections. It’s a
knockout of a one-woman show, and if I hadn’t been listening to it in
my car, I would have gladly given her a standing ovation.