Saturday 17 February 2018

Review: Biography: Then Again by Diane Keaton

Fourth Estate, £18.99

An elegant leading lady and effortlessly versatile actress, Diane Keaton shot to fame in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather but is probably best known for her relationship with Woody Allen.

In the 1970s, they became a kind of alternative golden couple, starring together in sparkling comedies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and conducting a six-year off-screen romance.

With her striking looks and unusual fashion sense, Keaton seemed the embodiment of cool, but as she admits in her new biography she was actually a nervous wreck. In Then Again, Keaton reveals with typical frankness that at the height of her fame she was crippled by acute bulimia.

Unbeknownst to Allen, she would regularly cancel dates with him and repair to her New York apartment to binge on vast quantities of pepper steak and ice cream which she promptly threw back up.

Her cycle of eating and purging became so intense that she ended up with heartburn, low blood pressure, and 26 cavities in her teeth, which had to be capped.

"The demands of bulimia," she writes in her book, "outshone the power of my desire for Woody. Pathetic, but true."

According to Keaton, her battle with bulimia stemmed from a deep insecurity that was entirely at odds with her public success.

She was born Diane Hall in Los Angeles on January 5, 1946, and is strongly Irish-American and Catholic on her father's side. When she took to acting in her teens she discovered there was already a working actress by the name of Diane Hall, so took her mother's maiden name, Keaton.

As a child she had developed a complex about her looks, and began sleeping with a hair-grip on her nose in the hope that it would straighten it. Her cycle of binge- eating began when she was cast in the hit rock musical Hair, in 1968.

She was ordered to lose ten pounds and overheard another cast member describing how she kept her weight down by throwing up after eating.

Keaton entered a self-destructive cycle that was eventually overcome in the mid-1970s with the help of psychotherapy.

She first met Allen during auditions for his Broadway comedy, Play It Again, Sam. At five foot eight she was several inches taller than Allen, and assumed she'd be overlooked for a shorter actress. But Woody cast her, and also fell in love with her.

Keaton worshiped Allen for his sense of humour and intelligence, but also his physical appearance, and in her book she insists that he had a great body. About her own looks she was more ambivalent: "I was friendly-looking," she says, "no Candy Bergen. The smile, maybe, was all I had."

Allen obviously thought differently, and for six years they enjoyed an intimate and exclusive relationship that he would later use as the inspiration for his hit comedy Annie Hall. They also starred together in a string of iconic comedies in which Keaton more than held her own.

She won an Oscar for her performance in Annie Hall, but by that stage she and Allen had separated.

In 1979 she began dating ladies' man Warren Beatty, her co-star in Beatty's historical drama, Reds. She was immensely flattered by his attention. "Under his gaze," she says, "I suddenly became the most captivating person in the world."

Beatty's love was tougher than Woody's. Keaton was ambivalent about stardom but Beatty told her she had got what she wanted and now had to deal with it. But he could also be incredibly kind, and she remembers him travelling all the way from LA to New York with her because she was afraid of flying, then kissing her and flying straight back to LA.

By the early 1980s, however, she was single again, but in 1987 she began her third great Hollywood romance when she bumped into her old friend Al Pacino. They had starred together in the Godfather films and Keaton had always had a crush on him. They became an item, and Keaton admits that "I worked hard at that one".

But when Diane insisted on some kind of commitment in 1990, Al headed for the hills. Keaton's career hit the doldrums in the 1990s, but she enjoyed a big revival in the early 2000s after she was cast with Jack Nicholson in the hit comedy Something's Gotta Give.

Keaton initially thought the movie was going to bomb, but now calls it "my favourite film". In Then Again she recalls being elated by a tender love scene with Nicholson, and was shocked two years later when "a cheque with a lot of zeros arrived in the mail".

She later discovered that Nicholson had given her a piece of his own percentage of the movie's gross.

Keaton, who's now 65, seems happier these days than she ever was in her prime. She has two adopted children, is still getting good roles, and looks great despite maintaining a zero tolerance approach to plastic surgery.

In her predictably quirky book she pays tribute to her late parents, and is overly modest about her own achievements as an actress. And touchingly, she admits that after all these years she still holds a torch for Woody Allen.

"I miss Woody," she concludes. "He'd cringe if he knew how much I care about him, but I'm smart enough not to broach the subject. What am I supposed to do? I still love him."

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