Keaton: old as dirt, sweeter than ever

By Book review by Jane Shilling Time of article published Jun 9, 2014

Share this article:

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty

Diane Keaton

(Random House)


London - Over in Hollywood, where it is practically a crime to grow old, Diane Keaton is in constant danger of being arrested by the youth police.

“Just yesterday,” she writes in the introduction to her endearingly dotty memoir about the ups and downs of ageing, “Dexter, my 18-year-old daughter, found a story online called ‘Top 10 Female Celebrities Who Are Ugly No Matter What Hollywood Says’.”

Number 1 on the roll call of shame was Angelina Jolie (“She looks like Skeletor from He-Man”). At number 4, Reese Witherspoon (“What can I say about this genetic mistake?”)

“Dexter kept scrolling,” Keaton continues, “and there was the fifth-ugliest female celebrity… Diane Keaton: ‘How this chick got a lead role in anything is beyond me… It’s not because she’s as old as dirt… She’s even ugly in The Godfather when she was young.’”

“Wow!” Keaton thinks – a remarkably restrained reaction in the circumstances. But after the initial shock, she rallies bravely: “These old-as-dirt days have one advantage: I’ve learnt to see beauty where I never saw it before. When I was in my 20s and 30s I wanted my appearance to be more interesting than the beauty that surrounded me. It was a fool’s folly.”

To an outsider, Keaton’s life seems to have been pretty fabulous so far. For those of us old enough to remember Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s 1977 semi-autobiographical movie based on his relationship with Keaton, she is forever the adorable, ditzy girl whose tomboy get-up inspired a generation to dress in their grandfather’s cast-offs – baggy trousers, men’s shirts and woolly waistcoats, topped with a bowler hat.

At 68, she is still working, pursuing her interests in photography and property development alongside an acting career that cheerfully disproves the adage about there being no roles for older women in Hollywood.

And at an age when most people would be settling gratefully into grandparenthood, she is the single parent of two children – an 18-year-old daughter, Dexter, whom she adopted in 1996, followed in 2001 by a son, Duke, now 12.

Yet as Keaton tells it, she has been a martyr to low self-esteem since she was a little girl. These days we may suspect that she suffers from a more sophisticated variant of the syndrome – faux low self-esteem, widely adopted by successful celebrities in an attempt to stop their public from detesting them.

But her account of her insecurity as a young woman makes painful reading. In her earlier memoir, Then Again, she wrote about her struggles with bulimia in her 20s. This time she recalls her teenage obsession with her imperfect looks.

On August 8, 1960, at the age of 14, she wrote a list of beauty “corrections” in her diary.

1. Sleep with a bobby pin stuck on tip of my nose. Tilt it to the left where the bulb is fat.

2. Spend time practising a series of smiles.

3. Exercise my eyes for 30 minutes a day. Open them as wide as possible, then shut them tight.

Alas, the bobby pin left a mark on her nose that took half an hour to wear off, and when she practised her smile on a boy she fancied, the results were disappointing: “As I slowly turned my face to his and smiled with a glow that came from the heart, he said: ‘Hey, Diaps, what’s the matter? You look weird.’”

The failure of the “corrections” to improve her looks did nothing to deter her from a lifelong campaign to “right my wrongs”.

The struggle with her hair, she writes, “has dogged me all my life”.

The solution – a multifarious assortment of wigs, berets and assorted headgear – had the handy side-effect of disguising her ears.

“Because, let’s face it, my ears were and remain just one more of my many disappointments.”

You’d think that having spent so long in Hollywood, a neighbourhood more densely populated with plastic surgeons than anywhere in the world, Keaton might have been tempted to take advantage of their skills.

But she claims to have resisted: “The question is, how far am I willing to go? Particularly at this age… I can’t say exactly why I haven’t turned to surgery or fillers, at least not yet… Maybe I don’t want to change my everyday me because I can’t picture what I will look like… I tell myself to hold on to authenticity. But am I authentic? All I know is I’m sick of worrying about my authenticity.”

The theme of loss permeates Keaton’s book – lost looks, lost love, lost dignity, lost homes (try as she may, she can’t stop herself from moving every couple of years).

There is a memorably bonkers vignette of herself walking backwards with her long-suffering dog, Emmie, on the advice of Dr Tan, her acupuncturist, who assures her that it will “employ the unutilised part of my brain”, thus warding off dementia.

Alas, while warding off dementia, she falls over a rock and breaks her toe.

This is the fifth time it has happened, thanks to her penchant for walking around without shoes, to the intense chagrin of her son, who declines to be seen with her when she is shoeless. Especially when she goes jogging barefoot, clasping a mug of Layer Cake Cabernet with ice (“I never jog without a chaser of red wine on the rocks.”).

Still, for every minor disaster, there is a sunny upside.

In the chapter headed Old Is Gold – an adorably inconsequential celebration of her friendships with “65-and-older showbusiness folk”, Keaton takes a day off filming with Rob Reiner and Michael Douglas to hang out in New York.

“I had a few hours to kill, so I took a chance and called Woody, and asked him if he wanted to take a walk on Madison Avenue, like we used to.”

Around 79th Street “we ran into Paul McCartney and his wife, Nancy. People gathered around us. It was almost like it used to be, only sweeter, because I knew it couldn’t last”.

Come to think of it, if you were summing up the essence of the ditzy, barefoot, backwards-walking, 68-year-old author of this endearingly quirky and unexpectedly wise memoir, you could hardly do better.

Diane Keaton – almost like she used to be, only sweeter. – Daily Mail

Share this article:

Related Articles