DIANE KEATON--A NERVOUS
WRECK ON THE VERGE OF A BREAKTHROUGH
By the time I interviewed her for the Los
Angeles Times in 1974, Diane Keaton was known chiefly as Woody Allen's
quirky leading lady in a couple of modest comedies and as the pretty
but mousy wife of Michael Corleone in "The Godfather."
could have imagined that within three years she would be critically
acclaimed for her portrayal of a promiscuous barfly who is brutally
murdered in "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and the winner of
an Oscar as the Best Actress of 1977 for her dazzling turn as the
daffy heroine in "Annie Hall." And, as we now know, a
string of major performances--in films ranging from "Interiors"
to "Manhattan," "Reds," "Shoot the Moon,"
"Little Drummer Girl," "Mrs. Soffel," "Crimes
of the Heart," "The Good Mother" and "Marvin's
Room"--followed. Here's what Diane Keaton was like offscreen
before the breakthrough. --GUY FLATLEY
night at Reno Sweeneys is amateur night. An intimate Greenwich
Village nightspot where an untested, unpaid youngster can stumble
out onto the tiny stage, atremble with the hope that shell
come back a star.
Such show biz dreams seldom come true this side of Ruby Keeler,
and tonight is no exception. Yet, for a tension-charged second,
the speakeasy-like swirl of Reno Sweeneys comes to a halt
and there is an expectant hush. All eyes are riveted on a stunning
girl who has suddenly slipped into the spotlight and now stands
timidly peeping out into the darkness. Shes all spiffed up
like a boy-about-town, with blue velvet pants, pin-stripe jacket,
and a jazzy polka-dot tie. But her face seems frozen in fright.
Shes dressed like a boy, but you cant help noticing
shes a girl. Her hair is silken red, her skin smooth and creamy,
and her figure - even in those just-a-buddy duds - is
full where it should be full and frail where it should be frail.
Her voice, too - when at last she sweetly glides into "Goody,
Goody" - is choir-girl pure. And her manner afterward,
as she floats on a sea of boisterous applause, is flushed and bubbly,
like that of a child whose birthday has finally come.
"Boy, this is weird," she gasps, making a nervous motion
to quiet the clapping. "Wow! I cant believe this!"
What the absurdly insecure Diane Keaton cant believe is that
shes something to shout about. Try as she may, she cannot
shake the fear that shes a fluke, a flash-in-the-pan, a Cinderella
whose midnight is nearing. It doesnt seem to matter a bit
that Paramount recently paid her a pretty penny to repeat the part
of Kay, Al Pacinos sublimely submissive wife, in "The
Godfather Part II." Nor has the clamoring of the critics, who
see signs of a budding Carole Lombard in her splendidly daffy performance
as Woody Allens scatterbrained, sci-fi sweetheart in "Sleeper,"
brightened Dianes gloomy self-image. Nor even the knowledge
that Woody wants to woo her again in his next excursion into cinematic
lunacy - a flick she will surely manage to miss sitting through.
"I never did see The Godfather, " Diane admits a couple
of nights after her turn at Reno Sweeneys, a turn which may
blossom into a legitimate, full-length engagement once she summons
up the courage to face the critics. Shes sitting now in the
living room of her modest East Side apartment, amid mounds of books
and records, clean-scrubbed modern furniture, an antique lawnmower,
and framed snapshots of a woeful Woody. "I guess I really dont
want to see myself on the screen. I havent seen Play
It Again, Sam or Sleeper, either."
What a shame!
"Who knows? It might be more of a shame if I did see them."
Ridiculous. How the devil does a girl with beauty and talent to
burn develop into a bundle of inferiority feelings?
"I hate to tell you this, but when I was growing up in Santa
Ana, I was never considered pretty. I was the personality type,
or at least, I wanted to be the personality type."
Diane blushes, fidgets with her hair, and recalls a youth misspent
as Diane Hall, high school dum-dum. "The only thing I had on
my mind was boys, though I never had much success getting dates.
I just couldnt concentrate on English and geography and math,
but I jumped right into the singing and drama groups. Even there,
the big thing was to make everyone like me. I still remember playing
Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire in our drama class,
and do you know something? I had no idea - no idea -
of what that play was all about."
But she had an idea of what being an actress was all about, and
the idea struck fire to her fancy. So, in 1965, the 19-year-old
dreamer dropped out of college, said bye-bye to Mommy and Daddy
and the three younger Hall children, headed for Manhattan and acting
classes with Sanford Meisner, and - quick as a coed on her
first streak - joined that daring young "Hair" brood
on Broadway. However, Diane Hall - by now Diane Keaton -
was not the streaking sort, and she is best remembered by "Hair"
audiences as the redhead who refused to disrobe.
"It wasnt a moral choice. . . well, maybe it was. But,
at the time, all I knew was that I was just too frightened, too
embarrassed to take off my clothes. I was scared. And I must say
that nobody ever tried to pressure me into doing it, though once
Gerome Ragni came over to me and said, very seriously, Diane,
you really should take your clothes off - its so cool
to take your clothes off. But it never seemed very cool, or
meaningful, to me. After all, nudity was just something they threw
into Hair at the very last minute."
Overdressed as she was, Diane hung onto "Hair" for nine
months before cutting loose and auditioning for Woody Allens
"Play It Again, Sam." "I have a vivid memory of that
day. Woody had to come up on the stage and walk round and round
with me, since one of the major concerns was to see whether or not
I would be too tall for him. I was absolutely astonished to find
that Woody was more frightened of me than I was of him."
Fright or no fright, height or no height, Diane and Woody built a strong
and rapid rapport, both on and off-stage. It has even been suggested
that their relationship has from time to time has been that of lover
to lover. What has Diane to say of her reputed passion for this
"I wouldnt want to comment on that," she says, shooing
away the question as if she had been asked to predict the outcome
of Watergate. "But I would like to say that Woody has been
a great influence in my life and that I feel very close to him."
Besides, he must be a bottomless barrel of laughs. "Not at
all. He can be quite serious. I do find him funny, of course, but
often in a way that is different from his public funny. And -
one other very important thing about Woody - once youre
his friend, thats it. You can call him any hour of the day
or night, and hes there for you."
Is there anyone else who is there for Diane day and night -
like maybe a potential husband?
"No. Theres no one. Ive never even come close to
marriage. I would like to have children, but not right now. I guess
it would be wonderful to care enough about somebody to want to have
children with him, but I cant seem to get anywhere near that
point. It just hasnt happened to me."
the time being, Diane will settle for being Mrs. Michael Corleone.
"At first, I was skeptical about playing Kay again in the Godfather
sequel. But when I read the script, the character seemed much more
substantial than in the first movie. Also, its nice to have
a chance to be straight again. Oh gosh, Im having a little
verbal trouble. I wish that wouldnt happen to me, but it always
"Anyway, I enjoyed doing the second Godfather movie,
partly because I wasnt afraid of everybody this time. On the
first one, I felt so inconsequential and all I could do was be very
friendly and very nice and very scared. Jeeze, every time Id
run into Marlon Brando on the set my face would turn red and Id
start laughing and laughing. I was so high school. So totally into
Self loathing? That sounds like shrink talk.
"Ive been in analysis for nearly two years."
How do you like it?
"I guess I like it fine, since I go every day."
Has it helped?
"Yes, Ive changed quite a bit. I used to be very isolated
- like nobody ever came to my apartment. But now people do
visit me. For example, youre here. My life is really not so
awful these days. There are bad moments, of course. I mean, you
could say that my personal life is sort of grim, sort of barren.
Sometimes I feel like a dried-out soul. But its kind of a
nice time for me, too. Im beginning to feel that I want to
get involved with things, with people."
its time to get involved with some high-powered supper club
people who can whip together a sophisticated act for Diane, a la
Ann-Marget and Raquel Welch?
"Im not ready for a smart supper club and I dont
want to buy an act, to have someone write jokes and patter for me
and do my arrangements. I dont want to get too glitzy, too
show biz. I dont want to do just anything to make people like
"Of course, I wish I could milk an audience the way Liza Minnelli
does," Diane says, suddenly thrusting her arms out, Liza style,
then bringing them back in a self-congratulatory hug. "I love
it when Liza does that, because you know that she knows the audience
loves her, and that she loves them for loving her. Its like
shes saying, Yes, youre right, you wonderful people.
I am good! But me - Ive always got to kill it,
Ive always got to say, Theres some mistake here,
folks, you shouldnt be clapping for me.'"
Yet they are clapping for Diane Monday nights down at Reno Sweeneys.
"Some nights the audience is great, and thats fabulous,"
says Diane, smiling dreamily. "There are nights, though, when
the audience is actually hostile, and I say to myself, Oh,
darn it! Why dont they like me?'"
Dianes dreamy smile has turned to a worried-as-Woody frown.