Diane Keaton's Love Letter to Her Mom

The first quote in Diane Keaton’s new book Then Again is from her mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall. “I always say my life is this family, and that’s the truth.” The first word of the book is “Mom.”


While at first blush, Keaton’s book appears to be a memoir about her life and experiences in the entertainment industry, it’s as though when Keaton looks in the mirror and reflects upon what she sees, she sees her mother Dorothy Hall standing beside her. Mother and child (even a grown one) as two halves of a whole. 


As Keaton takes stock of her own life as a sixtysomething working mother, she does so in comparison to her mother’s journal entries from when Hall was her age.


Her book is a parallel depiction of two generations of Keaton women who took very different life paths: Hall didn’t have a full blown career but was married for most of her adult life and stayed home with her four children. Keaton never married, has had a remarkable career which has included an Oscar and adopted two children on her own after the age of 50. “

Comparing two women with big dreams who shared many of the same conflicts and also happened to be mother and daughter is partially a story of what’s lost in success contrasted with what’s gained in accepting an ordinary life,” the actress says of her mother, who sacrificed many things for the good of her family.


“Even though most people saw Dorothy as a housewife, I saw an artist struggling to find a medium,” Keaton writes of her mother, whom she called “the most important, influential person” in her life. Hall had many aspirations for herself and while she was artistic, she never really was able to develop her own sense of self, Keaton reports, and that made her pretty darned depressed, something Keaton wishes she’d known at the time.


As Keaton quotes from some of her mother’s darkest journal entries, she follows them up with agonizing letters to her mother, who died of Alzheimer’s, telling her that her loving parenting was a priceless present that she gave to her children: “You were the perfect find . . . Did you ever pat yourself on the back for your greatest gift, just being you? I’m sorry the small rewards weren’t enough for you . . . I wish I could have made the disappointment of your unfulfilled longings magically disappear with the memory of our Wednesday evening adventures, now lost in time.”


“If only we could re-edit our lives and make a couple of different choices, right, Mom?” Keaton asks. Puts a lump in your throat.


When Dorothy Hall was 63, she did an assessment of her life and didn’t like what she saw as she listed all the domestic and oftentimes lonely tasks that filled her days. “I’ve changed in ways beyond my imagination,” she observed. “. . . I enjoy working in the darkroom and doing a variety of art projects, with nothing to show for it, of course. I guess I’m a fragmented person. I do nothing really well.”