Diane Keaton: The Art of Being Yourself

In our May cover story and exclusive excerpt from her new book, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, the iconic actress celebrates “inappropriate” women, reflects on male aging and rejoices in enjoying beauty rather than in being beautiful. Still Keaton after all these years

by Margot Dougherty
Keaton is wearing her own suit (from Thom Browne), bow tie, shirt and pocket square.
Photograph: Peggy Sirota

I wasn’t prepared for Al Pacino. We’d been cast in The Godfather. Neither of us had a clue that we were going to make a movie that would be considered one of the greatest films in American cinema. Try to picture this: We met in a bar in New York. I was awkward, and Al? Al was as mysterious as the love I felt for him the moment I saw his face. I didn’t want to be friendly—“Hi, I’m Diane”—or go through the “Nice to meet you, Diane” bit, either. There was nothing nice about my thoughts. His face, his nose, and what about those eyes? I kept trying to figure out what I could do to make them mine. They never were. That was the lure of Al. He was never mine. For the next 20 years I kept losing a man I’d never had.

After Al, I began building a wall around my vulnerability. More hats. Long-sleeved everything. Coats in the summer. Boots with knee socks and wool suits with scarves at the beach. Woody said it best in a phone message: “I’m standing in front of your house, 820 Roxbury. It’s very beautiful. I’d like to get in, but I don’t have a hammer.”

Of all the beauties I’ve shared a bed with, Al’s blacker-than-midnight version was unmatchable. It was his love of language. It was the sound of his voice. It was his continuously evolving face. That was the miracle of his beauty. Evolution. As we got more familiar, I took every opportunity to make him marriage material. My project did not work. All my failed efforts only increased my obsession. What did I learn? Never fall in love with the Godfather. Never stumble over a dark knight with shadowy beauty and deep talent.

I will never marry. My love of the impossible far overshadows the rewards of longevity. I fell for the beauty of a broken bird. The ecstasy of failure. It was the only marriage I could make with a man. Black with a little white. Pain mixed with pleasure.

One day last summer, while making a movie in Stamford, Connecticut, I took the train down to New York City. In front of the Guggenheim Museum, I heard someone calling my name through the crowd. I looked over to see a stunning woman getting out of a limousine. “Diane, it’s Ricky.” “Oh my God, Ricky, you look great.” And she did. Ricky Lauren, Ralph’s wife, looked great. “No, Diane, no, you look great.” And I didn’t. I looked like a woman my age.

Yep. I belong to a group of 65-and-older show business folk. Sometimes I wish I could talk to my contemporaries about how they’re grappling with their senior years. Do they wake up every morning and, like me, look in the mirror with a big sigh? For those of us who’ve been separated from reality by fame, being old is a great leveling experience.

I had a few hours to kill that day, so I took a chance and called Woody.
I asked him if he wanted to take a walk on Madison Avenue, like we used to. We started at 70th Street. We didn’t hold hands, like in the old days, but I swear he wore what must have been one of his beige bucket hats from Annie Hall. We looked in the windows of stores. We passed the Whitney. We took in the people. They took us in, as well. Woody made fun of me, saying I had “the kind of beauty that requires a beekeeper’s hat.” We laughed. When we reached Campbell’s mortuary, we looked at each other. He was 77. I was 67.

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. Paul waved good-bye as we headed back. I could almost hear Jimmy Durante sing, “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September.” We’re there, Wood. We’re in September.

I didn’t say it. I dropped him off at home, took a cab back to Grand Central Terminal and rushed alongside fellow commuters to get on the train.

First published in the May 2014 issue

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