Thursday, March 4, 2010

Diane Keaton ─ Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Invoking images of her mother, father, sisters, and two adopted children, actress Diane Keaton spoke about the importance of the ordinary at a recent womens' leadership conference.

In what could easily be billed as a one-woman Broadway show, complete with singing and some on-screen dancing, Keaton also talked about the part luck has played in her stellar life. Luck ─ which Keaton defines as a matter of perception meeting opportunity ─ was instrumental in all aspects, from her fortuitous meeting with the president of L’Oreal Cosmetics (where she is currently the company spokesperson), to an equally auspicious meeting with director Woody Allen, who cast her in the movie Play it Again Sam back in l969. Yet, Keaton adds that the path she took also had a lot to do with her mother, who passed away about a year ago. Keaton, who grew up in the 50s, recalls singing Que Sera Sera ─ a song made famous by one of Keaton’s heroes, Doris Day ─ with her mom. The audience was even treated to a live rendition as Keaton belted out the lyrics on stage.

“Mom was the foundation for my convoluted belief that I would be a star. I wanted it so bad and mom wanted me to have what I wanted. In reality, all of my luck came down to being born the daughter of Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall.”

Through a poignant video documenting her mom’s later years, Keaton paid tribute to what she called the most powerful relationship we experience in our lives. Explaining that her mother was a writer and artist, Keaton recalled her mother’s many journals and notebooks that began as simple documentations of facts and resulted in an autobiography, complete with family photos.

“For my family, photos were a way of exploring the world around us,” said Keaton who recalled early childhood trips to a local drugstore to peruse popular magazines in search of photos of personal heroes such as Katherine Hepburn, and socialite Babe Paley.

Keaton recounted another childhood trip that was in some ways life changing: a trip to the local Salvation Army, where she acquired her first of many quirky, and now signature, hats. With that hat she said she broke the rules, took some risks, and beat the odds of being plain old ordinary Diane.

Encouraging the crowd to also take risks, Keaton recalled some advice from her then-ill father, who admitted he never liked his job and wished he had taken more risks in his life. With those words ringing in her ears, at 50, Keaton took one of the biggest risks of her life and adopted a daughter, and, a few years later, a son, which she says for the first time in her life allowed her to experience real intimacy.

Sharing a video of her kids, Keaton said her children have given her an education unlike anything she has ever experienced “unencumbered by expectation, they have unintentionally given me ways of joy that come and go…much of what I thought was magical was not; the magical came from nothing I could have imagined. The promise of realized dreams can never compare to simply being a woman listening to her children talk. It’s what makes life so fulfilling now.”

Keaton pondered how to keep those kinds of memories alive, and said she thought it was done “by holding on to the extraordinary aspects of our ordinary lives. Because of my son and daughter ‘ordinary’ and ‘intimacy’ are now my inspiration.”

Keaton also spoke about the subject of ageism and how as a culture we should fight against it. Citing the success of the movie Something’s Gotta Give, which validated the older woman, Keaton commented that “we live in a culture that promotes youth as if it were synonymous with vibrancy, but we are still vibrant, alert, engaged, and creative at older ages.”

Having learned many lessons along the way, Keaton shared some with the audience, rattling off a litany of nuggets: cherish unexpected joys; follow your heart; dump perfection; go where you’ve never been; pretend to feel good about yourself and maybe you will.

Acknowledging her long film career, Keaton mentioned how her co-stars (as well as the characters they played) affected her off-screen life ─ from Woody Allen in Annie Hall to Warren Beatty in Reds, to Steve Martin in Father of the Bride. Likewise she spoke about the influence of the leading women with whom she has shared credits ─ Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler ─ and how these female relationships were very different collaborations because they were rooted in reality as opposed to romanticism.

Listening to Keaton, it’s evident that preserving memories ─ whether familial or professional ─ is an important aspect of her life. She said it stemmed from something her grandmother often did. To document a special moment, Grandmother Hall would take a “pretend picture” with the snap of her finger and the click of her tongue. As the award-winning actress left the stage, she did the same.

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