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Young Diane Keaton: 18 Must-See Photos From the Eccentric Leading Lady’s Early Career

Journey through her most iconic performances from 'The Godfather' to 'The First Wives Club'!

From the time she was young Diane Keaton until now, the actress has been called many things throughout her 50 years entertaining audiences, ranging from kooky to eccentric, charming, quirky, witty, shy and stylish.

Perhaps more importantly, Diane Keaton has also been described as talented and fearless by her peers, critics and directors with more than 26 films proving she’s just a natural on camera and why she’s one of today’s ultimate leading ladies. 

Diane Keaton, 2019
Diane Keaton, 2019Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage/Getty

With a drive to perform dating back to when she was a six years old, Diane Keaton explains, “When I was a young girl, I watched my mother get crowned Mrs. Highland Park. I remember going ‘Oh my God, I want that too. I want to go up there on the stage where it’s all lit up.’”

Keaton’s mom, Dorothy, went on to win the Mrs. Los Angeles for Homemakers title, but due to the family move to Santa Ana, her future title ambitions were shattered. “That was the end of it. Life changes.”

But it was the theatricality of the events and then Dorothy’s unfortunate circumstances, ending her dreams, that inspired Keaton to pursue an acting career. “I saw what my mother went through”, Keaton told AARP. “I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a movie star.” And so she has, beginning as an understudy in 1968 for the part of Sheila in Hair!

Suzannah Norstrand, Diane Keaton and Natalie Mosco in Hair, 1968
Suzannah Norstrand, Diane Keaton and Natalie Mosco in Hair, 1968Keystone Features/Stringer/Handout/Getty

Born Diane Hall in Los Angeles, the now 78 year-old actress has received many accolades over her five decade career and was honored with both the Film Society of Lincoln Center Gala Tribute in 2007 and an AFI Life Achievement Award in 2017.

But acting wasn’t always front and center stage for Diane, who changed her name surname to Keaton (her mother’s maiden name) as there was another actress with the name Diane Hall. For a short time, Keaton moonlighted at Manhattan nightclubs with her own singing act in order to support herself, revisiting this act in Annie Hall and later in And So It Goes

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall, 1977
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall, 1977Bettmann/Getty

Though the actress has had several high profile relationships, she has never married, though the lack of a partner didn’t deter her from having a family. In her 50s, she adopted daughter Dexter (28) and son Duke (23), and raised them on her own. 

16 hit movies featuring a young Diane Keaton

Here’s a look back at some notable films with a young Diane Keaton, from 1972’s The Godfather through 1999’s The Other Sister.

The Godfather Series (1972, 1974, 1990)

Young Diane Keaton in a scene from The Godfather, 1972
Diane Keaton in The Godfather, 1972Paramount Pictures/Alfran Productions/MoviestillsDB

Clearly this was Keaton’s breakthrough role as Kay Adams, girlfriend and eventual wife of mob boss don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in this series about mafia life and crime.

I didn’t even know what The Godfather was”, she recalls, despite the fact that the Mario Puzo novel the films were based on had spent 67 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. “Someone said to me that I have to go and audition for things, so I did for this film and I got the role.”

Up until this time, Keaton was known for her comedic timing and never had been cast in a drama. “That was the strangest thing to ever happen to me in my whole life.” Her role as Kay Adams evolved and in 1974’s The Godfather Part II, her character became more embittered about her husband’s crime empire.

Keaton stood out in all three films as the quiet woman necessary in the male dominated movies. The chemistry between Keaton and Pacino is palpable, so much so that the two began a personal relationship. 

Sleeper (1973)

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Sleeper, 1973
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Sleeper, 1973 United Artists/Getty

Some critics said this Woody Allen comedy was way ahead of its time with talk about futuristic sex. Allen is Miles Monroe, a nebbishy clarinet player who runs a health food store in Greenwich Village. He’s cryogenically frozen only to awaken 200 years in the future. Keaton stars as Luna Schlosser, who really dislikes Miles. If you’re not a Woody fan, watch the film just to enjoy Keaton’s Marlon Brando impression. 

Related: Marlon Brando Young : A Look Back at the Hollywood Bad Boy of the ’50s and ’60s

Love and Death (1975)

Diane Keaton in Love and Death, 1975
Diane Keaton in Love and Death, 1975FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty

Another Allen and Keaton pairing in this lesser known Russian comedy film where she plays Sonja. The duo come up with a plot to assassinate Napoleon while making fun of foreign films and Russian literature. 

Annie Hall (1977)

Scene from Annie Hall, 1977
Scene from Annie Hall, 1977Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Dressed in the finest of vintage menswear, Keaton was absolutely spectacular as Annie Hall, a character in a relatable and ambitious relationship with Alvy Singer (Woody Allen). For her portrayal of Hall, Keaton took home the Oscar for Best Actress in this romantic comedy and the film won Best Picture.

Allen supposedly wrote the Hall character based on his personal relationship with Keaton. The film, which broke the fourth wall to allow the characters to talk directly to the audience, showcased Keaton’s golden shiksa persona and her talents to play ditzy, but also a complicated and intelligent woman. Not an easy task. 

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)

Scene from Looking for Mr. Goodbar, 1977
Diane Keaton in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, 1977John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty

Looking for a way to switch gears from comedy to drama, she found Mr. Goodbar. Based on the Judith Rossner novel, the film gave Keaton a chance to show a serious side to her talent. She played Theresa, a successful teacher for deaf children during the day who spends nights cruising singles bars and engaging in dangerous promiscuous sex. Not a remarkable film, but starring alongside young Diane Keaton was Richard Gere. It did wrestle with feminism, drug use and double standards among men and women.    

Interiors (1978)

Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith, and Mary Beth Hurt in a scene from Interiors, 1978
Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith, and Mary Beth Hurt in a scene from Interiors, 1978United Artists/Getty

Keaton’s character is one of three daughters who come to their mother’s aid after a emotional breakdown, this despite the fact that each of them have their own difficulties in life. Keaton plays Renata, the oldest sister, a poet and married to Frederick, a struggling writer who feels lessened by Renata’s success. This is Allen’s first full-fledged drama and received critical acclaim and numerous award nominations. 

Manhattan (1979)

Publicity still from Manhattan, 1979
Publicity still from Manhattan, 1979Charles H. Joffe/Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe/United Artists/MoviestillsDB

With this film, Keaton and Woody Allen ended their long working relationship until 1993. Filmed in Allen’s favorite city, New York, the movie explores the complexities of relationships. Starring Mariel Hemingway and Meryl Streep, it’s Diane Keaton who shines in one of her best love stories. 

Related: 8 Mature Romance Movies That Will Make You Swoon in the Best Possible Way

Reds (1981)

Diane Keaton in Reds, 1981
Diane Keaton in Reds, 1981Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

Upon becoming romantically involved with Warren Beatty, Keaton was cast in his epic historical drama. She plays Louise Bryant, a journalist and feminist who flees her husband to work with radical journalist John Reed (Beatty).

MUST-READ: Annette Bening and Warren Beatty: The Secrets of Hollywood’s Ultimate Power Couple

Jack Nicholson also starred as playwright Eugene O’Neill, marking Keaton’s first collaboration with him. Don’t anticipate much humor in this Keaton role, but her natural nervousness and beauty shines through. Keaton told Vanity Fair of the role: “It was that of everyman of that piece, as someone who wanted to be extraordinary but was probably more ordinary…. I knew what it felt like to be extremely insecure.”  

Shoot the Moon (1982)

Scene from Shoot the Moon, 1982
Diane Keaton and Albert Finney in Shoot the Moon, 1982Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists/MoviestillsDB

The film follows a couple whose deteriorating marriage, separation and love affairs devastate their four children. Starring Albert Finney as George and Keaton as Faith Dunlap, her performance — especially an emotional scene singing in the tub — was hailed by critics and garnered her a second Golden Globe nomination in a row for Best Actress, following Reds.

Mrs. Soffel (1984)

Diane Keaton in Mrs. Soffel, 1984
Diane Keaton in Mrs. Soffel, 1984Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty

Based on a true story, a repressed prison warden’s wife – Keaton – falls in love with a death row convicted murderer (Mel Gibson) and, believing of his innocence, helps him and his brother escape.  

Crimes of the Heart (1986)

Scene from Crimes Of The Heart, 1986
Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek, and Jessica Lange in a scene from Crimes Of The Heart, 1986De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Getty

The cast of this film reads like a who’s who in Hollywood: Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Tess Harper and Diane Keaton. The story focuses on three troubled sisters who reunite after Babe (Spacek) shoots her husband. Their reunion is joyful after not being together for awhile, but the time together stirs up much tension. Keaton moves seamlessly from New York neurotic characters to southern quirky.  

Baby Boom (1987)

Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, 1987
Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, 1987Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists/MoviestillsDB

Keaton plays J. C. Wiatt, an ultra-feminine Manhattan business exec who is suddenly forced to care for a toddler she has inherited. In response, Wiatt begins reevaluates her priorities and her life to come to terms with her situation as an overnight parent. While Keaton brought all her charm and nervous attitude to the role, some critics said it reinforced the stereotype of women having to choose between domesticity and a career. 

Father of the Bride (1991) and Part II (1995)

Scene from Father of the Bride, 1991
Diane Keaton in a scene from Father of the Bride, 1991Touchstone Pictures/Sandollar Productions/MoviestillsDB

Here come the 90s and Keaton has established herself as a more mature actress, frequently cast as matriarchs. In this comedy and its sequel co-starring Steve Martin, Keaton welcomed her first major hit after four years of box office disappointments. In this rom-com, Keaton and Martin play Nina and George Banks.

George has a difficult time accepting his daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) will be moving out in the original movie, while also coping with the burgeoning costs of her wedding. In the sequel, Nina becomes pregnant in middle age at the same time as her daughter. Critics hailed Keaton’s new film persona, comparing her to Katharine Hepburn

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Manhattan Murder Mystery, 1993
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Manhattan Murder Mystery, 1993TriStar/Getty

After a break in their working relationship, Keaton and Allen once again star in this black comedy mystery. Their ditzy chemistry is still there as Larry and Carol, semi-normal New Yorkers. Carol becomes suspicious of her neighbor down the hall when his wife suddenly dies and he’s all too cheery to move on. In response, she begins investigating and Larry reluctantly agrees to help her.  

The First Wives Club (1996)

Promo shoot for The First Wives Club, 1998
Promo shoot for The First Wives Club, 1998 Hulton Archive/Handout/Getty

This highly successful film partnered Keaton with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn as a trio of middle-aged “first wives” who had been divorced and replaced by younger women. The film developed a cult following among middle-aged women and is still a favorite with that age group who love to watch women have their moment.

As the group seeks revenge on their husbands, there are lots of laughs and even some tears. You can’t help but smile with their rousing rendition of “You Don’t Own Me” sung by the trio. Keaton looked superb as the replaced first wife. 

Related: Goldie Hawn Young: Incredible Retro Photos That You Have to See To Believe

The Other Sister (1999)

Tom Skerritt, Diane Keaton and Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister, 1999
Tom Skerritt, Diane Keaton and Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister, 1999Hulton Archive/Handout/Getty

The last film Keaton made in the preceding century was with co-stars Juliette Lewis, Sarah Paulson and Poppy Montgomery. The latter two and Keaton are overbearing sisters to Lewis’ Carla Tate. It’s Carla’s journey to find a life for herself away from her sisters and the adversity involved with relationships that carries the film. 

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