Today is Diane Keaton’s birthday, so I’m wishing her a happy one, and I’ll tell you the story about Diane and me.
By 1974, I was pretty busy with studio work, which I enjoyed, so I turned down most other type gigs for a while. Then I received a call to work a week at the Ice House, a club in Pasadena, accompanying a singer named Diane Keaton. Artie Butler had played for her in New York, but wasn’t available for LA, so I somehow got the call.
I accepted enthusiastically. For one thing, I remembered a time when I had turned down playing for Bernadette Peters, because I thought they meant Roberta Peters, and feared the music would be too difficult and operatic for me. I didn’t want to make that mistake again.
Diane didn’t want to drive on the freeway, so she asked if she could come to our house through Coldwater Canyon and then ride with me to Pasadena. No problem, I said, and so on the first day she drove up to our little cul-de-sac home, which we later sold to Dorothy Lamour and her husband, but that’s another story altogether, so forget I metioned it.
In a case of life imitating art imitating life, Diane pulled up in front of the house and drove directly into a trash can, a scene identical to one which appeared a few years later in Annie Hall, causing my wife and I more laughter than most others in the theater.
We hopped into my car and headed for Pasadena. Diane was the opening act for Pat Paulsen, a comedian (and briefly a satirical presidential candidate), whose career was at its peak, meaning that the Ice House was packed with people who had come to see him.
Diane was doing a set of standard ballads, the kind I had played on dance jobs and in night clubs in Indiana for a many years, so it was easy and comfortable to play for her. She was not a belter, but a gentle performer of great songs, and that was just fine with me, and she was happy with my no-frills accompaniment.
Between sets, "our" dressing room was occupied by Paulsen’s people, and Diane was not anxious to hang around the club being asked what Woody Allen was really like. (Diane had done a couple of films with Woody by that point, but was not at her full movie-star fame level, so she was not the main attraction at the Ice House.)
She thought it would be a good idea to hop in my car and drive around Pasadena, so we did just that, and whenever we saw something interesting, I would pull over and she would hop out and snap some photos.
This became the routine each night of the week, a pleasant, friendly gig for both of us. My wife enjoyed Diane, too, and vice versa. When the week ended, we stayed in touch, and she left for Europe to film “Love and Death” with Woody.
Some time later, after she got back to LA, she came to the Troubador to hear Tom Hensley’s Biggest and Best Band Ever Yet (see separate Facebook page about that silliness), and afterward we visited, and she told me, “Hensley, I always knew you were crazy, but now I know—you’re crazy!”
And that was it. I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she wasn’t offended by my big band’s deconstruction of music she loved, but I think it was more a case of her taking the full-time job of being a movie star and me becoming busy spending forty years on the road playing for Neil Diamond. I did try sending her a message through her agency, unsuccessfully. When her photography began to appear in museum exhibitions, I wondered if any of her work shot from my car was contained in her shows, but assumed that her Pasadena studies were not deemed relevant, and that our Ice House week had been long-forgotten.
Then last year, while rummaging through my archives, I found a very sweet and intelligent hand-written letter, several pages long, she had written us, describing life on the set in Europe. It made me wish we had stayed in touch, and that I could have sent her my PBI newsletters from the road, which I know she would have enjoyed. But forty years had gone by without a reply from me, and what kind of jerk does something like that? And I didn't actually hae a return address, since my letter had come from the set somewhere in Europe.
I also made note of the fact that my first touring gig, in 1963, was a summer of state fair shows where I played for Buster Keaton. Yes, that Buster Keaton.
For a while I wondered if I should seek out some rehearsal piano for Michael Keaton, in order to complete the legendary Keaton trifecta. But then I realized that Michael Keaton’s real name in Michael Douglas, and Diane Keaton’e real name is Diane Hall, and my real name is irrelevant, so I abandoned all thought about the trifecta, settling in its place for the memory of Dick Cavett’s caption for a photo of Aristotle Onassis considering purchasing the former residence of Buster Keaton: Aristotle contemplating the home of Buster.
So Diane, if you happen to come across this, give me a shout and we can catch up. And, by the way, did you ever take a picture of me? I had to use the computer to jimmy up the fake one of us above. You look great, me not so much.