A Movie Star, Her Serious New Book, and a Fawning Public That Could Give a Damn

But we care, Diane Keaton. Join our cause to make America care about “crazy people.”

I can visualize the scene: a book-tour venue; a synagogue in Washington. (I can visualize it thanks to the subtly bravura piece by the Washington Post reporter Ellen McCarthy, linked below.) Every seat is taken, because today this is a celebrity book-tour venue. The celebrity author, an iconic movie star, walks onstage. The audience leaps up in a standing ovation. They are mostly middle-aged women who had paid forty dollars each to come and see the movie star in person. In person!

The folks squirm back into their seats and the iconic movie star–Diane Keaton–begins to speak. Diane Keaton has just published her third memoir. It is a departure from the usual books from Hollywood stars. Its subject is her younger brother. Her mentally ill younger brother, whose name is Randy. Its title is Brother & Sister.

Diane Keaton speaks ruefully about the book’s rueful theme, which is her regret over abandoning Randy during the decades when she was driving herself to Hollywood stardom and the adulation of the millions. As children, the two had been close. But Ms. Keaton’s growing fame had come at the expense of this bond. Randy sank into the morass of “alcoholism, joblessness, divorce, isolation, fantasies about violence against women and a suicide attempt,” in reporter McCarthy’s retelling.

Diane Keaton. Photo Credit: Firooz Zahedi / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

(Brother and sister reconciled some ten years ago, and Keaton now visits Randy in his assisted-living quarters.)

“’There are so many people who live through the pain of having a family member who doesn’t quite fit in,’” she remarked, as McCarthy reports. “She said she wanted to open up a dialogue about mental health and to offer herself up as a cautionary tale that could inspire people to ‘be better’ to their loved ones sooner than she had.”

And then Diane Keaton consented to answering some questions written in advance by audience members.

McCarthy: “The questions . . . had nothing to do with Randy’s [life]. They had to do with [the Keaton movies] Something’s Gotta Give, The First Wives Club and Father of the Bride. With whether Keaton has a favorite co-star.”

And there you more or less have it: No one in the room cared about crazy people. Or if they did care, they kept it to themselves. Diane Keaton’s cautionary tale was smothered–banished, rendered nonexistent–beneath an avalanche of forty-dollar-a-seat celebrity worship. 

And my guess is, that’s the way it will go as long as Diane Keaton continues her tour for Brother & Sister. Lots of jam-packed venues with expensive seating. Lots of standing ovations. Lots of iterations by Diane Keaton about the travails of her mentally ill brother Randy, her lamented separation from him, and the late-life restoration of their loving bond.

Followed by lots of “Do you have a favorite co-star?” “How did you like working on The First Wives’ Club“?

Ms. Keaton, I have an invitation for you. It is for when you grow weary of fielding fangirl and fanboy questions during your tour for the book about reclaiming the union between your brother and you. Or even if you don’t grow weary.

Come and make common cause with us. Give your support to the growing nationwide movement to reform mental healthcare. You will have caught us at the floodtide: our activists have presented proposals to all of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election. And they have listened, and shown that they care.

This would not require much in the way of your personal time and commitment. Your imprimatur . . . your endorsement of our goals . . . perhaps a shout-out to one of our several organizations or causes, or brief remarks at one of our national gatherings . . . any or all of these things could supercharge our efforts. The moral dimensions of your journey with (and without, and with again) Randy; your insights as a denizen of the pressurized and volatile Hollywood community, where psychic balance often lives at the border of madness; your message to a nation still largely clueless about mental illness . . . and, yes, the weight of your hard-fought and well deserved celebrity hood.

A partial list of leaders in the movement follows. There are many others. Please join us and support us.

The National Alliance on Serious Mental Illness 

Advocates for People With Mental Illness

The Treatment Advocacy Center

The Mental Illness Policy Organization


Mark of Vacaville

The National Shattering Silence Coalition

Mental Health for US

The National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

The World Federation for Mental Health

Sooner Than Tomorrow (a blog)

Pete Earley’s blog

No One Cares About Crazy People (a blog)

Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America


Susannah Cahalan’s latest book tour!

The author of the best-selling BRAIN ON FIRE is back with a riveting investigation into the life and works of David Rosenhan, the late Stanford psychologist known for his influential views that challenge the validity of psychiatric diagnoses. Her tour schedule of The Great Pretender is below. If you live in or near a city where she will be speaking, I urge you to attend.

I’m taking the liberty of reprinting the book-tour schedule sent to me and others this morning by my friend Susannah Cahalan. You may recall Susannah’s stunning 2012 memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, in which she chronicled her own descent into what appeared to be severe mental illness until she was rescued by a brilliant doctor who recognized it as a rare autoimmune disease of the brain. The 2016 film adaptation starred Chloe Grace Moretz as Cahalan.

Susannah’s new book, The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission that Changed Our Understanding of Madness, builds upon the skills and awareness that she developed compiling her first book; yet its range of inquiry and analysis is of a different magnitude.

Susannah Cahalan – Author of The Great Pretender

In the 1970s, David Rosenhan sent seven volunteers into various psychiatric asylums around the country to test the validity of the doctors’ diagnoses and conclusions. The results shattered existing opinions of psychiatry and led to the closing of several hospitals. In this masterpiece of dogged, almost incomprehensibly persistent intellectual detective-work and sustained reasoning, Cahalan has exposed the flaws, the deceptions and the distorted understandings that found their way into society on the ballast of Rosenthal’s influence. The book is destined to become a standard of its genre and a daunting model for immersive journalism.

Here is Susan Cahalan’s tour schedule:


Barnes & Noble —  Upper East Side in conversation with the marvelous  Melissa Dahl, science editor and author of  Cringeworthy, a book I LOVE.


Books are Magic with the loves of my life, fellow  Sob Sisters  Ada Calhoun and  Karen Abbott, brilliant authors of many amazing books, which you all should read.


Carroll Lutheran Village—  sponsored by A Likely Story Bookstore


Brookline Booksmith –  sign up here


ZACK — sponsored by  Left Bank Books

in conversation with the legendary St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist  Bill McClellan.


Magers & Quinn —  sign up here The Great Pretender‘s own “footnote” will be making a special appearance….(earlier in the day I will be doing a talk at the University of Minneapolis, email me for details).


Upstairs at Murray’s Literary Series –  Oblong Books.


Town Hall Seattle Science Series – sign up on Facebook here.


Powell’s City of Books –  sign up on Facebook here.


Kepler’s Books —  sign up here in conversation with  Dr. Shaili Jain, psychiatrist and author of the beautiful book about trauma and PTSD  The Unspeakable Mind.


Commonwealth Club –  more details in conversation with the inimitable Judge LaDoris Cordell, pioneer, advocate, musician, artist, writer, and friend.


Miami Book Festival In conversation with bestselling author/therapist/dynamo  Lori Gottlieb, author of  Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.


Mark Twain House 

Moderated by psychiatrist Dr. Harold Schwartz


New York Public Library — details to come!

In conversation with journalist/author Luke Dittrich, author of one of my favorite non-fiction titles ever Patient HM.

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