When it comes to some celebrities, we like to keep things on a Need To Know basis.
Some actors are marvellous storytellers. After all, their craft is telling stories, and Caine has lots of tales, amusingly told.
For example, Caine mentions the New York Movie Police, “a special squad set up by the city just to take care of movie units”, and these officers know their way around a set. “I was standing with one of them one night watching a scene,” writes Caine, “and when the director shouted ‘Cut’ and designated the next shot, there was a hiss of disapproval from my police friend. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. ‘Woody [Allen] would have gone in for a two-shot there,’ he said – and he was probably right.”¹
Caine is also, surprisingly, a colourful travel writer. With vivid prose, he describes fighting in the Korean War, being broke in Paris, and visiting Los Angeles for the first time. He also describes the zeitgeist of a certain era, such as London in the early 1960s.
“There was the buzz every night of dreams coming true,” he writes, “and the charge of fresh dreams that would come true some time soon, and the shock as a record was played for the first time ever and you knew you were listening to a pop classic being born, and the new young genius who wrote it said, ‘Sorry,’ as he stepped on your toe as we all whirled like dervishes round the dance floor and into the history of our own chosen field of endeavour.”²
“That’s how it was in those days,” he concludes. “Everybody seemed to become famous.”³
Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in 1933. His father was a porter at London’s Billingsgate Market, but his true passion was gambling. Caine jokingly says his first performance was at the age of three, when he told bill collectors his parents were not home.
His first professional acting gig was in 1952, when he returned to London following his military service in Korea. His application to a small-town theatre required a photograph, so he signed the photo “Michael Scott” instead of the lengthier “Maurice Mickelwhite”.4
He became “Michael Caine” with the offer of a television play. In order to take the job, he had to join the actors’ trade union, but there was already a member named Michael Scott. After some deliberation, he adopted the name “Caine” in honour of his favourite actor, Humphrey Bogart, who was currently starring in The Caine Mutiny (1954).5
It was a tough ten years of theatre and television gigs before Caine got his first big break in the feature films Zulu (1964) and The Ipcress File (1965). Then, in 1966, he landed the role that would make him an international star: Alfie.
The bonus features of What’s It All About? are the acting lessons. Some were gleaned during Caine’s time at a small theatre company that was produced and directed by an elderly man who “always seemed to have the right advice for any problem.”
In one production, Caine had to act drunk and, during the first rehearsal, the producer/director interrupted him and explained how to play the scene. “‘You are being an actor who is trying to walk crooked and speak with a slurred voice like a drunk. Don’t you realise that a drunk is a man who is trying to walk straight and speak properly?'”6
There are many witty, thoughtful memories here, but no one can keep it up for 577 pages, not even Michael Caine. Eventually the stories give way to more tedious accounts of which famous person he met at which event.
Still, What’s It All About? is an engaging memoir and a fascinating account of How to Become Famous. We recommend it, but you may find yourself skimming pages towards the end.
Caine, Michael. (1992) What’s It All About? London, UK: Random House.
¹Ibid., p. 544.
²Ibid., p. 187.
³Ibid., p. 162.
4Ibid., p. 92.
5Ibid., p. 132.
6Ibid., p. 105.
This post is part of THE SECOND MARVELLOUS MICHAEL CAINE BLOGATHON hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews.