By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by CBS Sunday Morning©
The Italian Job, Alfie, Zulu, The Dark Knight; exceptional movies that have become synonymous with the actor Michael Caine. But as you read through his astonishing autobiography ‘Blowing The Bloody Doors Off And Other Lessons in Life’ you realise that it is the multiple failures that have come to shape his envious career.
The actor has always seemed a down-to-earth guy, who through tenacious hard-work and a steely drive, managed to swap the working class streets of South London for the bright lights of Hollywood. And whilst part of that description is correct, what becomes apparent with each turning page, is that, for Michael Caine whilst London was replaced with Los Angeles, his working class background came along with him.
And out of every element of his extraordinary life and all the famous friends he has acquainted, Michael Caine has seemed pretty unaffected by the demons that Hollywood courts. How? His wife, Shakira. The couple have been married for forty-six years and the actor speaks dotingly on the woman who he claims, most likely saved his life.
What is also instantly obvious within the first few pages, this isn’t a biography that is solely on a life lived. It delves into the lessons Michael’s life has taught him. From embracing the difficulty, to knowing where to stand on a set, he expertly describes how he achieves performances that have been both iconic and catastrophic.
In an industry where ego is a beast in consistent need of stroking, Michael is the complete opposite. Yes, he admits that once when filming with good friend Sidney Poitier, the majority of the public were unaware of who he was. But there is no malice in his description of feeling “unwanted”, if anything he points humour at it. Take the shockingly bad movie ‘Jaws: The Revenge’, a movie that he still hasn’t seen. He doesn’t shy away from the awfulness of the entire project, instead he embraces it. “That movie bought my mother a bigger house,” he recites honestly.
Michael Caine seems like a man who doesn’t pull any punches, but rises above them. He doesn’t roll in dirt (though he was constantly thrown from his horse on Zulu), he helps others out of it. He is a genuinely respectable human being, choosing to give support to those on set and not give unnecessary criticisms. He makes it essential that he introduces himself to each and every member of the cast and crew on the first day of shooting. This comes from a story involving the acting juggernaut Lord Lawrence Olivier, a man he was incredibly nervous to meet, mainly due to the question of how he should address the acting legend?
This is a running theme that exists across every chapter and ‘lesson’ he teaches. They aren’t just empty words or patronising anecdotes from dinners with the rich and famous. Combining experience with teaching, Michael Caine defines proof in the pudding. There is a lesson to be learnt from each page, each sentence, that has a star-studded example to back it up. On-set conversations with Elizabeth Taylor, dinners with Frank Sinatra, marvelling the skill of Lawrence Olivier, enjoying the company of his working class ‘brothers’ Roger Moore, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed, Michael Caine is a walking sponge of knowledge and teachings.
His lessons are quick, detailed and never promise. He constantly reminds you that these are his mistakes, his difficulties and when solved, may help you solve your own. The emphasis is on the ‘may’ here. He starts the book detailing his first ever meeting with John Wayne, the Hollywood heavyweight, so familiar with the Wild West movies. Landing his helicopter on the grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel he labels the young Michael Caine, fresh from the movie ‘Alfie’, a “Star”.
How right he was! But what Michael goes on next to write is the most important part of the book. “What you need to be a star in the movies is not that different from what you need to be a star in any other universe (it just takes a little more luck). And if you don’t give a monkey’s about this old man’s so-called wisdom? Well, I hope you’ll still be entertained.”
The lessons are there if you want them, take comfort from them, heed them – or don’t. The choice is yours. What worked for him, may not work for you. Michael Caine doesn’t force his agenda down your throats, he doesn’t try to trick you or lead you on a wild Goose chase. His autobiography is two books in one. One part lesson, another part life, it’s up to you which you decide to focus on.
It is no surprise the book ends featuring the man who opened it – John Wayne. This time there is no Beverly Hills Hotel, no dramatic entrance by helicopter. Instead, it is poignant, intimate; two men, Wayne near the end of his life, ravaged with cancer, discussing the trappings of living. Michael writes: ‘I do remember how brave he was as he faced up to his impending death, “It’s got me this time Mike,” he said to me, with a smile, as though it was a fair fight but the Big C had drawn first. “I won’t be getting out of here.” And then seeing I was close to tears, “Get the hell out of here and have a good time.”’
And this is where Michael leaves you, with his greatest lesson and it’s hard to ignore… live life, get out there and simply ‘blow the bloody doors off!’