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Michael Caine

Originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News, December 2010; written by Lisa Pearson.

I am a big fan of the actor Michael Caine, so it was with a fair amount of anticipation that I picked up his new autobiography “The Elephant to Hollywood”. A week after finishing it, I’m still not sure whether or not I liked the book. Autobiographies are hard to write, especially if you’re a celebrity. You have to walk a fine line between providing salacious backstage gossip that will satisfy your readers, and avoiding salacious backstage gossip that will offend your readers. How much is too much?

Caine is a master of discretion and tact. He makes very few remarks about his fellow actors, and his comments are almost always complimentary. The most unflattering portrayal in the book is of Sylvester Stallone, who kept the cast and crew of “Victory” waiting for three hours one morning in retaliation for filming delays the day before. Even with this anecdote, Caine focuses more on his own approach to the hiccoughs of filmmaking than to calling Stallone out as a jerk.

In fact, for someone with 50 years of acting under his belt (and a vast, if not always 4-star list of films to his credit), Caine still seems to be awestruck at his own success. He mentions time and again his amazement at finding himself at the same party as Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, or Jack Nicholson. He became an actor at the same time as a very impressive list of men – Albert Finney, Terence Stamp, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Tom Courtenay – and you might think he would have a bigger dose of ego. However, there’s no griping about the size of his trailer or an insistence on being trailed by a personal assistant toting bottles of Evian.

His hardscrabble upbringing must have instilled a permanent sense of humility in Michael Caine. Growing up in South London in the 1930’s, Caine was evacuated to the country during the Blitz, where he was starved and kept locked in a cupboard by his host family. Caine’s mother was a charlady and his father a porter in the fish market, but his dad’s gambling kept the family constantly in fear of debt collectors and his early death from liver cancer didn’t make the family any more financially secure. It did, however, give Caine a lifelong determination to avoid poverty and to appreciate his own good fortune.

Reading this book, you come away with the feeling the that Caine is a decent person who is still wildly in love with his wife and immensely proud of his children. He holds fast to old friends, relishes meeting new stars, and is thankful for whatever work he can get (as talented as Caine may be, he hasn’t been the most discerning actor when it comes to picking scripts. Sometimes he has just been stuck with few opportunities and bills to be paid). By the time you get to the last page of the book, you know that Michael Caine is a genuinely nice guy.

So I would like to say that I really enjoyed this book and would heartily recommend it to any film buff. Unfortunately, while it was a quick enjoyable read, it was also an unsatisfying book. What’s the point of sitting down with the reminiscences of someone who’s worked with Laurence Olivier, John Huston, Maggie Smith, Peter O’Toole, and Sidney Poitier if they’re not going to give you an insight into the work that went on behind the camera? I wouldn’t even mind some funny stories about some of the total turkeys he’s been involved with – like “Jaws, the Revenge”. 304 pages are just not enough to get into the meat of his career and his experiences. If you’re not familiar with his work, this is an interesting introduction to one of the most decent actors in Hollywood. But if you’re a true fan, it will just leaving you crying for more.

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