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Marina Katz

England's famous actor:
is contradictions and
his great love of life


Who else can say they have acted alongside Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, Shelley Winters, Anthony Hopkins, Omar Sharif, Peter Ustinov, Bob Hoskins, Sigourney Weaver, Woody Allen, Richard Gere, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Silvester Stallone, Pele, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Seagal and the Muppets?

In one of Michael Caine"s most recent film, The Cider House Rules, he plays an abortionist (Wilbur Large) who runs an orphanage for unwanted children. The idea is simple, pregnant women come to him because he is an abortionist but he only performs the abortion if he can't convince them to leave the child with him. The choice of such a controversial subject says much about this actor who once said that, at the end of his life, he wanted to regret the things he had done, not the things he hadn't. With The Cider House Rules Michael Caine's work seems to have come full circle since his first star role in the movie, Alfie (1966) shocked the public by also dealing with the question of abortion. Interestingly, Michael Caine does not have a clear opinion on the question, but he is not one to shy away from a controversy. Alfie brought international fame and paved the way to Hollywood and over 60 movies.

A Cockney

Maurice Joseph Micklewhite (later known as Michael Caine) was born in St. Olave
's Hospital, South London, on 14 March, 1933. That wouldn't be very interesting except for two facts: first the hospital building, decades later, was turned into Bob Hoskins' production offices for the filming of Mona Lisa (1986, starring Hoskins and Caine). Caine jokes that he is the only actor ever to have been born in his producer's office. Secondly, it means that Michael Caine, the world's most famous Cockney, is not technically-speaking a Cockney.

Maurice's childhood was not very promising. He had strange puffy eyes due to blefaritis, sticking-out ears, and bow legs with a nervous jerk called "Saint Vitus dance"!! His father delivered ice to the fish markets in London and was a compulsive gambler. Maurice's family were very poor during his childhood, but his mother managed to ensure that the children never went hungry and offered love and stability. She worked as a cleaning lady and only agreed to give up her job when her son persuaded her, after filming Alfie, that it might be bad for his career.

Maurice was successful at school. When he went to school in Hackney (North London) he was one of only twelve Christians, all the other children were Jewish. He was much less happy at his secondary school and he finally left school at sixteen. At this time he started taking drama classes as a way of meeting girls. This was a serious problem for him as he was chronically shy.

The Army

After the Second World War, Britain maintained National Service until 1962. Maurice and his friends from South London faced a stark choice: a second year's conscription in England or the Korean War. They chose the latter and signed up for the Royal Fusiliers. One of Maurice's traumas from the war was a loathing for the smell of garlic. This was because the communist soldiers they were fighting against chewed garlic to prevent illness. The smell of garlic in the Korean war meant that the Allied soldiers were about to walk into an ambush. Years later, while filming A Hill in Korea, Maurice had a bitter argument with fellow-actor Robert Shaw because Maurice refused to eat the food which was a
lways heavily-laced with garlic. Shaw thought Maurice was being whimsical when in fact the food reminded him of the fear of battle.

He brought back one other souvenir from Korea: malaria. The symptoms appeared when he was back in England working in the theatre. Unfortunately, it wasn't common malaria but a rare strain that was much more dangerous and had no cure. He was told that he might survive to fifty with the correct medication. In the end, Maurice and his companions were saved by an American colonel who was an expert in tropical diseases. The colonel suggested a risky experiment which involved the patients taking two tablets (made up of a cocktail of antibiotics) for ten days. During this time they could not move at all because the tablets thickened their blood. To ensure this, they were tied down to their beds. Luckily, the experiment worked and Maurice survived to become the most successful living English actor.

Straight to Hell

In 1956 Maurice's world was falling apart. His marriage to actress Patricia Haines, with whom he had had a daughter (Dominique), had broken and his father had just died. Although he had some experience of working in the theatre, he had to make ends meets by working as a plumber's assistant and washing dishes in a restaurant. Not surprisingly, he was extremely depressed and finally agreed to go to Paris for a few weeks, with some money that his mother gave him, to try and sort his life out. When he returned to London his mother greeted him with the news that he had been selected by the producers of A Korean Hill (1956) and they were waiting for him to ring back. The worst was over.

My name is Michael Caine

Maurice's first TV appearance (in Jean Anouil's The Lark) meant that he had to join the powerful British actor's union, Equity. Maurice's stage-name at the time was Michael Scott. However, there was already a "Michael Scott" in Equity so Maurice had to look for a new su
rname. He chose "Caine" because The Caine Mutiny (1954, starring Humphrey Bogart) was one of his favourite films.

Michael Caine's break came with Stanley Baker's film Zulu (1963). Caine was given an appointment with director Cy Endfield. However, when they met, the director told him that he had already given the role of a Cockney soldier to James Booth. When Michael was leaving the bar, Endfield called him back and asked him to imitate an upper class accent. That's how the poor Cockney boy mutated into aristocratic role, Gonville Bromhead.  

Enter Shakira

One day in 1971, film star Michael Caine was resting in the New York home of a friend when he saw a woman in an advertisement on the TV and fell instantly in love. He was about to catch a plane to Brazil to look for her, but then he found out that she was not Brazilian but Indian and that she lived a few kilometres away. They eventually married and Michael and Shakira Caine ca
me to be one of the most stable couples in the movie world.

Caine & Abel

Many things can be said about Michael Caine, but in essence he is an adventurer with a great sense of humour which is reflected in each one of his roles. His humble roots mean that he is well-aware of poverty and injustice, and
this gives him a social conscience most clearly seen in the films The Sleuth (1972) and Educating Rita (1983) in which class differences are a central theme.

On the other hand, his origins have also taught him to put himself first, for instance when he moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to avoid the heavy taxes the Labour Government was imposing on the rich. He will always be the poor boy who has dined with the Queen of England and Lady Thatcher.

In the end, the most interesting aspects of Michael Caine are his contradictions and his great love of life, which can best be summed up by a quote from St. Augustine which, according to Michael, encapsulates the meaning of life for him and Shakira, "Life is a book an
d if you stay at home you only read one page."

Source: Think in English


alongside: with, beside (con, junto a)
to run: manage, direct
to regret: feel sad about a mistake in the past
by also dealing with: also talking about or considering  (analizando también) 
to shy away from: avoid because of fear or insecurity
(que le escape a, que evite)
d the way: prepared the route (preparó el terreno)
ever to have been born:
ever to have been brought into existence (que haya nacido alguna vez)
Cockney: in a strict sense, a Cockney is a working class Londoner born in the East End. However, the word is often applied to all working class
Londoners who have a characteristic accent like Michael Caine's (londinense de clase popular).
eyes: inflated eyes
(ojos saltones)
blefaritis: inflamation
of the eyelids (inflamación de los párpados)  
ears: protruding ears Iike
Prince Charles' (orejas protuberantes)
bow legs
: rachitic legs
(piernas abiertas)  
jerk: tic, uncontrolled movement
(tic nervioso)  
Saint Vitus dance: chorea occurring chiefly in children and associated with rheumatic fever (baile o mal de San Vito)
compulsive gambler: person
who is addicted to casino's, lottery, roulette, etc. (jugador compulsivo)
agreed to give up: accepted to leave, retire from
(aceptó dejar)
shy: timid (tímido, introvertido)
a stark choice: a difficult, severe alternative
(una elección muy difícil)
conscription: military service
(de conscripción o servicio militar)  
ed up for: decided to join the regiment
(optaron por alistarse en)  
loathing: hating, hatred
(repulsión, odio)
smell of garlic: smell of an aromatic bulb used as seasoning (olor a ajo)

chewed: bit repeatedly, masticated (masticaban)  
ambush: surprise attack, trap (emboscada)
argument: controversy (discusión)
heavily-laced: (in this context) absolutely flavoured
(muy condimentado)  
whimsical: capricious
ed him of: made him think about (le recordaba)  
rare strain
: uncommon type, infrequent variant
(variedad poco común)  
made up of: composed of (compuesto de, integrado por)
ed: made thicker, made more viscous
d down: fastened with ropes or cords to restrict their movement
luckily: fortunately (afortunadamente)
to make ends meet: to earn a sufficient amount of money to cover basic expenses
(llegar a fin de mes, sobrevivir)
plumber's assistant: an assistant to a person who repairs the water system in houses (ayudante de plomero)  
sort his life out: clear up his problems
to ring back: to phone back (para responder la llamada)
to look for: to search, to seek (buscar)
surname: last name (apellido)
break: (colloquial) big opportunity, a
n unexpected piece of good luck (gran oportunidad)
he was about to
: he plannned to do sth. in the immediate future
(estuvo a punto de)  
found out: discovered, learnt (se enteró, descubrió)
eventually: (falsefriend) in the end, after a period of time
humble roots: poor origins
(origen humilde)  
well-aware: very conscious
(plenamente consciente)
The Sleuth: The Detective
(El Detective)  
summed up: summarized