This book is often about tidbits that Caine - birthname Maurice Micklewhite - has plucked from Hollywood. For example:
I was browsing through the power tool display when I popped my head round the corner and there in the next aisle was Klaus Kinski buying an axe. Never has a shop full of DIY aficionados cleared so quickly...
As such, it gets a bit tedious at times, but given that Caine was 77 years old upon finishing it and has a dry, yet interesting sense of humor, it's quite forgiven. Very linear, but still straightforward in a way that he writes of his own life, often plodding thoughts about people in films he's been with, apart from some dull food-recipes at the end.
He was around for more than a decade before becoming famous, "resting" between roles with other unemployed friends like Terence Stamp and Sean Connery.
When he first started out in theatre...I'll quote him on it:
Even so, I understood fully the sarcasm behind the young critic’s assessment of my performance. ‘Maurice Micklewhite played the Robot, who spoke in a dull, mechanical, monotonous voice, to perfection.’ Bastard.
He also provides food for laypeople as far as acting is concerned, and is humble and credits people who've taught him:
In one play I did in Lowestoft I was cast as a drunkard and at the first rehearsal I came rolling onto the stage and staggered about. The director held up his hand to stop proceedings. ‘What do you think you are doing?’ he demanded. Feeling rather aggrieved, I said, ‘I’m playing a drunk.’ ‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘You are playing a drunk – I am paying you to be a drunk. A drunk is a man who is trying to act sober; you are a man who is trying to act drunk. It’s the wrong way round.’ Spot on.
Some paragraphs are really lovely and reminded me of a time when courtesy and "taking the high road" was often the case, and why:
The horse was as quiet as can be, I was assured, and had been chosen with me in mind. His name – I should have suspected something – was Fury. My first few rides on Fury were uneventful and I began to relax. But on the first day of shooting, he seemed to switch personality. I had changed into costume and had planned to start the day with a little trot. The trot began sedately enough but soon turned into a canter and then began to gather speed until it turned into a gallop I had no chance of controlling. We were eventually brought to a screaming halt (it was me doing the screaming) by a jeep from the unit, three miles from the set. I have rarely been angrier and let rip at the director, James Clavell, as soon as I was back. He sat calmly absorbing my anger and then got up, took me by the arm and led me to a quiet corner and gave me one of the best lessons of my life. ‘I was a prisoner of the Japanese during the war,’ he said, ‘and the reason I survived and others did not is that I never lost face. If you lose your temper in front of people you do not know, you lose their respect and it is almost impossible to win it back. You must keep control – if you cannot control yourself, then you have no chance of controlling others. The reason the horse ran away was that your sword was slapping against his side as you began to trot. He thought you were urging him on to go faster and faster.’ I have never forgotten his advice.
Also words on John Houston, who also directed Caine's favourite actor, Humphrey Bogart, upon acting in his film "The Man Who Would Be King":
In The Man Who Would Be King, John Huston lived up to every inch of his reputation as a great director. Throughout the making of the movie he addressed Sean and me as ‘Danny’ and ‘Peachy’, even off set, and he was somehow able to convey with the minimum of fuss or explanation exactly what he was looking for in a character. He didn’t tell you much, he just watched you very closely and you knew you were doing it right just by looking at him. He held the view – rare among directors – that good actors know what they are doing and should be left alone to do it if at all possible. I said to him once, ‘You don’t really tell us much, do you?’ And he said, ‘Two things, Michael. The art of good direction is casting. If you cast it right you don’t have to tell the actors what to do. Also,’ he went on, ‘you’re being paid a lot of money to do this, Michael. You should be able to get it right on your own – you don’t need me to tell you what to do!’ He only ever stopped me once mid-take, when I had to tell Christopher Plummer (who was playing Rudyard Kipling), what Danny and I were up to. Kipling warns us that what we were planning was very dangerous and Peachy replies, ‘We are not little men.’ I put the emphasis on the word ‘not’, but John held up his hand. ‘We are not little men,’ he said. I shrugged and did it his way and when we finished the take I saw he was smiling. He was right. We were not little men – under Huston’s direction we became giants.
And one of the many signs that Caine has come a long way since his poor beginnings:
The first lunchtime on the set just before we started filming, we were all given personal Geiger counters to test the food for radiation. The first thing we all did was buy new batteries. Radioactive or not, the food was terrible and Shakira would go back and forth to London, returning to St Petersburg with Marks and Spencer’s steak and kidney pudding and other goodies to keep us all going.
A more precise account of this was given upon his recollections regarding "lazy" youths in the high-rise building areas where he acted in the film "Harry Brown"; he stated that he has previously thought that criminals should basically just be locked up for a long time, but that mingling with these youths made him think that there might actually be reasons as to why they're out and about, learning bad manners along the way. Oh, brother. Intertwined with stuff like this, I wonder why that took him such a long time to grasp:
In Britain if you are successful and from a working-class background, you get this sort of thing all the time. It’s often a tiny and insignificant comment made by a tiny and insignificant person, but it’s annoying – a bit like being bitten by a flea you can’t quite ever squash. I remember talking to a reporter years ago about my elder daughter, Dominique. ‘Oh,’ he said, trying to stifle a laugh, ‘so you named her after the singing nun, did you?’ (There had recently been a number one hit called ‘Dominique’, by a Belgian nun.) ‘No,’ I said. ‘I named her after the heroine of the Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead, Dominique Francon.’ I can still see the look on his stunned face: how could this ignorant Cockney bastard have read a book like that? Class prejudice works in weird and wonderful ways in Britain. A supreme example of this is our planning system: thousands of apartment blocks were built for lower-income families after the war, with nowhere for tenants to park their cars. I suppose at the time the planners didn’t envisage that the working class would be able to buy cars.
While quoting history, this note of his angered me some (if it's indeed true):
The very worst thing about the London social scene in those days was that everything shut at ten thirty – pubs, theatres, cafés, buses, tube, everything. I once heard a member of parliament explain that it was to make sure the working classes weren’t late for work the next day. You can imagine how that went down with my friends and me...
And, the illustrious Swinging 1960s...
Working-class actors like Terence Stamp, Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole and me were blazing a trail, too – and we were all taking full advantage of a much freer attitude to sex and booze, to have the time of our lives. Peter was probably the wildest of us all. During my time understudying him in The Long and the Short and the Tall in 1959, my main job was to bring in the drink and find the parties, but I soon learnt to start the evening off with him and then duck out. God knows, I love a party, but I just couldn’t keep up. On one Saturday night after the show we were about to set off when he suggested that we line our stomachs first at a fast-food place in Leicester Square called the Golden Egg. This seemed to me to be perfectly sensible and I was encouraged because Peter’s diet hadn’t to this point seemed to include any food, so I went along and ordered a fry-up. I have absolutely no idea what happened after that because the next thing I remember is waking up in broad daylight in a flat I had never been in before, still wearing my coat. I nudged Peter, who was lying next to me, and asked him what time it was. ‘Never mind what time it is,’ he said, ‘what fucking day is it?’ Our hostesses, two rather dubious-looking girls I really don’t remember having set eyes on before, told us it was Monday and it was five o’clock. The curtain went up at eight. Somehow we got to the theatre in time – we hadn’t even been sure we were still in London – but instead of being pleased to see us, the stage manager was very cross. It seemed that the manager of the Golden Egg had already been round: henceforth we were both banned. ‘But what did we – ?’ I began. Peter nudged me. ‘Never ask,’ he said. ‘Better not to know.’ The voice of experience. They say that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there. And this was only 1959...
His recollection of Austin, Texas, filled me with longing for the place again, one of my dream cities:
The film was shot in Austin, the capital of Texas. Austin is a very rich town with a massive university and a lot of steak houses. The most famous one at that time was Sullivan’s and it was here that the then governor of Texas and his cronies always ate: we saw George W. Bush there every time we went. Everything in Texas is big, including the onion rings. Benjamin and I were at Sullivan’s one lunchtime and just about to start eating, when we saw a woman approaching us with a smile and a camera. It happens all the time when you are well known: not only is your meal interrupted with the photograph, but attention is drawn to your table and so everyone else thinks it’s OK to interrupt you, too. Anyway, as she came over, we both put a brave face on it and prepared to pose, but she completely took the wind out of our outraged sails by saying, ‘Can I take a picture of your onion rings? The folks back home just won’t believe how big they are!’ With a sigh of relief, we both said yes . . . Austin is a strange town – and the citizens know it. I have a souvenir mug that says ‘Keep Austin Weird’, and they are doing a pretty good job. Sandra was going out with Bob Schneider around the time we were making the film and she took a group of us to see him play. When he came on, the young female fans at the front lifted up their blouses and flashed their breasts at him. Sandra said that they always did that to him as a greeting. It would have made my day back when I was fourteen, but it seems a pretty odd business to me now. The weirdest thing I saw in Austin was from the window of our hotel, which was on the banks of the Colorado river. Shakira and I arrived back at the hotel late one afternoon and the receptionist told us rather mysteriously to go out onto the balcony of our room at precisely six o’clock and look at the bridge over the river on our right. We did exactly as she suggested and saw that there were crowds of other guests standing on their balconies, too, and a host of people standing below, all with cameras ready, waiting for something to happen. Not wanting to miss anything, I rushed back inside to get my camera and got back just in time to witness one of the most extraordinary sights I’ve ever seen. At dead on six o’clock, two million bats flew out from under the bridge in their nightly search for food. There’s no other word for it – weird.
All in all: a fair autobiography. I'd love for it to have been more detailed in the introspective, but I guess that's just how Caine writes.
Quite lukewarm now, as Caine gets older. Nodding to celebrities, more like filler right now.