What's It All About?

Source: Michael Caine, What’s It All About? (London: Century, 1992), pp. 10-11

Text: When I was a teenager used to read a lot of biographies of actors to see if I had anything common with them, because by now I had dreams of becoming one as well. My avid reading as a teenager taught me that I had little in common with any actor – particularly the British stage greats. In fact they sounded as though they actually came from another plane. All their stories seemed to start from the same point: the first time that they ever saw an actor was when their nanny took them to the theatre, and as the curtain rose and the lights went up on the stage they just knew the theatre was going to be their life’s work.

In stark contrast to this, the first actor that I ever saw was the Lone Ranger and it was at a Saturday morning matinée for kids, which in my area was a cross between an SAS training camp and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. The first obstacle in the assault course was the queue, which developed into a full-scale riot as some of the bigger kids who came late tried to push in front of others. Once inside, another riot started as everybody rushed for the front seats. And even when we were all seated comfortably and it seemed that our troubles were over missiles started hurtling around and an orange hit me on the back of the head. My friends had told me that after the lights went out and the picture started everything would be all right, but when I was plunged into darkness it turned out to be an overcoat which had been thrown down from the balcony above on top of me. It was finally dragged off me and thrown back up. accompanied by a lot of words that I did not understand but had heard before when my father stubbed his toe on the bed legs.

At last the lights went down, the film started, and on came the Lone Ranger. I sat there as entranced as those privileged actors before me with their nannies and I knew that this was what I wanted to be. A half eaten ice cream cone suddenly landed in my lap but even this could not break the spell; I just wiped it up, without taking my eyes off the screen.

After a while I got cramp, so I put my feet upon the back of he seat in from of me and stretched my legs. At this point the entire row of seats that we were sitting on tilted back on to the knees of the kids in the row behind. Yells of pain and indignation filled the air as the unfortunate patrons behind us tried to extricate themselves, but we were lying in our seats half over backwards with our feet flailing in the air. The lights went up, the picture stopped and the usherettes came rushing down to sort things out. I was pointed out as the culprit (there was no mention of the boys who had unscrewed the seats from the floor before we came in) and given a hefty whack round the ear. The lights went down, the picture started again and I sat there and watched through a veil of tears as my future profession unfolded before my eyes. I wonder what nanny would have made of that outing.

Comments: Michael Caine (b. 1933) is a British film actor, born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. This part of his memoirs concerns his childhood in London before the Second World War.

What's It All About?

Source: Michael Caine, What’s It all About? (London: Century, 1992), pp. 31-32

Text: We had won the war but the shops were empty and even to get your legal ration of things you had to queue for hours. The one blinding light in the middle of all this gloom was the cinema, where I could escape for a couple of hours to somewhere better – usually America. I became an absolute fanatic about the cinema and besotted with what seemed to me the glamour of America. Most dreams are a let-down, but the cinema has been more fantastic for me than anything I could have imagined in those dark, depressing days, and America itself greater than anything I could have possibly imagined it to be. I really don’t know what I would have done at that time without the cinema and the public library, the two places where I could escape the grim reality of everyday life. I short I had become what they always said in my school reports: a dreamer.

In the library again my influences were American. I became interested in books about the war. The British wrote about officers, with whom I could not identify, but then I found Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, and James Jones’ From Here to Eternity; great books, written by ordinary soldiers about ordinary soldiers. I unconsciously started to identify with my own class in the cinema as well. The British cinema also seemed to be about the lives of the middle class and the aristocracy, whereas people in American films seemed to be to be more like me.

Comments: Michael Caine (b. 1933) is a British film actor, born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. he returned to London after the war having been evacuated to Norfolk, and this portion of his memoirs is from his time in London.

What’s It All About?

Source: Michael Caine, What’s It all About? (London: Century, 1992), pp. 31-32

Text: We had won the war but the shops were empty and even to get your legal ration of things you had to queue for hours. The one blinding light in the middle of all this gloom was the cinema, where I could escape for a couple of hours to somewhere better – usually America. I became an absolute fanatic about the cinema and besotted with what seemed to me the glamour of America. Most dreams are a let-down, but the cinema has been more fantastic for me than anything I could have imagined in those dark, depressing days, and America itself greater than anything I could have possibly imagined it to be. I really don’t know what I would have done at that time without the cinema and the public library, the two places where I could escape the grim reality of everyday life. I short I had become what they always said in my school reports: a dreamer.

In the library again my influences were American. I became interested in books about the war. The British wrote about officers, with whom I could not identify, but then I found Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, and James Jones’ From Here to Eternity; great books, written by ordinary soldiers about ordinary soldiers. I unconsciously started to identify with my own class in the cinema as well. The British cinema also seemed to be about the lives of the middle class and the aristocracy, whereas people in American films seemed to be to be more like me.

Comments: Michael Caine (b. 1933) is a British film actor, born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. he returned to London after the war having been evacuated to Norfolk, and this portion of his memoirs is from his time in London.