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A Celebrity with Working Class Ethics

Updated on January 28, 2014

The Hard Road to Fame


An Actor's Life

The man we know as Michael Caine, who acted in so many dramas, goes by a different name in his ordinary private life, of Sir Maurice Micklewhite.

The circumstances of a working-class family were Michael Caine's first beginnings where he was born in South London in 1933. He had a mother, father, and brother, two years younger, in the household.

On finishing school, young Michael as a teenager already dreamed of being an actor. He worked for a film company as an office boy, then a movie company, doing odd jobs that had nothing to do with acting, but at least he was there, somehow connected to the profession.

Then at 18 he was drafted into the military and sent to Korea during the war. After the war, he tried to get jobs as an actor. He met a struggling actress hopeful, Patricia; they married and had a baby girl. But there were no jobs for the husband and wife in the acting profession, so Michael took anything he could get to support his family.

After three years of struggling in London, his wife went back to her folks home with the baby. Michael kept on trying to make money any way he could, but eventually had to give up and go back to his own parents' home where his dad was now disabled and his mom needed help. Michael (Maurice) helped all he could by working in a steel yard to earn some money. Then his father died; then Michael lost the job.

His mom said he should try to earn a living on his own so as to be independent; so he went to Paris to work in a cafe for a while, but lived very poorly there. Once back in England, however, he finally got a couple little parts in plays in London through a small-time agent.

For four more years, Michael struggled in poverty, taking small parts here and there. But finally he got a better part in a play that appeared on TV.

Because Michael went on TV he discovered that he could not use the "Michael Scott" stage name he'd chosen, because another actor already had that name. So he changed it to Michael Caine, inspired by the movie "The Caine Mutiny" which was showing at the time.

But even with the occasional parts on TV and in plays, Michael was not making ends meet and had to depend on friends and a starvation-level existence in order to survive during these early years in his twenties. He would interview for acting roles and be told bluntly to give up trying. But after the deadening jobs he'd suffered earlier while he was trying to support his family, he knew that to keep his soul alive, he had to be an actor, literally if it killed him.

As he neared thirty, young Maurice saw friends who'd started with him as acting hopefuls a few years back already established in their careers. He was awfully discouraged.

One day another odd job came along, just one of the many low-paying gigs that barely kept him alive. This time he was supposed to be an understudy for an actor in a play. The actor was not famous (his name was Peter O'Toole).

The play did well, which pleased Michael because he could earn a tiny bit of money for a few extra weeks. Then he got his break. The relatively unknown Peter O'Toole suddenly got discovered and had to leave the play to take a fabulous offer to star in a movie called "Lawrence of Arabia."

Suddenly, Michael Caine was on stage in a hit play. He went on tour throughout England, acting in the play (entitled "Long and the Short and the Tall") for several months. His pay wasn't very much, but at least he wasn't starving.

But when the play ended and he returned to London, Michael was placed under arrest on charges of failing to send enough money to his wife and daughter. Michael gave immediately all he had in his pocket, about three British pounds. The judge thought that was a nice gesture and agreed to save Michael from spending time in jail, if he agreed to keep sending that same amount every week as child support, which he did.

The frequency and caliber of parts in stage and TV plays increased. But Maurice (Michael Caine) was by no means wealthy. His work was sporadic and not highly paid. However, he would always remember the day when Roger Moore, an established actor who later became world famous playing James Bond in some movies, told Maurice that one day he'd be a great actor too.

Shortly thereafter, Maurice Micklewhite impressed the biggest theatrical agent in England, Dennis Selinger, who'd seen him on TV and in plays. He became Maurice's agent and got him a part in a play ("Next Time I'll Sing to You") that was a big hit in the celebrity theater district of London. In fact, a British movie star, Stanley Baker, saw the play one night and later went back stage to encourage Maurice (Michael Caine) to try out for a part in a movie that was going to be filmed in South Africa, called "Zulu."

At age 30, Michael got that part and made four thousand pounds for "Zulu," which was a hit. He'd never had that much money in his life. His first inclination was to help out his daughter and his mother, which is exactly what he did. He even bought a horse for his 8-year-old daughter, and moved his mother into a nicer house in a better neighborhood.

Then a blessing in disguise happened. Michael was fired out of his seven-year contract with the movie company that made the hit "Zulu" (on the ground that he looked like a gay person on screen, which hurt and baffled him). But this opened the door for Michael to accept other offers.

Shortly thereafter, another movie company offered him the lead role of Agent Harry Palmer in the famous movie, "The Ipcress File." At age 32, Michael Caine had become famous as Agent Palmer. He was earning ten thousand pounds a week. He even bought a good refrigerator for the first time ever, and a color TV.

Right after that came the offer for the lead role in "Alfie." He was truly an international star, after all those years of struggle and poverty.

He traveled to New York for interviews on TV. He met Bette Davis. Shirley McClaine chose him as her leading man in "Gambit." Next came "Hurry Sundown," then "Billion Dollar Brain"--all hits.

Movie after movie now had him working night and day. His life was taxing, very hard. But Michael Caine was a working man from way back. He'd sweated in the steel yards. His father was a porter in a fish market. His mom did manual labor. Their son Maurice was no stranger to physical work.

He had to travel to film scenes on location--Louisiana, Finland, Spain, all in rapid succession.

But throughout it all Michael attended to his family's needs, helping them financially. He bought a beautiful new home for his mom and her relatives; he gave his London apartment to his younger brother who'd been his roommate; he always helped his daughter and was there for her at her wedding.

But never in his life had Michael owned a car. He was 35 and couldn't drive. So he bought a Rolls Royce and hired a chauffeur.

Many more films followed through the years. He traveled to the Philippines, Austria, Hollywood, back and forth around the world filming on location in diverse, severe climates.

But as he neared 40, Maurice started to push too hard. He began smoking and drinking to try to keep up the physical pace of so many demanding acting roles. One day, at a party, someone reached into his pocket, took the cigarettes, and threw them into a fireplace. That man proceeded to give the younger Maurice a stern lecture. It worked; he gave up smoking. The older man was Tony Curtis.

Michael moved to a nice house in a beautiful natural setting outside the city of London. A strange turning point came in his life one night as he was watching TV. He actually felt himself falling in love with the beauty of a young lady in a TV ad for a coffee company.

Later Michael was to learn that the lady, who was from India, previously had placed third in a recent Miss Universe contest.

As if by magic, that same night Michael went out with friends, one of whom knew the young lady through his company and told him she actually lived nearby in England.

To this day, almost 40 years later, they are still married and have one daughter. Michael's wife inspired him to give up his excessive drinking habits, another turning point in his life.

Michael Caine has acted in so many films that it's incredible. One of his fondest was "The Man Who Would Be King," directed by his idol, Hollywood's John Huston. Michael's wife, Shakira, also appeared in the film as an Indian princess.

Michael Caine, from a working class origin, has met and socialized with the Queen of England; he was knighted by the Queen for his contributions to film and has become Sir Maurice Micklewhite.

[a great official website honoring Michael Caine is]


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    • petenali profile image

      Pete 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Amazing actor. Everything he touches is class. I have loved his work ever since I first saw him in the original Italian Job.

    • mindyjgirl profile image

      Mindy 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, Oregon

      love it!!

    • alwritetea profile image

      Lisa Sumner 5 years ago from Vancouver

      Oh I just love Michael Caine, truly one of my favorites. It's so fascinating to learn about a celebrity's humble beginnings. I had no idea he was over 30 before he really 'made it.' Fantastic facts!

      Voted interesting and beautiful!