Book review: The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine

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Early on in his career, movie icon Michael Caine figured out that you need luck, timing and God on your side to make it to the top.

How fortuitous for his fans then that he turned out to have all three; he survived a dangerous spell of National Service in Korea, the 1960s opened new doors to the working class and as for God, Caine’s a believer because: ‘If you’d had my life, you would, too!’

This is not the star’s first autobiography but it is the first time he has looked back over his life from the perspective of semi-retirement - he has just turned 78 and realised he was knocking on a bit when he was offered a ‘father’ role rather than a ‘lover’.

The result is a more thoughtful and reflective assessment of an extraordinary life but also an enjoyable encore for a man who was born to entertain both on the big screen and as a brilliant raconteur.

It’s been a long journey for Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, the boy born in London’s poverty-stricken Elephant and Castle district with an incurable eye disease, sticky-out ears and a facial tic.

The ears were ‘cured’ by his mother’s sticking plaster, applied every night for the first two years of his life, and the eye disease, which caused his eyelids to swell, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it made him look permanently sleepy...and sexy.

Two things, he says, helped to form him as a person – evacuation to Norfolk during the war years and National Service – but his lucky break came in 1961 when he was auditioned for the role of a Cockney corporal in the big budget film Zulu.

When he arrived at the Prince of Wales Theatre, the film’s director, Cy Endfield, told him the part had already been filled.

“The bar at the Prince of Wales is very long,” says Caine, “and that’s why I became a movie star, because just as I reached the end Cy called out ‘Can you do a posh British accent?’”

Caine claimed he could and the blockbuster film was just what he needed to get launched into the big time. He went on to enjoy a glittering career spanning more than five decades and starring roles which have earned him two Oscars, a knighthood and a place in the Hollywood pantheon.

His incredible journey from The Elephant to Hollywood is recounted here with his trademark humour, warmth and down-to-earth honesty as well as moments of intense emotion and pathos.

From a tough start, through some deep lows and incredible highs, Caine declares he has had a rich and rewarding journey, adding that it’s not over yet!

(Hodder, paperback, £7.99)