Born to a fish-porter father and a charwoman mother in South London, Michael Micklewhite emerged from dismal poverty to hit it big, in 1966, as a low-class Cockney lothario named Alfie and as bespectacled agent Harry Palmer in a trilogy of spy flicks. Along the way, he ditched his embarrassment of a surname in favor of the more urbane appellation of Caine as a tribute to his favorite movie, The Caine Mutiny.
Back in the early days of his career, Caine was the ultimate scrappy swinger until he curbed his penchant for booze and violence in favor of an aura of suave sophistication. He had plenty going for him as a result–marital stability, dramatic versatility–and he still remains driven to the point of workaholism. He is also surprisingly sexy behind a pair of horn-rims.
Of Caine’s many pictures, The Man Who Would Be King (1975) is likely his most enterprising and enduring venture, though he managed to swipe a Golden Globe for Educating Rita, and Best Supporting Actor Oscars for Hannah and Her Sisters (1987) and The Cider House Rules (2000). (Caine has been acknowledged by the Academy for his lead work in Alfie, Sleuth, and Educating Rita.)
In his 1992 autobiography, Caine revealed that his mother concealed another son in a mental institution for forty years. Despite such fantastic but true tales of his life, Caine failed to make the The New York Times or Publishers Weekly best-seller lists.
First of all, I choose the great [roles], and if none of these come, I choose the mediocre ones, and if they don’t come, I choose the ones that pay the rent. – Michael Caine