Childhood and Early Life
Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr. on 14 March 1933 in London. His father, Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, was a porter at the Billingsgate fish market and his mother, Ellen Frances Marie (née Burchell), was a cook and charwoman.
Caine has a younger brother named Stanley Micklewhite. They grew up in Southwark, London. When the ‘World War II’ broke out, his father was drafted into the military and they were evacuated to North Runcton in Norfolk.
On passing his eleven-plus examination in 1944, Michael enrolled at ‘Hackney Downs School’ after winning a scholarship to fund his education. However, in 1945, he shifted to ‘Wilson's Grammar School’ in Camberwell, where he began to take interest in literature under the guidance of his English teacher.
On receiving his ‘School Certificate’ in 1949, Michael began to work as a filing clerk in a film company. In April 1952, he was drafted into the national service and took an active part in the ‘Korean War.’ He never forgot what he experienced during the war.
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On being discharged from the national service in 1954, Michael first obtained a job of an assistant stage manager at ‘Westminster Repertory’ in Horsham, Sussex. According to the terms and conditions, he was also required to perform some walk-on parts for the company. Later, he shifted to ‘Lowestoft Repertory’ in Suffolk.
He then realized that to succeed in the entertainment industry he needed to change his name. He first changed his name to Michael Scott and then inspired by Humphrey Bogart’s film ‘The Caine Mutiny’ (1954), he changed his name to Michael Caine.
In 1956, Michael Caine made his film debut with ‘Panic in the Parlour.’ But since he played the part of an un-credited sailor, ‘A Hill in Korea,’ also released in 1956, is considered to be his debut film.
Around the same time, he also started appearing in small roles in television series. His first television role was in the series ‘The Adventures of Sir Lancelot.’ However, in this series he was credited as Michael Scott and therefore ‘The Lark’ episode of ‘BBC Sunday Night Theatre’ was actually his television debut as Michael Caine.
The first ten years of Caine’s acting life were hard. He kept appearing in several films, television and radio programs, as well as in stage productions. His big break came in 1963 when he was playing ‘Meff’ in ‘Next Time I'll Sing to You,’ a cockney comedy at ‘Criterion Theatre’ in Piccadilly.
Stanley Baker, who was producing a film on the historical battle between the British and the Zulus, offered him the part of a cockney soldier in his film ‘Zulu.’ Since the role had already been assigned to another cockney actor, Caine got the role of a snobbish, upper-class officer.
‘Zulu’ premiered on 22 January 1964 and received extremely positive reviews. Moreover, the film helped Caine receive international attention. In the same year, he also appeared as ‘Horatio’ in 'Hamlet at Elsinore,' produced by BBC in association with Danish radio.
However, it was his next film ‘The Ipcress File’ (1965) that made him a star. His depiction of ‘Harry Palmer’ earned him his first BAFTA nomination. Incidentally, he went on to play ‘Palmer’ in four other films; ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966), ‘Billion Dollar Brain’ (1967), ‘Bullet to Beijing’ (1995), and ‘Midnight in Saint Petersburg’ (1996).
The romantic comedy-drama film ‘Alfie’ (1966) was another of his major works from this period. In this film, Caine played the role of a womanizing chauffeur named ‘Alfie Elkins’ and earned two awards and three nominations, including a nomination for ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Actor.’
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In the same year, Caine traveled to the USA at the request of Shirley MacLaine and appeared as ‘Harry Tristan Dean’ in ‘Gambit.’ The film was highly successful and Caine received his second ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination.
The film was followed by few other hits like ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966), ‘Play Dirty’ (1969), ‘Battle of Britain’ (1969), ‘Too Late the Hero’ (1970), ‘The Last Valley’ (1971), ‘Get Carter’ (1971), ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1976), ‘Silver Bears’ (1977), ‘California Suit’ (1978), ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (1977), etc.
Although he received critical acclaim for his roles in all of these films, two of his best works in the 1970s were ‘Sleuth’ (1972) and ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ (1975). Appearing as ‘Milo Tindle’ in ‘Sleuth,’ he received his second ‘Academy Award’ nomination.
Caine began the 1980s with box office hits like ‘Dressed to Kill’ (1980), ‘The Island’ (1980), ‘Educating Rita’ (1983), etc. Ultimately, it was ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ (1986) which earned him his first ‘Academy Award.’ Few other significant works of his from this decade were ‘Mona Lisa’ (1986), ‘Jaws, The Revenge’ (1987), and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ (1988).
Subsequently, Caine slowed down a bit, appearing in mediocre films for the better part of the 1990s. 1998 onwards, he experienced a resurgence in his career. His next two films ‘Little Voice’ (1998) and ‘The Cider House Rules’ (1999) earned him several awards and nominations.
He began the next millennium with a period drama film titled ‘Quills’ which was a huge hit at the box office. This was followed by many other hit films, such as ‘Miss Congeniality’ (2000), ‘Last Orders’ (2001), ‘The Quiet American’ (2002), ‘Secondhand Lions’ (2003), ‘Around the Bend’ (2004), and ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008).
‘Inception,’ a 2010 multi-starrer, became one of his noteworthy works. Although he did not receive any award for it, he received a number of nominations for his role as ‘Professor Stephen Miles.’
From 2016 to 2018, he was seen in several films like ‘Now You See Me 2,’ ‘Going in Style,’ ‘Dunkirk,’ ‘My Generation,’ ‘Dear Dictator,’ and ‘King of Thieves.’ He also voiced ‘Lord Redbrick’ in the 2018 animated film ‘Sherlock Gnomes.’
In 2020, he played ‘Charlie’ in Brenda Chapman's fantasy drama film ‘Come Away,’ which had Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo in lead roles.
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‘The Man Who Would Be King’ (1975), directed by John Huston, is considered to be one of Michael Caine’s early major works. In this film, he co-starred with Sean Connery and the duo was much-admired for their performances. Huston had also praised Caine for his improvisation in the film.
‘The Quiet American’ (2002) is also one of his major works. Set in 1952 in Saigon, the story is based on a love triangle between ‘Thomas Fowler,’ a British journalist played by Caine, ‘Alden Pyle,’ an American aid worker played by Brendan Fraser, and ‘Phuong,’ a Vietnamese woman played by Do Thi Hai Yen. The film also talks about the growing American involvement in Vietnam, which later culminated in the ‘Vietnam War.’
Caine considers ‘Educating Rita’ (1983) to be his best work. In this film, he played the role of ‘Dr. Frank Bryant.’ It not only earned critical acclaim but also won two major awards.
Awards & Achievements
In his film career, Caine has won numerous awards, including two ‘Oscars.’ He first won the ‘Academy Award’ in 1986 for his role in ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ under the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ category. In 1999, he won the award under the same category for his role in ‘Cider House Rules.’
He was also nominated for the ‘Academy Awards’ under the ‘Best Actor’ category four times; for his role in ‘Alfie’ (1966), ‘Sleuth’ (1972), ‘Educating Rita’ (1983), and ‘The Quiet American’ (2002).
He has also received the ‘Golden Globe Award’ for ‘Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy’ twice, first for ‘Educating Rita’ and then for ‘Little Voice’ (1998).
In 2000, Caine received a ‘BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award.’ Earlier in 1983, he had won the ‘BAFTA Award’ for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ for his role in ‘Educating Rita.’
In 1992, he was appointed ‘Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ (CBE). In 2000, he was knighted as Sir Maurice Micklewhite CBE by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.