After escaping the London blitz while he was a kid, Michael Caine still hides in the country


Michael Caine, 85, is a two-time Academy Award-winning actor who has starred in films such as "Alfie", "Educating Rita", "The Cider House Rules" and "Hannah and Her Sisters". He is the author of the memoir "Blowing the Bloody Gates" (Hachette). He spoke with Marc Myers. At the beginning of the bombing of London by the Germans in 1940, I was sent to live with a family outside the city. They seemed kind enough, but when they left for the weekend, they locked me up with another boy, Clarence, in a dark closet under the stairs with just enough food and water. I was 7 years old.

It lasted three successive weekends. When my mother arrived the fourth weekend to pick me up, she found me covered with sores. She was almost sent to prison for beating the other woman.

During the Depression, my family first lived in a narrow two-room apartment in a converted Victorian home in Camberwell, one of London's poorest neighborhoods. If you have a weak bladder, you have strong legs. We had three flights on the street and five in one of the toilets in the garden.

My first recurring actor role began at the age of 3 years. When the debt collector asked for the rent, my role was to speak up and say "Mummy out". My mother, Ellen, who was hiding behind the door, then slammed shut.

My mother cleaned people's houses. My father, Maurice, was a fish carrier at the Billingsgate market. When the war broke out in 1939 he entered the army. The day he got into the truck with other soldiers and left, my mother turned to me and my younger brother, Stanley, and said, "Now you two have to take care of me".

We immediately became little men. Our mother had a great influence on me. She cared so much about everything. The love she had for us two boys was extraordinary. His kindness and resilience made me the man that I became.

Emotionally, we were always three. Every day we waited with horror as someone knocked on the door with a telegram announcing that Dad had been killed. We were scared all the time.

Mr. Caine photographed at home with his mother, Ellen, in 1964.

Mr. Caine photographed at home with his mother, Ellen, in 1964.


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As the bombing intensified, my mother, brother and I were evacuated for several months at a farm in Norfolk, about two hours north-east of London.

There, I ran outside. Chemicals being diverted for the war effort, I ate healthy, organic food. I grew up as a weed.

After the war, when my father returned, we moved into a prefabricated apartment at Elephant and Castle. There were electric lights, hot water, a bath, a fridge, a toilet and a garden. I thought we were in a palace.

I left school at age 16 to do a series of odd jobs. At 18, I was called to military service in West Germany then to active duty in Korea. I was most afraid of being a coward in combat. But I did not run. The experience has given me courage all my life.

Rejected at 20, I went to work. A decisive job was moving crates into a butter factory. For years, I had wanted to be an actor but I did not know how to do it.

One day at the factory, an old gentleman cockney urged me to buy the magazine Stage and check the last page of the jobs. So I did and started what would become nine years of repertory theater, appearing in a different room every week.

I did not go to theater school. Instead, I learned the movement of voice and accents by listening attentively to the people talking to each other in the bus. I listened to the meaning behind the words – the ulterior motives.

My first major role in a film came in 1963, when I was chosen as an officer in "Zulu". It required a chic British accent. I founded mine on an officer I had in the army. From this movie, I had lead roles.

Today, Shakira, my wife for 46 years, and I share our time between two houses. We keep an apartment in West London, where we stay several days a week. But our real home is in Surrey, about 40 minutes southwest of London.

Our house was a 200 year old barn that we converted into a 12,000 square foot home with a pool, movie theater and 22 acre garden.

The house is a little psychological with me. During the war, the bombing was not continuous. Whenever it stops, we return to London from Norfolk. When that started again, we rushed into the country. I realize that I still do it today.

Caine's Scrutiny

Favorite movie in adolescence: "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) First madness: Having grown up in poverty, I took my first big check and bought a lot of shirts, sheets, towels, socks, toothpaste, shampoo and the largest after-shave collection in the world. Favorite co-stars: Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Olivier. Meet his wife: I saw it for the first time in an advertisement on a coffee on television in 1971 and I fell in love with it. Court: I called her 10 days in a row. I was rebuffed. I thought to myself, "Once again, that's all." She said, "Once again, I will say yes and I will get rid of him." I called, we went for Indian food and we were together. since. Film that chokes you: "Alfie." Each actor refused the role. It became my first Oscar nomination and launched my career. Favorite "Alfie" registration: The music composed by Sonny Rollins for the film. Lucky charm: The black rosary with a silver cross of the Pope gave to my father and other soldiers who liberated Rome. I keep it at home.