The 15th of March is the 90th birthday of Michael Caine. He is celebrated, rightly, as one of the UK’s greatest ever screen actors. He’s also a terrific raconteur, and above all a good guy, and gentleman.
I have known Michael, albeit with big gaps in between, since around 1970 when my father cast him to play the iconic character, Jack Carter, in the best British gangster film of all time, “Get Carter”. I also had the pleasure of working with him for my documentaries, one about my father, Michael Klinger, entitled “The Man Who Got Carter” and more recently, our film about “Get Carter” which we’ve called “Dirty Sexy and Totally Iconic”. More about them later.
The interview situation with Michael tells you a lot about the man. He entered the room and once he’d said hello to me he went to each and every member of our team and introduced himself, “Hello I’m Michael Caine, what’s your name, nice to meet you, thanks for doing this.” The crew were thrilled to meet this legendary man, but also very honoured that he paid them all his respects. Added to which, when we were finished he thanked everyone and posed for photos with us. I’ve made a great many films with many very famous people and this is not what usually happens!
Going back much further in time to the early 1970’s I was barely out of my teens and Michael was already reaching star status. My own family had risen from a working-class Soho then Hackney beginning through many upward moves to the luxury of Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square in the first fourteen years of my life. All through the incredible drive and brilliance of my father, who by then was a hugely successful film producer, Michael Klinger. In that same square, in a flat on the opposite corner was Michael Caine who had also risen from a very humble start in a deprived part of London. In a strange coincidence of fate these two men were to find each other and create cinema history.
I remember the first time I met Michael was with his then girlfriend, a very beautiful and vivacious woman. Michael told the story of how he was so impressed that every time he put on one of his shirts she’d prepared it, ironed, in perfect condition ready to wear. It was only later he discovered that she simply threw away every shirt he wore and replaced them with newly acquired shirts from the very best suppliers at enormous cost to Michael.
In that same time frame, we were sent a book called “Jack’s Return Home” which was later to become “Get Carter”. When new books were about to be published film producers like my father were sent advanced copies to look over to see if they might want to bid for the rights to turn them into films. Most of them were rejected. We would get at least one or two books a week that way and I was one of the designated readers. Most of the time it was a waste of time and energy. However, when it was something that excited us we’d actually tear the book apart and share it within our family. “Jack’s Return Home” was one of those books. We knew this was special.
At precisely the right moment a friend Bobby Littman was appointed to be Head of Production at MGM in the UK and he wanted a film. He turned to my father who he knew could deliver. Klinger told Bobby about the book and he was instantly on board, but required that the lead should be played by a star. Caine, who qualified for the American distributors was contacted and jumped at the project which reminded him of people he had experienced growing up. I was to discover during our interview with famous film producer and agent Barry Krost that Michael had, in his early adulthood, been a bouncer at Barry’s parents hotel in the Elephant and Castle. Michael later confirmed this to me but cautioned that the description of their premises as a hotel was more than generous.
Within days the rights were acquired, the director, the late Mike Hodges, was signed up and within 37 weeks this great film was produced, delivered, and premiered all around the world.
I was fortunate to attend the pre shoot dinner with my family, Michael Caine, Mike Hodges, Bobby Littman and Michael’s stunt double John Morris were all there in a private dining area of a famous London restaurant. During the meal a bit too much wine was consumed and something that Bobby said was misconstrued by John who wanted to take him outside to give him a new shaped nose. Luckily, we were able to calm it down before blows were exchanged and it was at this moment, I realised what a good humoured person Michael Caine was. He didn’t throw a Hollywood hissy fit, instead he calmed the situation down and was, as ever, a good influence.
During the filming in Newcastle, I was fortunate to be there for about a week or two while making my own separate documentary, “Extremes”. I was on the set to see some of the filming and was present to see the “Rushes” or what the Americans call the “Dailies” with Mike Hodges, my dad and Michael Caine. Unusually for an actor Michael was able to see past his own performance. His view of the films he appears in is 360 degrees. I’m sure he would have been a very fine director had he followed that route. As my father said, “Michael might appear in some dud films, but he is always excellent”.
The year after the film was released, I was married to Avril and Michael was there accompanied by his girlfriend, the very beautiful and lovely Shakira. Rumour has it that it was our wedding that got them to the alter very soon afterwards and both couples are still together half a century later!
During Michael’s interview in “The Man Who Got Carter” he described my father perfectly. “He looked like a comedian, in fact he was very funny, but don’t let appearances deceive you, he was also a very expert film producer, who knew exactly what he was doing…” The two men delighted in each other. He went on to describe a meeting between my father, himself, and the Prime Minister of Malta where they were filming their second production together, “Pulp.” Michael Klinger was having trouble with some of the locals over charging for locations and this was a direct plea to Mr Mintoff to sort out his people so that they would behave more professionally. Mintoff was swimming in the sea with his bodyguard so Klinger and Caine put on their swimsuits and the entire conversation took place with Klinger swimming around Mintoff convincing him while Caine was paddling around with a big smile on his face. “What could be more Hollywood than this?” he said.
Now we see an older, more frail man but let’s bless the fact that we were around to be part of his wonderful journey through all our lives. It’s time for us all to say Happy Birthday to Michael, and thanks for all the great films, the wonderful stories, and his unique contribution to British culture.