Skip to main content

From Dinaw Mengestu, A 'How To' With Few Answers

Dinaw Mengestu's How to Read the Air is an unsentimental meditation on the immigrant experience and the illusory idea of asylum. With lyrical prose, he reassesses the by-your-bootstraps mythology associated with American mobility.

05:56

Other segments from the episode on November 2, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 2, 2010: Interview with Michael Caine; Review of Dinaw Mengestu's new novel "How to read the air;" Review of the 17 disc box set from Apple records.

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20101102
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Michael Caine Reflects On His 'Hollywood' Career

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Michael Caine has been making movies so long that he's probably made more bad
films than many actors will appear in over the course of a career. One of the
appealing things about Caine's new memoir is that he doesn't mind admitting
when a film flops. It's of a piece with the easy charm and Cockney accent that
have made Caine a favorite among movie audiences and other actors.

Despite the flops, Caine is a great actor. He earned five Oscar nominations and
won twice for Best Supporting Actor, for "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "The
Cider House Rules." Among his other memorable films are "Alfie," "Sleuth," "The
Man Who Would be King," "Educating Rita," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The
Quiet American." In 2000, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Caine was born into a poor neighborhood called Elephant and Castle in South
London. He eventually shed his given name, Maurice Micklewhite, and took a
stage name from "The Caine Mutiny," which starred his idol, Humphrey Bogart.

Caine spoke to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies about his new memoir, "The
Elephant to Hollywood."

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Well, Michael Caine, welcome to FRESH AIR.

As I understand, you started acting in a community theater and kind of stayed
with it.

Mr. MICHAEL CAINE (Actor): Yeah.

DAVIES: And, you know, one of the things that interests me about that is that
people who come from working-class backgrounds I think have a - often have a
hard time, as young people, visualizing themselves escaping that world. What
made you think you could?

Mr. CAINE: I don't think I had a choice. If you're in a situation where you
have nowhere to go but up, you're going to go up no matter what you do.

And I was very fortunate because - you know, we're now talking about the
English class system. If you think in terms of class, I was very much lower
class, absolutely the wrong kind of accent - a thick, Cockney accent. The
theater would have been impossible for me.

But I decided to try it anyway, and I was very fortunate because there had
never been any leading roles written for working-class people in the theater,
with the exception of Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion." And she was there only as
a foil for Professor Higgins, you know.

I was fortunate because writers like John Osborne and "Look Back in Anger" and
all this came on. And so I managed to be able to become a lead, even though I
didn't talk what you would call posh.

But very funnily for me, my first movie that I ever got attention with a part
was a movie called "Zulu," where I played an extremely posh officer. So it was
quite weird that I should do that.

DAVIES: You did a lot of acting in your 20s, but I was surprised to read that
you suffered early on from stage fright. How would it manifest itself?

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah. It's not one of the glamorous sides of theater, but on
first nights in the theater, there's always a bucket by the side in case you
want to throw up just before you go onstage, you know. And I used to do that
quite regularly.

I remember once, I was playing a psychiatrist, and I read this phrase, which
stuck in my mind. It said: You become what you are afraid of. I was a very shy
child. If anyone came to our house, I would hide behind the curtains. I didn't
want to talk or see anybody. And I think I became an actor to overcome that
fear. I became what I was afraid of, in other words.

DAVIES: How did you overcome the stage fright, or do you still get it?

Mr. CAINE: I became a Stanislavski actor, and he has a line that he says, of
advice to - or learning. He says: The rehearsal is the work. The performance is
the relaxation. So by the time that I've got - like, I'm a movie actor now. By
the time I've got to a scene in the studio, I have rehearsed it over and over
so many times that it's just second nature to me.

So you have to bring about this relaxation in a movie because the camera is so
close and so sharp, and it will pick up any signs of fear. And I also have a
definition of movie acting is that it's really being a character.

For instance, if you're watching me give a performance, and you turn to your
companion and you say: Isn't that Michael Caine a wonderful actor? Then I've
failed. You're supposed to say: I wonder what's going to happy to Harry Brown
now, you know? That's it. You've got to make yourself disappear.

In theater, it's just the opposite. You really make the acting work for you. In
movies, you dump the acting and become.

DAVIES: Well, let's talk about "Alfie," which was a real breakout picture for
you. I mean, it really made you an international star.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

DAVIES: It got you a Best Actor nomination for the Oscars, and I thought we
would listen to a scene. This is early in the film. You play Alfie, who is, of
course, a young man who gads about having affairs with all kinds of women.

And this is early in the film, where you've just had a liaison with a married
woman. She's in her car about to depart, and you turn and talk to the camera,
although first we hear her say farewell. So let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "Alfie")

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MILLICENT MARTIN (Actor): (as Siddie) I've had a lovely time, Alfie.

Mr. CAINE: (as Alfie) A married woman, see? They're, every one of them, in need
of a good laugh. It don't never strike their husbands. I always say: Make a
married woman laugh, and you're halfway there with her. Of course, it don't
work with a single bird, starts you off on the wrong foot. You get one of them
laughing, you won't get nothing else.

Ms. MARTIN (Actor): (as Siddie) (Singing) La-de, la-da.

Mr. CAINE: There you are. Just listen to it. It was dead glum when I met it
tonight. I listened to all its problems, then I got it laughing. It will go
home laughing.

DAVIES: And that's my guest, Michael Caine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: It made me laugh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Is it still fun to hear?

Mr. CAINE: I'm sitting here laughing, yeah. I'd forgotten that line. But there,
by the way, is an example of a very much thicker Cockney accent than the one I
have today, because what happened on "Alfie" is I made Alfie, were I played
this Cockney. Then, after the picture had been out and been a success in
England, the director called me and said you've got to re-loop - which means
re-record - 120 lines in the picture.

And I said what for? He said: It's going to America, and the Americans don't
understand what you're talking about. So I had to do a load of re-dubbing on
that.

DAVIES: Well, you know, the interesting thing about the clip that we just heard
is that kind of halfway through Alfie's little narrative, he begins referring
to the woman he's just, you know, had this affair with as it.

Mr. CAINE: It. Yeah.

DAVIES: Which kind of reminds us that this is not exactly a charming rogue who
means no harm. He really treats these women very badly.

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah, yeah. And the thing about him was that he was an innocent.
And in - the last line he says in the picture is: What's it all about? He
doesn't understand. He doesn't understand why everybody's against him, what's
going on, you know.

And if there were many men - I mean, one of my best friends was like that. He
got all the girls, you know, but he was very male chauvinistic, you know, to
refer to, obviously, to refer to a woman as it.

DAVIES: Well, you know, there was a time in the '60s here, I mean, after - I
mean, this film was made in '66, and you - your career really took off. And you
were single then, and, you know, young, single, having a grand time, plenty of,
I assume, casual relationships with women. And I wonder: Did people think of
you as Alfie? Did you feel like you had to be Alfie?

Mr. CAINE: No, no, no, no. People told me: You're really like Alfie. I said,
no. They said: But you - wait a minute. You were going around with different
girls just like Alfie and, you know, you're very similar.

And no, I said, there's been - I was a man who very much respected his mother.
I remember once my wife, Shakira, my wife of 40 years, she was doing an
interview, and I was in the other room. The reporter said to her, he said - and
I was listening, half-listening to see whether she said anything about me.

And he said: What first attracted you to Michael? And there was a pause, and
she said: The way he treated his mother. And that was me. I have tremendous
respect for women.

And so, I mean, Alfie was a man who would have sex anywhere, anytime, with
anybody. That was not me at all, never in a million years. I was a romantic,
put it that way.

DAVIES: One of the lovely details in this book is when you had your early
successes with the film "Zulu" and "The Ipcress File" and then "Alfie," that at
the premieres, for your date, you invited your mom.

Mr. CAINE: One of them I invited my mother. The first one was "Zulu." And I
invited my mother. There was a very big premiere in the West End, which is like
Broadway in America.

And I asked my mother to go to the premiere with me, and she wouldn't go. So I
went with a very beautiful girl whose name escapes me now. And going in with
all the flashlights and posing with a beautiful girl, and the crowds were being
held back by the police, and it was sort of a big of mayhem, you know. It was a
big premiere.

And in the middle of the crowd, being pushed and shoved around, I saw my
mother. And for a minute I was so angry, you know. But after we got out of the
theater at the end, I telephoned her. She was home, and I said: What were you
doing there? I asked you to come. She said: I thought it wouldn't be good for
your career to turn up with your mother, she said.

She said: You know, I wanted you to be with a lovely girl, you know, and
everything would look good. She said: But I also wanted to be there and see how
it was. So that's why I went.

But then the next time, "Ipcress File," I made her come to the premiere, and I
bought a mink coat for her to go in.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Michael Caine. He's written a new memoir called
"The Elephant to Hollywood."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Michael Caine. He's
written a new memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

You grew up in South London, from humble origins, kind of worked your way up.
What was it like when you first went to Hollywood?

Mr. CAINE: It was quite weird, because I went there, and I was going to do a
picture with Shirley MacLaine, and she wasn't there. She was working on another
picture, and she was just finishing up. Until we officially had the party
welcoming me to Hollywood - I didn't know this - I was in this very luxurious
suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel, and no one talked to me and no one came. They
just paid the bills, and that was it, you know.

And so I used to sit in the lobby looking for movie stars, which is where I met
John Wayne for the first time, and we became friends - not close friends. I
mean, we hardly moved in the same circles. But we became very deep
acquaintances. Put it that way.

And he was very kind to me, gave me all sorts of advice, like: Talk low, talk
slow and don't say too much. Don't wear suede shoes. I said: Why not wear suede
shoes? He said because you'll be in the toilet, taking a pee, and a guy will
recognize you, and he'll turn to you and say Michael Caine, and he will have
peed all over your shoes, Michael. And so I said: All right, I won't wear white
suede shoes.

DAVIES: This is the advice you got when you first came to Hollywood?

Mr. CAINE: That was my first advice from John Wayne, you know.

DAVIES: Well, I wanted to talk about another film that got you a Best Actor
nomination, "Sleuth," 1972, where you appear with Laurence Olivier. And it's
based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, this very intense drama. I think it's just
the two of you in every single scene.

Mr. CAINE: Yes, it was.

DAVIES: He plays a wealthy guy. You're a younger man who's having an affair
with his wife, and he's invited you to his home for a talk. So let's listen to
a scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sleuth")

Mr. LAURENCE OLIVIER (Actor): (as Andrew Wyke) Well, now. I understand you want
to marry my wife.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Forgive me for raising the matter, but as
Marguerite is away for a few days in the north visiting relatives, I thought
this might be an appropriate moment for you and me to have a little chat.

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) I see.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Well, is it true?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) Yes - with your permission, of course.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Why not? You seem to be a personable enough young
man, nicely spoken, neatly dressed in brand-new country gentleman's clothing.
I'm sure you won't mind me asking you a few questions about your background -
parents and so forth.

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) My mother was born in Hereford, a farmer's
daughter, and my father is an Italian who came to this country in the '30s from
Genoa.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) In the '30s. Jewish?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) No, Catholic, very devout. Of course, I'm not
religious at all myself.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) My dear boy, you don't have to excuse yourself to
me. We're all liberals here. I have no prejudice against Catholics, not even
lapsed Catholics. In fact, some of my best friends are lapsed Catholics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) But tell me about your father. Was his name
Tindle, too?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) No, his name was Tindolini, but if you had a name
like that in those days, you had to make-a the ice-a cream-a.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) He was a watchmaker, and he wanted us to become
English. So he changed it.

Mr. OLIVIER: (as Andrew Wyke) Become English? Was he a successful man?

Mr. CAINE: (as Milo Tindle) No, no. As a matter of fact, he wasn't. You can't
expect to make a living these days just repairing watches. He went broke in the
end. I always told him he would.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Michael Caine, in the 1972 film "Sleuth," with
Laurence Olivier. Interesting there, he - Olivier is such an upper-class snoot,
and you're of more humble origins. Was it intimidating at that - for you as an
actor at that age to work with Laurence Olivier?

Mr. CAINE: Oh, yeah. He was the greatest actor in the world - stage, screen,
everything. You know, he was incredible. I was just listening to that, and that
was a supreme example of class, the way he was talking about Catholics and
lapsed Catholics - some of my best friends are lapsed Catholics, you know, and
that sort of thing - because in actual fact, in real life, Larry was a lord.

And before we started the film, I'd never met him. But we had to start
rehearsals, and he wrote me a little letter, a very nice letter, saying: It has
occurred to me that you may be - as I am a lord, you may be wondering how to
address me when we meet.

And it said - and then there was a new paragraph, and he said: When we do meet,
Michael, from the moment we shake hands, I will be Larry forevermore - which
was lovely.

You know, he put me out of any sort of worry socially, but the idea that he had
to do it is extraordinary very difficult to explain. It explains a very
difficult thing, the class system in England, because if you cut to later, I
did a remake of "Sleuth" playing Larry's part.

DAVIES: Right. The older character, yeah.

Mr. CAINE: And Jude - yeah, the older man, and Jude Law played the young
seducer. And I was thinking about that because I am now a knight. You know, I'm
Sir Michael Caine. But the idea that I would write a letter to Jude saying you
may be wondering how to address me when we first meet, once we meet you may
call me Michael forevermore, it showed how the class system changed over the 20
years between those two movies.

DAVIES: One of the interesting turns in your story is in 1991, when you learned
that there was a half-brother that you'd never known about or known. Your
parents were both dead at this point. How did you find out?

Mr. CAINE: My half-brother was in a mental institution. He was eight years
older than me. Nobody - obviously, my mother knew, but nobody in my family had
any inkling of this man. His name was David.

But the most extraordinary thing that we found out, when I found out about it -
and oh, I'll tell you first how I found out. A newspaper in England was doing
an article, a series, on the state of mental health treatment in England.

And the reporter eventually rang me and told me that I had my half-brother,
because I never knew him. My mother and father were dead. And the way he found
out is he was in a hospital doing his thing, you know, his program about the
state of mental health. And this girl, who was also a mental patient, came over
and pointed at David and said: That is Michael Caine's brother. And, of course,
this reporter went: What? And he investigated it, and lo and behold, it was my
half-brother.

And he rang me and said - and he was very nice. They didn't make a big deal out
of it, you know, sensationalism. He said: But he is your half-brother, he said,
and the way we found out is that there is a picture of you with your mother
just on the wall by his bed. And that's the woman who comes and visits him. And
then I talked to the matron, and then she's told me the full story.

So I had this half-brother there, but the most extraordinary thing about it was
that for 51, two or three years, my mother had visited him every Monday without
fail, except for the five years of the war, when everyone was evacuated.

DAVIES: Now just to be clear, this was an illegitimate child that your mom had
had...

Mr. CAINE: Illegitimate child that she'd had eight years before she had me,
when she wasn't married to my - my father was in the Indian Army. He was in the
Royal Horse Artillery in India. And so he was away, and she'd had this
illegitimate child.

What you did there, because of the shame, is you gave it to the Salvation Army.
And he had epilepsy, and they'd obviously left him in a room with a very hard
floor and no attention, and he'd battered himself into incoherence.

When I finally met him, he spoke, but I couldn't understand what he said. And
the only person who could understand was the matron, who had been with him the
longest. And she translated. She was like an interpreter for me when we talked
to each other.

And I obviously looked after him very well for the next two years, when he died
years ago, years ago.

DAVIES: It's remarkable that your mom made these visits and kept this secret.

Mr. CAINE: That's what's - yeah. That's what's incredible.

DAVIES: Took him sweets and the like.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, I mean, my mother used to come to me on the weekends, you
know, and on Monday, when she went back, you know, I'd give her all the rest of
the box of chocolates, boxes of biscuits - you know, cookies as you call them
in America and, you know, three-quarters of a cake, which we hadn't eaten.

And for her, you know, and I had other family living in the house where she
lived. And I would go up there and see her on a Wednesday and have a cup of
tea, which is only two days later. And I'd tell her, I'd like a biscuit. And
she'd say: I haven't got one. Of course, she'd been taking them to David.

And I found out - I had a Rolls Royce and a chauffeur, the full - and my
chauffeur, he said one day, he said: You do know, he said, whenever I take your
mum home on a Monday, I never take her to the house. I said: Where do you drop
her off? He said: I drop her off at a bus stop.

And I said: What did she say she's going to do? He said: She's going shopping.
What she was absolutely going to do was take the food and the chocolates to
David in the mental home.

GROSS: Michael Caine's interview with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies will
continue in the second half of the show. Caine's new memoir is called "The
Elephant to Hollywood."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with
actor Michael Caine, who has appeared in over 100 films, including "Get
Carter," "Alfie," "Educating Rita," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "Dirty Rotten
Scoundrels," "The Cider House Rules," "The Quiet American," Batman films, a
Muppet movie, and recently "Inception" and "Harry Brown." Caine's written a new
memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

DAVIES: I wanted to talk little bit about "The Man Who Would Be King," which
you starred in with Sean Connery, directed by John Huston. Quite a tale of -
you know, the Rudyard Kipling story. How did you get that part?

Mr. CAINE: I was sleeping late in bed with my wife in the George Cinq(ph) Hotel
in Paris on a Saturday morning. It was about 11:00. We'd been out very late at
probably Regine's disco in Paris. My wife and I used to go to Paris for
weekends for honeymoon. Well, we still do, as a matter of fact. And the phone
went in the bedroom and I sort of picked it up very flustered. I was half
asleep. I said, yes. He said, this is John Huston, I'd like to have a chat with
you about making a movie. And I said no, come on, who is this? Because all my
mates could, would do jokes on me like that, you know? So he said, no, it's
John Huston.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: And I said, is it? No. Come on. And, you know, he said, Michael,
it's John Huston and I want you to do a movie with me. And he told me the story
"The Man Who Would Be King," and he said it was going to be played by Humphrey
Bogart, who is my favorite actor of all time, and he said I'd like to see you
to talk about it. So I said, yeah, I said any time, any time. He said, well,
I'm in the bar next door. He said, can you come down?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: So I said, yeah, yeah. I jumped out of bed, combed my hair, dashed
out and went down and had my first chat with him and that - got the part and I
had an incredible experience, because John was the greatest director, I think.
I mean, no, I've worked with some great directors, but he was one of the
greatest directors I ever worked with.

DAVIES: And what was distinctive about his approach?

Mr. CAINE: He never said anything. I sat there one day, I said, John, you never
give me any directions. He said, the art of direction, Michael, is casting. If
you've cast it right, you don't have to say anything. Anyway, said, why do I
have to tell you a lot of stuff? He said, you get paid a great deal of money to
do this. You should be know how to do it without me telling you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: We should listen to just a clip of this, of "The Man Who Would Be
King." And for those that don't know, it's the Rudyard Kipling story of these
two sergeants in the English Army in India who finished their service and then
sort of become these rogue scammers and then have this idea that they will have
this plot to become a king of Kafiristan. And here, this scene is fairly late
in the film where, in fact, you have made it to Kafiristan. Sean Connery is
regarded by the locals as a god. Your character, Peachy, is trying to convince
him that it's time to get the loot and get out of there. He is so enraptured
with his role as a - you know, as a deity that he wants to stay. So let's
listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Man Who Would Be King")

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) Danny, Danny, we've had this rare streak of luck. Let's
quit winners for once, cut and run while the running's good.

Mr. SEAN CONNERY (Actor): (as Daniel) You call it luck. I call it destiny.

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) Ha, ha. Pardon me while I fall down laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNERY: (as Daniel) Whatever you may think and however you may feel, I'm a
king and you're a subject, so don't you provoke me, Peachy Carnehan.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) Or you'll do what? You got me trembling in my boots
here. What will you do?

Mr. CONNERY: (as Daniel) You have our permission to bugger off.

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) That I'll do, with or without your bleeding permission.

(Soundbite of walking)

Mr. CAINE: (as Peachy) And may you rot in hell, Daniel Dravot.

DAVIES: That's our guest, Michael Caine, with Sean Connery in "The Man Who
Would Be King."

Do you remember shooting that scene?

Mr. CAINE: Oh yeah, very well. And we shot all that in Morocco. But very funny
enough, we - so we're going to be kings of Kafiristan, I remember saying. And
yesterday I saw Kafiristan on the television, and it's a major Taliban
stronghold...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: ...right now.

DAVIES: Oh, boy.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

DAVIES: There are so many movies of yours we could talk about. But I wanted to
talk about "The Cider House Rules," which you made in 2000, won you your second
Oscar. It's a lovely film, really, based on the John Irving novel, and I
thought we'd listen to a bit of this. You play a doctor at an orphanage for
unwanted children in Maine who also performs abortions for young women who need
them. There's a young man there played by Tobey Maguire named Homer who you've
trained as a gynecologist and has learned to deliver babies, but he refuses to
do abortions. It's against his principles. And in this particular scene we're
going to hear, a young teenage girl has come in in distress because she has
been to a back alley abortionist and you're treating her. You speak first to
her and then to this young apprentice, Homer.

(Soundbite of movie. "The Cedar House Rules")

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Dear child, did you do something to yourself?

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) It wasn't me. It wasn't me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Did you go to someone else?

Unidentified Woman: He said he was a doctor. I would've never stuck that inside
me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Listen, listen...

Unidentified Woman: (as character) It wasn't me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Listen, you've been very brave, and I'm going
to put you to sleep.

Unidentified Woman: (as character) It wasn't me.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) Homer, I want you to see this. You won't feel
it anymore.

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) You've been very brave. We'll make it deeper.

Mr. TOBEY MAGUIRE (Actor): (as Homer) You're sure?

Mr. CAINE: (as Dr. Wilbur Larch) You bet. Fetus is unexpelled. The uterus is
punctured. She has acute peritonitis. There is a foreign object. I think it's a
crochet hook. Take this. If she had come to you four months ago and asked for
simple DNC, what would you have done? Nothing. This is what doing nothing gets
you. It means that somebody else is going to do the job, some moron who doesn't
know how.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Michael Caine, with Tobey Maguire in his Oscar-
winning performance in "The Cider House Rules."

The relationship between you and Tobey Maguire, it's kind of a father-son
relationship and it's really touching. He wants to go out and see the world.
You want him to remain at the orphanage and continue to serve the young women
and the kids who are there.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah. Well, he was an orphan too, you see.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. CAINE: And so I had brought them up in that way, you know. People say to
me, you worry about acting with children? I say watch "The Cider House Rules,"
I have 150.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right. You're reading stories to a kid and you have that wonderful line
where you say goodnight. What is the line?

Mr. CAINE: Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.

DAVIES: Right. Right.

DAVIES: Yeah. That's what people come up to me – American men come up to me in
the street and they say to me, you know what I say to my boys before they go to
bed? I say it's not goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England,
is it? And then they say, oh yeah, you guessed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Our guest is Michael Caine. His new memoir is called "The Elephant to
Hollywood."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Michael Caine. He's
written a new memoir called "The Elephant to Hollywood."

You know, you've been in the business so long, made, what, over a hundred
films, I guess, right?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah (unintelligible) a hundred, yeah.

DAVIES: And you know, anybody who's had a long career is going to have some
stinkers in the mix, and one of the things I like about your book is that you
fully acknowledge that, that they are things that didn't work.

Mr. CAINE: Yeah.

DAVIES: Do you have a favorite moment from any of those that didn't work that
you just love to look back on and laugh about?

Mr. CAINE: Look, any of those films that didn't work I never ever saw.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: I know one. I know the scene that I love. I did a very bad movie
called "The Swarm."

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAINE: "The Swarm" was about bees that, you know, big, very malignant bees
attacking in hordes, attacking people and killing them.

DAVIES: Henry Fonda was in that, wasn't he?

Mr. CAINE: Henry Fonda, one of my favorite actors. Dick Widmark, I was working
with all my good guys. But there is a moment in there with all the bees and we
had to do a scene where we were smothered in bees, you know? We were doctors.
It was Hank Fonda and me. We were wearing white smocks or doctors' coats and
they let all these bees go out of these hives, thousands of them. And they came
in and we suddenly noticed that our white smocks sort of started to get a very,
very pale brown mist – very, very pale (unintelligible). What we didn't realize
was that bees when caged do not defecate in their habitation, shall we say.
They wait until till the moment they're released and sort of busting
themselves, and they released like half a million bees and they all crapped all
over us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Which sort of anticipated the critics by about nine months.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: That's the funniest scene in one of those, because I did see "The
Swarm," and you can actually see, if you're looking, the brown film on our
tunics.

DAVIES: You know, I have to ask you before we go, I spoke to a friend in the
last couple of days and said I was going to be interviewing Michael Caine, and
she said, oh, he's so great, he's such a great actor and he's such a wonderful
guy. And of course, she's never spent a minute in your presence. But I think
there is this image of you, maybe because of your Cockney accent or because of
the roles you've had, that people just figure that you're a guy they could
share a beer with and they'd love to hang with. Is it a burden to have that
image? Is that you?

Mr. CAINE: It's exactly me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, I'm very much socially - and I hasten to add, only socially -
I'm a communist. Everybody is exactly the same to me. I treat everybody exactly
the same until they answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAINE: Then I figure out who they are.

DAVIES: Is it ever tiresome? I mean people expect you to...

Mr. CAINE: It can be.

DAVIES: ...to never have an inpatient moment, you know?

Mr. CAINE: Yeah, but I never do. I control my temper. I have a terrible temper
and I've learned early on to control it. I remember, I'd lost my temper very
badly on a picture called "The Lost Valley," when they put me on a horse. I
hadn't been trained properly and I'm a terrible rider, and they'd assured me
that it was very quiet, and then it threw me off and I hurt myself and I really
had a go at the crew, and they were all laughing at me, you know? And I really,
really lost my temper.

And Jimmy Clavell – James Clavell - was the director. And he said, okay, half
an hour's break, everybody; let's go and have a cup of tea, Michael, in my
motor home. So we went to his motor home. And he said, I was captured by the
Japanese in Hong Kong when I was 14. I said, I know you were, Jim. He said, and
I survived that by watching and learning from them. He said, and the thing I
learned that I could tell you today is never to lose your temper. He said
because anger is a very, very important emotion and you must never ever share
important emotions with strangers, because you will only lose face, because
none of it is important to them. And I never ever lost my temper on a movie set
ever again.

DAVIES: Well, Michael Caine, it's been fun. Thanks so much for spending some
time with us.

Mr. CAINE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Michael Caine spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Caine's new
memoir is called "The Elephant to Hollywood." You can read an excerpt on our
website, freshair.npr.org.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
130895606
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20101102
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
From Dinaw Mengestu, A 'How To' With Few Answers

TERRY GROSS, host:

Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, has a review of Dinaw Mingestu's new novel,
"How to Read the Air." Mingestu is named one of the 20 writers under 40 to
watch by The New Yorker magazine, where some of his fiction has been published.
His first novel, "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears," received the Los
Angeles Times First Book Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book.
Maureen says Mingestu's winning streak is still going strong.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: In his 1988 memoir called simply "A Life," the controversial
director Elia Kazan told a World War II story I've always wanted to believe is
true. Kazan wrote that he was present in 1945 on the Pacific island of Biak
when his newly released film "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" was shown to a battle-
scarred audience of American soldiers and nurses. The movie was projected on an
outdoor screen in the rain at night, and the audience was rapt despite planes
circling overhead and the other noises of war. In the middle of the movie, the
film reel broke and Kazan recalled that a great groan of disappointment erupted
from the audience before the film was fixed and the show continued.

The next morning, rumor went around the base that some Japanese soldiers still
at large on the island had climbed to the top of a nearby hill and also had
watched the movie. I guess they groaned too when the film broke. After all,
everybody loves a good tear-jerker about immigrants and promises just out of
reach.

Of course, they don't make them like that anymore. The stories and memoirs
written by newer waves of immigrants to America - writers like Julia Alvarez,
Junot Diaz and Gish Jen - commute back and forth between the old world and the
new, while the immigrant community, unlike Kazan's lively Brooklyn streets, is
much less sentimentalized and more fragmented and mobile.

Add to this canon of ambivalent new chroniclers of the dream of America, Dinaw
Mingestu, who was born in Ethiopia, immigrated to the United States as a child,
and educated at Georgetown University, where somehow he managed to avoid taking
any of my courses. I don't know him, but I do know some of his work. Mengestu
has just published his second novel, "How to Read the Air," and it's a sad
stunner of a meditation on the illusory idea of asylum.

Mengestu's main character, Jonas Woldemariam, is not even at home in his own
skin, let alone in his adopted home of New York City. A first-generation
American, Jonas grew up in the Midwest, the only child of Ethiopian refugees
who barely spoke to each other during the decades of their troubled marriage.
Jonas says about his family that what we were was something closer to a jazz
trio than a family, a performance group that got together every now and then to
play a few familiar notes before dispersing back to their real private lives.

Jonas has earned a hard-knocks advanced degree in alienation. He works, first,
at an immigrant aid society, later he gets a job teaching composition at a
snooty prep school in Manhattan. The hasty marriage that Jonas has embarked on
with a lawyer at the aid society is falling apart. As it does, Jonas keeps
thinking back on his family legacy of rootlessness - his parents' transplanted
lives in Peoria, Illinois, and before that his father's rough exodus from
Ethiopia to Europe, sealed in a box smuggled aboard a cargo ship. The narrative
jumps around restlessly among all these timeframes, but the description Jonas
relates secondhand of his father's odyssey is especially evocative...

In Italy my father was given asylum and set free. He met dozens of men along
the way, men who promised him that when they made it to London, the rest of
their lives would finally resolve into the picture they imagined. It's
different there, they always said. For most, that place of difference was
London; for a few it was Paris; and for a smaller but bolder few, America. That
faith had carried them thus far, and even though it was weakening, and needed
constant readjustment - Rome is not what I thought it would be, France will
surely be better - it persisted out of sheer necessity. By the time my father
finally made it to London, he had begun to think of all the men he met as being
crippled and deformed by their dreams.

At the three-hankie end of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Francie Nolan and her
kid brother look out from their tenement rooftop to the skyline of Manhattan.
They're certain that a bright American future is theirs, just over the bridge.
In Dinaw Mengestu's beautifully written and wearier update of the coming-to-
America story, refugees and their offspring cross a lot of bridges, but none of
them ever find the clean well-lighted place of their dreams. It seems that the
wanderers in this novel are destined to be a country unto themselves.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "How to Read the Air," by Dinaw Mengestu.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
130833146
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20101102
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
The Best Of Apple Records' Albums: Beyond The Beatles

TERRY GROSS, host:

In 1968, The Beatles became the second huge selling act to own their own record
label - the first being Frank Sinatra and Reprise Records. Apple Records not
only released The Beatles' own singles and albums, but also music by other
performers the individual Beatles liked. A new box set of 17 CDs includes 16
re-mastered albums and a CD of singles.

Our rock historian Ed Ward recently reviewed the singles compilation called
"Come and Get It." Today he reviews the albums.

(Soundbite of song, "Yesterday")

ED WARD: Apple Records was intended to be a label like no other. For one thing,
it had The Beatles. But it also had - behind the scenes - Derek Taylor and
Peter Asher, two of the smartest and hippest men in the record business at the
time, and in the beginning the world was anxious to see what it would do. The
first thing it did was to throw a curveball.

(Soundbite of song, "Happiness Runs")

Ms. MARY HOPKIN (Singer): (Singing) Little pebble upon the sand, now you're
lying here in my hand. How many years have you been here? Little human upon the
sand, from where I'm lying here in your hand, you to me are but a passing
breeze.

The sun will always shine where you stand, depending in which land you may find
yourself. Now, you have my blessing, go your way. La la la la la la la la la...

WARD: The English have a word, twee, which is hard to define, but once you've
been exposed to it, you know it when you hear it. Mary Hopkin, a Welsh singer
who entranced Paul McCartney from her televised appearance on a talent search
show, became Apple's first release with a single, "Those Were the Days," which
hasn't improved with age, and an album, "Postcard," which includes "The Puppy
Song," as well as Donovan's "Happiness Runs" and "There's No Business Like Show
Business."

Fortunately, Paul redeemed himself shortly thereafter. Peter Asher had been
half of Peter and Gordon, and the drummer of a band which had backed them on
their American tours also played in a band called The Flying Machine, which had
just broken up. Their lead singer and chief songwriter left for London with
Asher's phone number in his pocket, unaware of Asher's new job. He sent in a
tape, Asher played it for McCartney, and before James Taylor's jet-lag wore
off, he had an Apple contract.

(Soundbite of song, "Carolina in My Mind")

Mr. JAMES TAYLOR (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) In my mind I'm going to
Carolina. Can't you see the sunshine. Can't you just feel the moonshine and
ain't it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind. Yes I'm going to
Carolina in my mind.

Karen she's a silver sun you got walk her way and watch it shine. Watch her
watch the morning come. A silver tear appearing now I'm crying. Ain't I going
to Carolina in my mind. Ain't no doubt...

WARD: This version of "Carolina in My Mind" is from the demo tape Taylor sent
Asher, and it's easy to see why he got excited. The orchestrated versions of
the songs on the finished album were very much of their times, and Taylor might
have become a star had his heroin habit not put him in rehab while the tour was
being organized. As it was, he'd have to wait until Asher landed at Warner
Brothers in 1970 before his career took off.

McCartney's other find was The Iveys, more Welsh people, who were rechristened
Badfinger and inserted into the soundtrack of the film "The Magic Christian,"
in which Ringo played a hunchbacked dwarf.

(Soundbite of song, "No Matter What You Are")

BADFINGER (Rock Band): (Singing) No matter what you are, I will always be with
you. It doesn't matter what you do, girl, ooh girl with you. No matter what you
do, I will always be around. Won't you tell me what you found girl, ooh girl
won't you?

Knock down the old gray wall, be a part of it all. Nothing to say, nothing to
see, nothing to do. If you would give me all, as I would give it to you.
Nothing would be, nothing would be, nothing would be.

No matter where you go...

WARD: They wound up having four Top 20 hits on Apple, all very Beatles-esque
pop, although the four Apple albums show them to have been very versatile and
still stand up well today.

Paul McCartney wasn't the only Beatle signing acts to Apple. The Undertakers
were a big deal on the Merseybeat scene The Beatles had emerged from, and their
gimmicky appearance didn't hide the fact that guitarist Jackie Lomax was a
guitarist and songwriter of some talent and George Harrison saw to it that he
wound up on Apple for an album.

(Soundbite of song, "Take My Word")

THE UNDERTAKERS (Beat group): (Singing) Take my word, I'm the biggest fool you
ever heard any day, any day, I drove my sweet lover far away. And I can't love
you, no, no, no, I can't love you.

WARD: Despite the presence of George, Paul, Ringo, Eric Clapton and Keith
Richards on the album, it and the single released from it stiffed. Harrison
also used his awakening religious interests to sign the Radha Krishna Temple of
London, as well as gospel prodigy Billy Preston and soul singer Doris Troy to
the label.

Even Ringo got into the act with a signing you'd never expect. His brother
introduced him to the music of composer John Tavener, whose 1966 oratorio "The
Whale," about the biblical Jonah, and his "Celtic Requiem," both came out on
Apple - although these pieces are very dated now, and Tavener has matured into
Britain's best-loved composer.

And the Modern Jazz Quartet? That was Peter Asher. He'd heard the venerable
jazz combo was out of a contract, so they got to make two excellent albums for
Apple, which are reissued on one disc here.

Apple only lasted until 1973, and although it had limited success with its
releases, most of them are worth revisiting today to see what you missed.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in France. He reviewed the Apple Records box set.

You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
130838132

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:41

Emmy-Nominated 'Watchmen' Writer Explores Generational Trauma And Racism

Cord Jefferson wrote the episode of the HBO superhero series in which the main character goes back in time and to relive the trauma of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Originally broadcast Aug. 13, 2020.

09:49

Everyone's A Sinner In 'The Devil All The Time'

Justin Chang says the film is based on a densely plotted 2011 novel by the Ohio-born author Donald Ray Pollock, and it's grim in ways that can be both exciting and a little wearying: so many twists and betrayals, so many horrific acts of violence.

52:30

Country Singer Marty Stuart Plays Songs Of Sin And Redemption

The Grammy winning singer-songwriter started out in Johnny Cash's backup band. Now he's being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Stuart played some of his own music in this 2014 interview.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue