This morning I had the pleasure of hearing Michael Caine interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. (You can listen to the interview and see highlights here. It first aired a couple of days ago so you may have already heard this.) What an incredibly interesting class act this guy is. Caine, 77, told too many excellent stories to recap them all, but there were two that really stuck out for me. One was the first piece of advice that John Wayne gave him, not to wear suede shoes as you can’t get pee out of them. (It makes sense, read it!) The other was the fact that he had an older 1/2 brother in an asylum that he didn’t find out about until after his mother’s death. Caine’s mother had visited her son at his mental home every Monday and never once let the family secret slip. Her husband never even knew. It sounds like such a mystery the way he tells it. Here’s some of what he said:
On first coming to Hollywood and meeting John Wayne
“It was quite weird. I came to do a picture with Shirley MacLaine and she wasn’t there. She was working on another picture and she was just finishing up. She couldn’t get there for two weeks. So until we officially had the party welcoming me to Hollywood, I was in this very luxurious suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel and no one talked to me. No one came. They just paid the bills and that was it. So I used to sit in the lobby looking for movie stars. [That's] where I met John Wayne for the first time and we became friends — not close friends, we hardly moved in the same circles, but we became very deep acquaintances. And he was very kind to me and gave me all sorts of advice like, ‘Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much’ [and] ‘Don’t wear suede shoes.’ I said ‘Why can’t I wear suede shoes?’ and [John Wayne] said ‘You’ll be in the toilet, taking a pee and a guy will recognize you and he’ll turn and say ‘Michael Caine’ and he will have peed all over your shoes Michael.’ So I said ‘All right, I won’t wear suede shoes.’”
On finding out about his 1/2 brother
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.
The Oscar winning actor is promoting his new memoir, The Elephant to Hollywood. It’s out now and I’m surprised we haven’t heard more about it. Caine has been married to his second wife, Shakira Baksh, since 1973 and they have a daughter Natasha, 37. The first photo below is of him with his wife at Natasha’s wedding, which I think was 2 years ago. Caine has another grown daughter, Nikki, from his first marriage, and she’s also pictured below.