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The Useless Advice John Wayne Gave to a Young Michael Caine

Helen Flatley
Photo by Getty Images
Photo by Getty Images

Sir Michael Caine is one of Hollywood’s best-loved actors, and during his decades-long career, he has given life to some of the most iconic roles on the big screen.

Such is his longevity, it’s hard to imagine a time when Caine was a relative newcomer in Hollywood.

However, a new autobiography, Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, has much to say about his early years as an actor attempting to break into the movie industry.

Michael Caine

Michael Caine

In particular, Caine reports a memorable incident when he first met Academy Award winner and Hollywood legend, John Wayne.

According to the new book, Caine had arrived in Hollywood shortly after completing the 1996 film Alfie.

This romantic comedy-drama was Caine’s big break, and he was in Hollywood hoping to build on his recent successes within the British film industry.

Michael Caine in the trailer for Get Carter (1971).

Michael Caine in the trailer for Get Carter (1971).

Although he had already appeared in high profile British films such as Zulu (1964) and The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie earned Caine international critical acclaim, and he was even nominated for an Oscar.

Following this, he made the move to Hollywood, and in the book, describes how an early encounter with John Wayne made a dramatic impression on him as a young man.

John Wayne.

John Wayne.

Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Caine was staying in the Beverley Hills Hotel, frequented by many notable movie stars.

One day, as he was sitting in the lobby, a helicopter landed right outside the entrance to the hotel and out stepped John Wayne dressed as a cowboy.

Caine writes that he was astonished by the appearance of this Hollywood legend and came out of the lobby to watch the spectacle.

John Wayne visited Australia during World War II to entertain the troops in forward areas. December 1943.

John Wayne visited Australia during World War II to entertain the troops in forward areas. December 1943.

Noticing Caine standing at the entrance to the hotel, Wayne approached him and asked him if he was, in fact, the young actor that had starred in Alfie. Caine nodded, and Wayne leaned in to give him a piece of advice.

According to the account in the book, Wayne said, “You’re gonna be a star, kid. But if you want to stay one, remember this: talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.”

Writing in Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, Caine comments that although he appreciated the great actor’s kindness, this was not great advice.

A wax sculpture of Caine in his Harry Palmer character from The Ipcress File, at Madame Tussauds, London. Photo by mwanasimba Mme Tussaud museum CC BY-SA 2.0

A wax sculpture of Caine in his Harry Palmer character from The Ipcress File, at Madame Tussauds, London. Photo by mwanasimba Mme Tussaud museum CC BY-SA 2.0

Caine was a character actor, and one of the great strengths of his career has been his ability to cope with demanding and varied dialogue.

Wayne’s advice was ideal for someone who hoped to break into Westerns but less useful for the young Michael Caine.

Reflecting on this moment in the book, Caine also outlines the way in which his own approach to passing down shared wisdom has changed over the years.

American actor John Wayne cutting the cake of its 40th anniversary of a movie career in Hollywood, California in 1969, with from left to right: Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Rock Hudson, Fred MacMurray, James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Caine and Laurence Harvey. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

American actor John Wayne cutting the cake of its 40th anniversary of a movie career in Hollywood, California in 1969, with from left to right: Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Rock Hudson, Fred MacMurray, James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Caine and Laurence Harvey. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

For many years he was extremely skeptical of the value of asking older actors for advice, as in his experience, they often told him to give up on his dream of becoming a great actor.

More recently his attitude has somewhat mellowed, and he now thinks back to some of the incredibly useful guidance offered to him by Hollywood greats such as Marlene Dietrich and Laurence Olivier.

Michael Caine, guest at the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino. Photo by Manfred Werner / Tsui CC BY-SA 3.0

Michael Caine, guest at the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino. Photo by Manfred Werner / Tsui CC BY-SA 3.0

John Wayne’s counsel outside the Beverley Hills Hotel, however, only served to remind him that just because something worked well for one actor, doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work for everyone.

In subsequent interviews, Caine expanded further on the advice given to him that day by Wayne. In addition to cautioning the young actor against saying too much, he also recommended that he never, under any circumstances, wear suede shoes.

Speaking on NPR, Caine said that he was confused by this remark. Wayne went on, saying, “Never wear suede shoes, because one day, Michael, you’ll be taking a pee, and the guy next to you will recognize you, and he’ll turn toward you and say ‘Michael Caine!’ and pee all over your shoes.”

Read another story from us: John Wayne used to Fetch Wyatt Earp’s Coffee

Although Caine maintains a healthy skepticism about the value of advice doled out to young actors by their older peers, perhaps this was one tip worth sharing.