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MONDAY 20  MAY 2024

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Mr Caine, you’ve won an Oscar

How Pearce of the Express told star Michael he’d been awarded film gong (not a lot of people know that)

His name is Garth Pearce — oh, and the other chap’s Michael Caine

By GARTH PEARCE

Michael Caine’s familiar voice answered the telephone.  He sounded agitated.  “Hello — who’s that?”  I told him and added that he must be delighted.  “Why should I be?”  He had just won an Oscar, for goodness sake, and I was calling for his reaction.


There was dead silence.  “I can’t fucking believe it,” he said slowly.   “I’m sitting in the dark because the electricity is down again, can’t get any television,  all the lines are dead to England…and you’re telling me I’ve won?  Fuck me!”  


And, with that, the Daily Express informed Britain’s premier film actor on March 30th, 1987 that he had won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance in the 1986 movie Hannah and Her Sisters.  


He was in the Bahamas, filming the god-awful Jaws The Revenge, the fourth film in the franchise.  As Showbusiness Editor, I had been to see him for an interview in his rented house, along with the only Express woman photographer Hilaria McCarthy, on our way for a stint of interviewing various stars of their day in Los Angeles.


The arrival in LA happened to coincide with the Oscars, for which I had not applied for an invitation.  So I sat in a room in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and watched on television.   When it was announced that Caine had won, I simply dialled the number of his temporary home in Lydford Cay, where I had seen him a few days earlier.  


He had delivered a typically fulsome and friendly interview in the Bahamas.  But he was agitated that not only was he having to deliver an incomprehensible film script on what he nicknamed ‘George the Fourth,’ but the mechanical shark had broken down.


Even worse, the producers had ordered him to remain in Nassau for filming rather than take his chance of being in Hollywood to pick up an Oscar for which he was one of five nominees.


“I suppose they’re paying me so much, to be fair,” he said, somewhat grudgingly.  “The sun is shining, there’s some company on the film set and it’s a chance to explore the island.  And, let’s face it, I can’t see ‘em giving me an Oscar.”


Why drag up this memory now?  A combination of Caine’s announcement that at 90 he’s decided to finally retire after his latest hit film The Great Escaper and the woeful reports of the current state of the Daily Express in the reliably well informed Daily Drone.


Let’s deal with Caine first.  I was fortunate enough — or maybe just daft enough — to earn my crust travelling around interviewing every major film star in the world, some of them several times.   My so-called career started on the Express with the likes of Jack Lemmon, Cary Grant and Gregory Peck and ended, after 35 years as a freelance, with comparative newcomers Jennifer Lawrence and Margot Robbie. 


Caine was already a star before I joined my local weekly newspaper and remains one now, after I have left the stage.  Of all those hundreds I interviewed, he was my personal favourite.  No nonsense, good company, self-deprecating and sharply funny.   


There was no gamesmanship or sign of the big, fragile egos which litter the world of movies.   Most major players can’t get through their working day without help from agents, business managers, lawyers, dressers, make-up artists, shrinks and security staff.  


And when they’re on a film set, there are stand-ins (who do all the tedious work like standing while lighting and sound is set up around them), personal assistants for all the fetching and carrying, plus a chauffeur.   There was also lurking, almost inevitably,  one of the biggest turds ever allowed to conceive and multiply in Hollywood, known as a Personal Publicist.  They always had a list of half-wit demands which had to be circumvented and then ignored. 


But Caine?  He wasn’t having any of this pantomime.  He’d turn up on his own, whether at his favourite restaurant Langans, which he once co-owned, or at some selected hotel location, never late, always good natured, ready with new tales.  He used to drive himself, too. 


Next: the Daily Express


I travelled business class, stayed in the best hotels and spent handsomely.  I’m not kidding myself about those heady days of Hackdom.  The reason interviews were offered and meetings made with the famous was nothing to do with personal charm, or lack of it, but the reputation of the newspaper, the circulation and the influence on potential audiences. 

     

It was a privileged working life, which I did my best to maintain (having being much spoilt) long after I left behind the  manual typewriter and the Express building, which on my departure remained proudly in Fleet Street. 


I’m not sure when things went from bad to rotten, as only those regular contributors at the Daily Drone will know the details.  But can anyone imagine now an office-bound reporter on the paper, sans travel and contacts and the back-up of talented colleagues on subs, features and news desks plus the prestige of working for a proud and big-selling title, who could ‘phone one of the world’s biggest stars and tell him he’d won an Oscar?


But that is exactly how it was.


©@dailydrone


20 October 2023