updated 04/27/2004 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/27/2004 AT 9:00 AM ET
As Jude Law waits in the wings to remake Michael Caine’s first star-making vehicle, the 1966 Alfie, New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center honored the real McCoy – Sir Michael Caine – at its annual spring gala Monday night.
“I’m really not sure what I’ve done to deserve this,” said Caine, 71, after an evening that covered his nearly 50-year career and featured clips ranging from the sublime The Man Who Would Be King to the odious Blame It on Rio. Speakers paying tribute included Benjamin Bratt, Woody Allen and Steve Martin.
Recalling his British youth, Caine talked about the time he was 7 and saw his first “Yank” (an American soldier) at the start of World War II, and how the soldier gave him a stick of gum – the first of many gifts he’s received from Americans.
“You are a generous wonderful people … to foreigners and strangers,” Caine told the black-tie crowd. “Never mind me. You are the ones who should be very proud.”
Allen, 68, who directed Caine in his Oscar-winning role as the wandering husband in 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters, opened the evening in a special film clip, saying Caine is “incapable of a graceless moment on the screen.”
On the Avery Fisher Hall stage, Bratt, 40, said, “When I grow up I want to be Michael Caine,” and recalled asking his Miss Congeniality costar on location in Texas if he wanted to be addressed as “Mr. Caine or Sir Michael.” Replied Caine: “ ‘Sir Mike’ would be fine.”
But it was Caine’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels costar who repeatedly brought down the house. “I’m Steve Martin,” said the actor-writer upon taking to the stage. “Or, as I’m known in New York, the lesser Woody Allen who’ll show up.”
Martin, 58, also revealed that, except for the time “I was working alone,” the person he most loved acting with “was Goldie Hawn.” Looking over at Caine, Martin added, “Michael, I wish ‘11th place’ had a better ring to it.”
It was then time for Martin to grow serious. “Michael,” he said, “the word ‘genius’ isn’t one I throw around a lot. I just thought I’d mention that.”