Michael Caine and Me

This photograph of Michael Caine from 1968 is going to be auctioned by Christie’s this summer as part of its celebration of all things London.

Where the cliche of cool on your run-of-the-mill men’s fashion blog is Steve McQueen in a pair of blue Persols and a Barbour motorcycle jacket, for me it’s this guy, largely on the strength of two movies — Get Carter and The Ipcress File — and because he was the first celebrity I ever came into contact with as a kid. Besides, it doesn’t get much cooler than a pair of shades, a cigarette, and a Martini while wearing a killer suit with cufflinks.

North of Boston, right on the Maine-New Hampshire border, was a small ski area called Big A — or Mount Agementicus in York, Maine. The interesting thing about the mountain was it was upside down — meaning one drove to the top where the lodge was instead of the typical ski area configuration that has the lodge at the base of the hill. It was an easy mountain, perfect for a ten year-old kid with pair of wooden skis and leather boots to practice the snowplow and stem christie. It had a few lifts and one chairlift, which to my mind made it a major ski experience as chairlifts were a lot easier to deal with than T-bars and rope-tows.

I remember it was around 1968, I was somehow skiing by myself, waiting alone in line for the chairlift. Singles always got paired up with other singles. I was paired up with Michael Caine, though I didn’t know who he was at the time.

I sort of figured out he was different. A couple things tipped me off. First, he was English and I hadn’t heard many English accents by that age. Second, people seemed to notice him because he looked … sleek. Adults, mainly ladies, were looking at him, whispering to each other, pointing and otherwise marking him as different from the average guy.

We waited for the chairlift, looking over our shoulders, poles in one hand, and were off and rumbling upwards. Down came the safety gate. He introduced himself, asked me my name, and made very nice small talk all the way up the hill. We talked about skiing, we talked about the Red Sox (who had lost the World Series the summer before and were my pre-Bruins obsession in life),  and we talked about school. He never said he was an actor, just that he had come up alone from Boston that morning to get some runs in but wished he had the time to go farther north into the White Mountains. I had never been to the White Mountains and agreed that would be an excellent adventure.

I nervously disembarked at the top of the hill and made ready to ski back down the intermediate slope that I was fond of cruising down. He told me to go first and I did, bombing down to the bottom of the hill and the tail end of the chairlift. We rode up together a second time. We talked some more. I liked the guy. In all, we skied together for maybe an hour — three or four runs — before my mother waved me into the lodge for a nose wiping and a PBJ.

“Do you know who that man was on the chairlift with you?” she asked.

“Yeah. Michael from Boston,” I said. “He’s really nice.”

Here’s a picture of Big A’s trail map. I miss those old little ski areas that used to pepper the foothills north of Boston in the 60s and 70s. A couple snowless winters killed them off. Big A had killer views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Isle of Shoals off of Rye, New Hampshire. The picture is from the excellent New England Lost Ski Area Project, which has been cataloguing these “ghost” ski areas with loving nostalgia. I was surprised to learn that the year I rode the chairlift with Caine was only the second year that Big A was in operation, so it was pretty much brand new. It closed in the mid-70s. Done in by its proximity to the ocean and the Arab Oil Crisis.

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