Montgomery Clift

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Montgomery Clift
Clift, Montgomery.jpg
Clift in 1948
Born Edward Montgomery Clift
(1920-10-17)October 17, 1920
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Died July 23, 1966(1966-07-23) (aged 45)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1935–1966

Edward Montgomery "Monty" Clift (/mɒntˈɡʌməri/; October 17, 1920 – July 23, 1966) was an American actor. His New York Times obituary noted his portrayal of "moody, sensitive young men".[1][2] He is best remembered for roles in Red River (1948), The Heiress (1949), A Place in the Sun (1951), Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess (1953), From Here to Eternity (1953), The Young Lions (1958), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and The Misfits (1961). He received four Academy Award nominations during his career: three for Best Actor and one for Best Supporting Actor.

Along with Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift was one of the original method actors in Hollywood; he was one of the first actors to be invited to study in the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan.[citation needed] He also executed a rare move by not signing a contract after arriving in Hollywood, only doing so after his first two films were a success. This was described as "a power differential that would go on to structure the star-studio relationship for the next 40 years".[3]

Early life[edit]

Clift and Lois Hall in the Broadway production of Patricia Collinge's Dame Nature (1938)

Clift was born on October 17, 1920, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, William Brooks "Bill" Clift (1886–1964), was the vice-president of Omaha National Trust Company.[4] His mother was Ethel Fogg "Sunny" Clift (née Anderson; 1888–1988). They had married in 1914.[5] Clift had a twin sister, Ethel, who survived him by 48 years, and a brother, William Brooks Clift, Jr. (1919–1986), who had an illegitimate son with actress Kim Stanley and was later married to political reporter Eleanor Clift.[6] Clift had Dutch, English, and Scottish ancestry. His mother was an adopted child who, at age 18, had been told that her real parents were members of prominent Yankee families who were forced to part by the tyrannical will of the girl's mother. She spent the rest of her life trying to gain the recognition of her alleged relations.

Part of Clift's mother's effort was her determination that her children should be brought up in the style of true aristocrats. Thus, as long as Clift's father was able to pay for it, he and his siblings were privately tutored, travelled extensively in America and Europe, became fluent in German and French, and led a protected life, sheltered from the destitution and communicable diseases which became legion following the First World War.[7] The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s ruined Clift's father financially. Unemployed and broke, he was forced to move his family to New York, but Clift's mother still persisted in her plans, and as her husband's situation improved, she was able to enroll Brooks at Harvard and Ethel at Bryn Mawr College. Clift, however, could not adjust to school, and never went to college. Instead, he took to stage acting, beginning in a summer production, which led to his debut on Broadway by 1935.[8]

In the next ten years, Clift built a successful stage career working with, among others, Dame May Whitty, Alla Nazimova, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Fredric March, Tallulah Bankhead, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne. He appeared in plays written by Moss Hart, Robert Sherwood, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams, and Thornton Wilder, creating the part of Henry in the original production of The Skin of Our Teeth.[9] "In 1939, as a member of the cast of the 1939 Broadway production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever, Clift participated in one of the very first television broadcasts in the United States. A performance of Hay Fever was aired during the New York World's Fair as part of the introduction of television. It is not likely that any recording of the broadcast exists."[10] He resided in Jackson Heights, Queens, until he got his break on Broadway. Clift first acted on Broadway at age 15, when he appeared as Prince Peter in the Cole Porter musical Jubilee at the Imperial Theater. At 20, he appeared in the Broadway production of There Shall Be No Night, a work which won the 1941 Pulitzer Prize.

Film career[edit]

Clift at the premiere of A Place in the Sun (1951)

At the age of 25, Clift moved to Hollywood. His first movie role was opposite John Wayne in Red River, which was shot in 1946 and released in 1948. His second movie was The Search. Clift was unhappy with the quality of the script, and edited it himself. The movie was awarded a screenwriting Academy Award for the credited writers.[11] Clift's naturalistic performance led to director Fred Zinnemann's being asked, "Where did you find a soldier who can act so well?", and he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Clift signed on for his next movie, 1949's The Heiress, in order to avoid being typecast. Clift was unhappy with the script, and unable to get along with most of the cast. He criticized co-star Olivia de Havilland, saying that she let the director shape her entire performance and telling friends that he wanted to change de Havilland's lines because "She isn't giving me enough to respond [to]". The studio marketed Clift as a sex symbol prior to the movie's release in 1949. Clift had a large female following, and Olivia de Havilland was flooded with angry fan letters because her character rejects Clift's character in the final scene of the movie. Clift ended up unhappy with his performance, and left early during the film's premiere. Clift also starred in The Big Lift, which was shot on location in Germany in 1949.

Clift's performance in 1951's A Place in the Sun is regarded as one of his signature method acting performances. He worked extensively on his character, and was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. For his character's scenes in jail, Clift spent a night in a real state prison. He also refused to go along with director George Stevens' suggestion that he do "something amazing" on his character's walk to the electric chair. Instead, he walked to his death with a natural, depressed facial expression. His main acting rival (and fellow Omaha, Nebraska, native), Marlon Brando, was so moved by Clift's performance that he voted for Clift to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, and was sure that he would win. That year, Clift voted for Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. A Place in the Sun was critically acclaimed; Charlie Chaplin called it "the greatest movie made about America". The film received added media attention due to the rumors that Clift and co-star Elizabeth Taylor were dating in real life. They were billed as "the most beautiful couple in Hollywood". Many critics still call Clift and Taylor "the most beautiful Hollywood movie couple of all time".[12] After an almost two-year break, in the summer of 1952, Clift committed himself to three more films: I Confess, to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Vittorio De Sica's Terminal Station; and Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity, which earned Clift his third Oscar nomination.

Clift was notoriously picky with his projects.[12] According to Taylor (as quoted in Patricia Bosworth's biography of Clift), "Monty could've been the biggest star in the world if he did more movies." Clift reportedly turned down the starring role in East of Eden, just as he had for Sunset Boulevard.[13]

Car accident[edit]

On the evening of May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, Clift was involved in a serious auto accident when he apparently fell asleep while driving and smashed his car into a telephone pole minutes after leaving a dinner party at the Beverly Hills home of his close friend and co-star, Elizabeth Taylor, and her second husband, Michael Wilding. Alerted by friend Kevin McCarthy, who witnessed the accident, Taylor raced to Clift's side, manually pulling a tooth out of his tongue as he had begun to choke on it. He suffered a broken jaw and nose, a fractured sinus, and several facial lacerations which required plastic surgery.[14] In a filmed interview years later in 1963, he described in detail his injuries, including how his broken nose could be snapped back into place.

After a two-month recovery, Clift returned to the set to finish the film. Despite the studio's concerns over profits, Clift correctly predicted the film would do well, if only because moviegoers would flock to see the difference in his facial appearance before and after the accident. Although the results of Clift's plastic surgeries were remarkable for the time, there were noticeable differences in his facial appearance, particularly the left side of his face, which was nearly immobile. The pain of the accident led him to rely on alcohol and pills for relief, as he had done after an earlier bout with dysentery left him with chronic intestinal problems. As a result, Clift's health and physical appearance deteriorated considerably from then until his death.

Post-accident career[edit]

Clift in trailer from The Young Lions (1958)

Clift never physically or emotionally recovered from his car accident. His post-accident career has been referred to as the "longest suicide in Hollywood history" by acting teacher Robert Lewis because of Clift's subsequent abuse of painkillers and alcohol.[15] He began to behave erratically in public, which embarrassed his friends. Nevertheless, Clift continued to work over the next ten years. His next three films were The Young Lions (1958), Lonelyhearts (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Clift next starred with Lee Remick in Elia Kazan's Wild River in 1960. He played a Tennessee Valley Authority agent sent to do the impossible task of convincing Jo Van Fleet to leave her land, and ends up marrying her widowed granddaughter, played by Lee Remick. In 1958, Clift turned down what became Dean Martin's role as "Dude" in Rio Bravo, which would have reunited him with his co-stars from Red River, John Wayne and Walter Brennan, as well as with Howard Hawks, the director of both films.

Clift then co-starred in John Huston's The Misfits (1961), which was the final film of both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Monroe, who was also having emotional and substance abuse problems at the time, famously described Clift in a 1961 interview as "the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am".

Clift in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Clift's last nomination for an Academy Award was for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), a 12-minute supporting part. He played a developmentally disabled man who had been a victim of the Nazi sterilization program testifying at the Nuremberg trials. The film's director, Stanley Kramer, later wrote in his memoirs that Clift – by this stage a wreck – struggled to remember his lines even for this one scene:

Finally, I said to him, "Just forget the damn lines, Monty. Let's say you're on the witness stand. The prosecutor says something to you, then the defense attorney bitterly attacks you, and you have to reach for a word in the script. That's all right. Go ahead, and reach for it. Whatever the word may be, it doesn't really matter. Just turn to [Spencer] Tracy on the bench whenever you feel the need, and ad lib something. It will be all right because it will convey the confusion in your character's mind." He seemed to calm down after this. He wasn't always close to the script, but whatever he said fitted in perfectly, and he came through with as good a performance as I had hoped.[16]

By the time Clift was making John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), his self-destructive lifestyle and behavior were affecting his health. Universal sued him for his frequent absences that caused the film to go over budget. The case was later settled out of court, but the damage to Clift's reputation as unreliable and troublesome endured. As a consequence, he was unable to find film work for four years. The film's success at the box office brought numerous awards for screenwriting and directing, but none for Clift himself. On January 13, 1963, a few weeks after the initial release of Freud, Clift appeared on the live TV discussion program The Hy Gardner Show, where he spoke at length about the release of his current film, his film career, and treatment by the press. He also talked publicly for the first time about his 1956 car accident, the injuries he received, and its after-effects on his appearance. During the interview, Gardner jokingly mentioned that it is "the first and last appearance on a television interview program for Montgomery Clift".

Barred from feature films, Clift turned to voice work. Early in his career, Clift had participated in radio broadcasts, though, according to one critic, he hated the medium.[17] On May 24, 1944, he was part of the cast of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! for The Theatre Guild on the Air.[18] In 1949, as part of the promotional campaign for the film The Heiress, he played Heathcliff in the one-hour version of Wuthering Heights for Ford Theatre.[19] In January 1951, he participated in the episode "The Metal in the Moon" for the series Cavalcade of America, sponsored by the chemical company DuPont Company. Also in 1951, Clift was for the first time cast as Tom in the radio world premiere of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with Helen Hayes (Amanda) and Karl Malden (the Gentleman Caller), for The Theatre Guild on the Air.[20] In 1964, he recorded for Caedmon Records The Glass Menagerie, with Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, and David Wayne. In 1965, he gave voice to William Faulkner's writings in the TV documentary William Faulkner's Mississippi, which aired on April 1965.[21]

After four years of failed attempts to secure a film part, finally, in 1966, thanks to Elizabeth Taylor's efforts on his behalf, he was signed on to star in Reflections in a Golden Eye. In preparation for the shooting of this film, he accepted the role of James Bower in the French Cold War thriller The Defector, which was filmed in West Germany from February to April 1966. Clift died on July 23, 1966, before production on Reflections in a Golden Eye began.

Death[edit]

Montgomery Clift's former townhouse where he died (with green painted front door), located at 217 East 61st Street, Manhattan, New York City[22]

On July 22, 1966, Clift spent most of the hot summer day in his bedroom in his New York City townhouse, located at 217 East 61st Street. He and his private nurse, Lorenzo James, had not spoken much all day. Shortly before 1:00 a.m., James went up to say goodnight to Clift, who was still awake and sitting up in his bed. James asked Clift if he needed anything, and Clift politely refused and then told James that he would stay up for a while, either to read a book or watch some television. James then noted that The Misfits was on television that night airing as a late-night movie, and he asked Clift if he wanted to watch it with him. "Absolutely not!", was the firm reply. This was the last time Montgomery Clift spoke to anyone. James went to his own bedroom to sleep, without saying another word to Clift. At 6:30 a.m. the next day, James woke up and went to wake Clift, but found the bedroom door closed and locked. James became more concerned when Clift did not respond to his knocking on the door. Unable to break the door down, James ran down to the back garden and climbed up a ladder to enter through the second-floor bedroom window. Inside, he found Clift dead: He was undressed, lying in his bathtub, with glasses on and both fists clenched by his side. Clift was age 45 when he died. James then used the bedroom telephone to call the police and an ambulance.

Clift's body was taken to the city morgue less than two miles away at 520 First Avenue, and autopsied. The autopsy report cited the cause of death as a heart attack brought on by "occlusive coronary artery disease". No evidence was found that suggested foul play or suicide. It is commonly believed that drug addiction was responsible for Clift's many health problems and his death. In addition to lingering effects of dysentery and chronic colitis, an underactive thyroid was later revealed during the autopsy. The condition (among other things) lowers blood pressure; it may have caused Clift to appear drunk or drugged when he was sober,[23] and also raises cholesterol, which may have contributed to his heart disease.

Following a 15-minute funeral at St. James' Church attended by 150 guests, including Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Walker, Clift was buried in the Friends [Quaker] Cemetery, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City.[24] Elizabeth Taylor, who was in Rome, sent flowers, as did Roddy McDowall, Myrna Loy, and Lew Wasserman.

Personal Life[edit]

Patricia Bosworth, who had access to Clift's family and many people who knew and worked with him, wrote in her book:

Before the accident, Monty had drifted into countless affairs with men and women. (...) After his car accident, and as his drug addiction became more serious, he was often impotent, and sex became less important to him. His deepest commitments were emotional, rather than sexual, anyway, and reserved for old friends; he was unflinchingly loyal to men like William LeMassena and women like Elizabeth Taylor, Libby Holman, and Ann Lincoln.[12]

Elizabeth Taylor was a significant figure in his life. He met her when she was supposed to be his date at the premiere for The Heiress. They appeared together in A Place in the Sun, where, in their romantic scenes, they received considerable acclaim for their naturalness and their appearance. Clift and Taylor appeared together again in Raintree County and Suddenly, Last Summer. Clift and Taylor remained good friends until his death.

Because Clift was considered unemployable in the mid-1960s, Taylor put her salary for the film on the line as insurance, in order to have Clift cast as her co-star in Reflections in a Golden Eye.[12] Still, shooting kept being postponed, until Clift agreed to star in the mediocre The Defector so as to prove himself fit for work. He insisted on performing his stunts himself, including swimming in the river Elbe in March. The schedule for Reflections in a Golden Eye was then set for August 1966, but Clift died before the movie was set to shoot. He was replaced by Marlon Brando. Although Clift never came out publicly, he was gay.[citation needed]

Awards and honors[edit]

Clift in a trailer screenshot of the 1948 film The Search, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Clift has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6104 Hollywood Boulevard, and received four nominations for Academy Awards:[25]

The song "The Right Profile" by the English punk rock band The Clash, from their album London Calling, is about the later life of Clift. The song alludes to his car crash and drug abuse, as well as the movies A Place in the Sun, Red River, From Here to Eternity, and The Misfits. "Monty Got a Raw Deal" by rock band R.E.M. is also about him.

Clift has been portrayed by Dave Franco in the film Zeroville, which was shot in 2015, but as of April 2017, has not been released.[26]

Stage appearances[edit]

  • As Husbands Go (1933)
  • Fly Away Home (1935)
  • Jubilee (1935)
  • Yr. Obedient Husband (1938)
  • Eye On the Sparrow (1938)
  • The Wind and the Rain (1938)
  • Dame Nature (1938)
  • The Mother (1939)
  • There Shall Be No Night (1940)
  • Out of the Frying Pan (1941)
  • Mexican Mural (1942)
  • The Skin of Our Teeth (1942)
  • Our Town (1944)
  • The Searching Wind (1944)
  • Foxhole in the Parlor (1945)
  • You Touched Me (1945)
  • The Seagull (1954)

Filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Director Notes
1948 The Search Ralph 'Steve' Stevenson Fred Zinnemann Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
Red River Matthew 'Matt' Garth Howard Hawks
1949 The Heiress Morris Townsend William Wyler
1950 The Big Lift Technical Sergeant Danny MacCullough George Seaton
1951 A Place in the Sun George Eastman George Stevens Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
1953 I Confess Fr. Michael William Logan Alfred Hitchcock
Terminal Station Giovanni Doria Vittorio De Sica aka Indiscretion of an American Wife
From Here to Eternity Pvt. Robert E. Lee 'Prew' Prewitt Fred Zinnemann Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
1957 Raintree County John Wickliff Shawnessy Edward Dmytryk
Operation Raintree Himself Short subject
1958 Lonelyhearts Adam White Vincent J. Donehue
The Young Lions Noah Ackerman Edward Dmytryk
1959 Suddenly, Last Summer Dr. John Cukrowicz Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1960 Wild River TVA agent Chuck Glover Elia Kazan Marries Lee Remick character
1961 The Misfits Perce Howland John Huston
Judgment at Nuremberg Rudolph Petersen Stanley Kramer Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1962 Freud: The Secret Passion Sigmund Freud John Huston
1966 The Defector Prof. James Bower Raoul Lévy Final film role

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1951 Theatre Guild on the Air The Glass Menagerie[27]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary Variety, July 27, 1966.
  2. ^ "Montgomery Clift Dead at 45; Nominated 3 Times for Oscar; Completed Last Movie, 'The Defector,' in June Actor Began Career at Age 13". The New York Times. July 24, 1966. p. 61. 
  3. ^ Petersen, Anne Helen (2014-09-23). "Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift". Vanity Fair. 
  4. ^ LaGuardia, p. 6
  5. ^ LaGuardia, p. 5
  6. ^ Krampner, Jon (2006). Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley. New York: Back Stage Books. p. 78. ISBN 9780823088478. 
  7. ^ Bosworth, chapters 1–4
  8. ^ Bosworth, chapter 6
  9. ^ Amy Lawrence, The Passion of Montgomery Clift, p. 13
  10. ^ Lawrence, p. 261
  11. ^ Awards Database – Montgomery Clift Archived April 2, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. January 2, 2016
  12. ^ a b c d Bosworth, p. ??
  13. ^ Capua, p. 92
  14. ^ "Montgomery Clift Official Site". Cmgww.com. July 23, 1966. Archived from the original on May 28, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  15. ^ Clarke, Gerald. "Books: Sunny Boy". Time Magazine February 20, 1978.
  16. ^ Kramer, et al., p. 193.
  17. ^ Kass, Judith M. (1975). The Films of Montgomery Clift. Citadel Press. p. 34. ISBN 0806507179. Retrieved 20 July 2016. 
  18. ^ Edoneill.com
  19. ^ Archive.org
  20. ^ Archive.org
  21. ^ Lawrence, chapter 7
  22. ^ "Montgomery Clift's Pedigreed Upper East Side Townhouse Could Be Yours". Observer. September 9, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2017. 
  23. ^ McCann, p. 68
  24. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 8764–8765). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  25. ^ "Montgomery Clift". Oscars.com. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  26. ^ Deadline.com
  27. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 16, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved May 23, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read

References[edit]

  • Bosworth, Patricia (1978). Montgomery Clift: A Biography. Hal Leonard Corporation, 2007. N.B.: Also published in mass-market pbk. ed. (New York: Bantam Books, 1978); originally published by Harcourt, 1978. ISBN 0-87910-135-0 (H. Leonard), ISBN 0-553-12455-2 (Bantam)
  • Capua, Michelangelo (2002). Montgomery Clift: A Biography. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-1432-1
  • Girelli, Elisabetta (2013) "Montgomery Clift Queer Star", Wayne University Press. ISBN 9780814335147
  • Kramer, Stanley and Thomas M. Coffey (1997). A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood. ISBN 0-15-154958-3
  • LaGuardia, Robert (1977). Monty: A Biography of Montgomery Clift. New York, Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-01887-X (paperback edition)
  • Lawrence, Amy ( 2010) "The Passion of Montgomery Clift", Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press. ISBN 9780520260474
  • McCann, Graham (1991). Rebel Males: Clift, Brando and Dean. H. Hamilton. ISBN 978-0-241-12884-8
  • The Clash [Punk rock]: London Calling [album] – [track] "The Right Profile"
  • Random Hold (British Band) Montgomery Clift song on the Album ''Avalanche'' 1979
  • REM song "Monty Got A Raw Deal" from the album "Automatic For The People"

External links[edit]