Edward Montgomery Clift (October 17, 1920–July 23, 1966) was an American film actor. He was known for brooding, sensitive, working-class character roles, and received four Academy Award nominations during his career.
Clift was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Ethel Fogg (she had been adopted by the Fogg family) and William Brooks Clift, at that time Vice-President of Omaha National Bank. Clift had a twin sister Roberta, and also a brother William Brooks (born eighteen months earlier). Clift was always treated as the baby of the family, although he was only minutes younger than his twin Roberta. Their mother Ethel, nicknamed "Sunny", spent part of her life and her husband's money seeking to claim her southern lineage. She at age 18 had been told the secret of her birth. Monty Clift was the great-grandson of Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General under President Abraham Lincoln. He was also the great great-grandson of Francis Preston Blair, a journalist and adviser to President Andrew Jackson, and Levi Woodbury, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
As part of Sunny's lifelong preparation for acceptance by her biological family (a goal never fully achieved), she raised Clift and his siblings as if they were aristocrats. As a result, her children lived a very sheltered life during their early years, including when they traveled to Europe with their mother. They have private tutors, not attending a regular school until they were in their teens. The adjustment was difficult, particularly for Montgomery. His performance as a student lagged behind that of his sister and brother.
Clift was trained in French, German, and Italian.
In 1958 he turned down what became Dean Martin's role in Rio Bravo, which would have reunited him with Wayne. This may have been because of the tension between the two actors: Wayne would refuse to socialize with Clift between takes during the filming of Red River because of Wayne's disapproval of Clift's sexuality.
His love scenes with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) represented a new standard for romance in cinema. His roles in A Place in the Sun, the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity and The Young Lions (1958) were career milestones.
Clift and Marlon Brando, who was also born in Omaha, had reputations as Hollywood rivals because of their rapid rise to stardom and similar acting styles. Clift was one of James Dean's idols and he would sometimes call him "just to hear his voice".
Clift reportedly turned down the starring roles in Sunset Boulevard and East of Eden. At one point he was receiving so many offers of roles that they literally filled up his home. Friends had to squeeze past stacks of them in order to walk up the stairs.
On May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, he smashed his car into a telephone pole after leaving a party at the home of his Raintree County co-star Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Michael Wilding. Alerted by friend Kevin McCarthy, who witnessed the accident, Taylor raced to Clift's side and kept him from choking to death by removing two of his teeth, which had become lodged in his throat. Clift suffered spinal damage. Most of the injuries on his face were apparently below the skin; doctors elected not to do plastic surgery. In a filmed interview, he later described how his nose could be snapped back into place. After a long recovery, he returned to the set to finish the film. Against the movie studio's worries over profits, Clift rightly 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. 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 (thanks to a film shot in Mexico) left him with chronic intestinal problems. As a result, Clift's health and looks deteriorated considerably. Taylor and Clift remained close friends until his death.
His post-accident career has been referred to as the "longest suicide in Hollywood" because of his alleged substance abuse. Clift continued to work over the next ten years. His next three films would be Lonelyhearts (1958), The Young Lions (1958) and Suddenly Last Summer (1958). Clift starred with Lee Remick in Elia Kazan's Wild River in 1960, a film listed in the United States National Film Registry. He then costarred in John Huston's The Misfits (1961), which turned out to be the last film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Monroe, who was also having emotional problems at the time, famously described Clift as: "The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am." By the time Clift was making John Huston's Freud the Secret Passion (1962) his destructive lifestyle was affecting his health. Universal sued him for his frequent absences which caused the film to go over budget. The case was later settled out-of-court; the film's success at the box office brought numerous awards for screenwriting and directing, but none for Clift himself.
Clift's last Oscar nomination was for best supporting actor for his riveting role in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), a seven-minute part. The film also starred Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, and Judy Garland. The film's director, Stanley Kramer, later wrote in his memoirs about how Clift—by this stage a wreck of a man—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 defence 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.
On Monday, July 22, 1966, Clift spent most of the day in his bedroom in his New York City townhouse. He and his live-in personal secretary, Lorenzo James, had not spoken much all day. At 1 a.m., Lorenzo went up to say goodnight. The Misfits was airing on TV that night, and Lorenzo asked Clift if he wanted to watch it. "Absolutely NOT!" was the reply. This turned out to be the last time Montgomery Clift spoke to anyone. At 6 a.m. the next morning, Lorenzo went to wake him, but found the bedroom door locked. Unable to break it down, he ran down to the garden and climbed a ladder to the bedroom window. When he got inside, he found Clift dead. He was undressed, lying on his back in bed, with glasses on and fists clenched. He was 45 years old.
Clift's body was taken to the City Morgue 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 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. A condition that among other things lowers blood pressure, it may have caused Clift to appear drunk or drugged when he was sober. (A further health issue, though unrelated, was that Clift underwent cataract surgery in his later years; afterwards he had to wear glasses for the first time.)
Following a fifteen-minute ceremony at St. James Church attended by 150 guests including actresses Lauren Bacall and Nancy Walker, Clift was buried in the Quaker Cemetery, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City. Elizabeth Taylor, who was in Paris, sent flowers, as did Roddy McDowell, Myrna Loy, and Lew Wasserman.
Patricia Bosworth, who had access to Clift's family and many people who knew and worked with him, writes in her book, "Before the accident Monty had drifted into countless affairs with men and women. It suited his personality to have sex with a variety of partners. After the accident and his drug addiction became more serious, Monty 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 Bill Le Massena and women like Elizabeth Taylor, Libby Holman, Nancy Walker and Ann Lincoln." When he bought his Manhattan townhouse in 1960 at 217 East 61st Street, and became involved in renovations, he reported to a close friend that he envisioned living there someday with a wife and kids.
In popular culture
In the 1995 made for television movie, Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story, Clift was portrayed by actor William McNamara.
Awards and honors
- 1949: Best Actor in a Leading Role—The Search
- 1951: Best Actor in a Leading Role—A Place in the Sun
- 1953: Best Actor in a Leading Role—From Here to Eternity
- 1961: Best Actor in a Supporting Role—Judgment at Nuremberg
- The Search (1948)
- Red River (1948)
- The Heiress (1949)
- The Big Lift (1950)
- A Place in the Sun (1951)
- I Confess (1953)
- Terminal Station (aka Indiscretion of an American Wife) (1953)
- From Here to Eternity (1953)
- Operation Raintree (1957) (short subject)
- Raintree County (1957)
- Lonelyhearts (1958)
- The Young Lions (1958)
- Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
- Wild River (1960)
- The Misfits (1961)
- Freud (1962)
- Judgment at Nuremberg (1962)
- The Defector (1966)
- Fly Away Home (1935)
- Jubilee (1935)
- Yr. Obedient Husband (1938)
- Eye On the Sparrow (1938)
- Dame Nature (1938)
- The Mother (1939)
- There Shall Be No Night (1940)
- The Skin of Our Teeth (1942)
- The Searching Wind (1944)
- Foxhole in the Parlor (1945)
- You Touched Me (1945)
- The Seagull (1954)
- Montgomery Clift: A Biography, by Patricia Bosworth
- Patricia Bosworth, Montgomery Clift, a Biography. James had been hired to help Clift restore his health while he waited out a lawsuit with a movie studio.
- "A Place in the Sun, on East 61st Street: Montgomery Clift's house goes on the market" New York Magazine, June 12, 2006
- Biography channel: Montgomery Clift
- Montgomery Clift at the Internet Movie Database
- Montgomery Clift at the TCM Movie Database
- Montgomery Clift at Findagrave.com
- Montyclift.com - Fan Site Link Page
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