Studio publicity photograph, c. 1948
Edward Montgomery Clift
October 17, 1920
|Died||July 23, 1966 (aged 45)|
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Edward Montgomery Clift (; October 17, 1920 - July 23, 1966) was an American actor. A four-time Academy Award nominee, The New York Times said he was known for his portrayal of "moody, sensitive young men".
He is best remembered for his roles in Howard Hawks's Red River (1948), William Wyler's The Heiress (1949), George Stevens's A Place in the Sun (1951), Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess (1953), Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity (1953), Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions (1958), Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and John Huston's The Misfits (1961).
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. 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". A documentary titled Making Montgomery Clift was made by his nephew in 2018, to clarify many myths that were created about the actor.
Edward Montgomery 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. His mother was Ethel Fogg "Sunny" Clift (née Anderson; 1888-1988). They had married in 1914. 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. Clift had English and Scottish ancestry. His mother was an adopted child who, at the age of 18, had been told that her birth parents were members of prominent American 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. 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.
In the next 10 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. 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 first television broadcasts in the United States. A performance of Hay Fever was broadcast by NBC's New York television station W2XBS (the forerunner of WNBC) and was aired during the World's Fair as part of the introduction of television. 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.
At the age of 25, Clift moved to Hollywood. His first movie role was opposite John Wayne in the western Red River. Although filmed in 1946, the film was not released until August 1948. A critical and commercial success, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards. His second movie was The Search, which premiered in the same year. Clift was unhappy with the quality of the script, and reworked it himself. The movie was awarded a screenwriting Academy Award for the credited writers. 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, The Heiress (1949), 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 (1950), which was shot on location in Germany.
Clift's performance in A Place in the Sun (1951) 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 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 rumours 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". After a break, Clift committed himself to three more films, all of which premiered during 1953: 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. 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.
On the evening of May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, Clift was involved in a serious car crash 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 husband, Michael Wilding. Alerted by friend Kevin McCarthy, who witnessed the collision, Taylor raced to Clift's side, 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. In a filmed interview years later in 1963, he described his injuries in detail, 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 crash. 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 led him to rely on alcohol and pills for relief, as he had done after an earlier bout with dysentery, which left him with chronic intestinal problems. As a result, Clift's health and physical appearance deteriorated until his death.
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. He began to behave erratically in public, which embarrassed his friends. Nevertheless, Clift continued to work over the next 10 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 released 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, described Clift in a 1961 interview as "the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am".
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 sterilisation programme 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 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.
By the time Clift was making John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), his self-destructive lifestyle and behaviour were affecting his health. Universal Studios 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 programme 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 programme for Montgomery Clift".
Barred from feature films, Clift turned to voice work. Early in his career, he had participated in radio broadcasts, though, according to one critic, he hated the medium. On May 24, 1944, he was part of the cast of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! for The Theatre Guild on the Air. 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. 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. 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 in April 1965.
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.
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, 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., 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 half-filled bathtub, with eyeglasses on and both fists clenched by his side. 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 (3 km) 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, 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. Elizabeth Taylor, who was in Rome, sent flowers, as did Roddy McDowall (who had recently co-starred with Clift in The Defector), Myrna Loy, and Lew Wasserman.
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.
According to Clift's brother, it was likely that Clift was either bisexual or gay. 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. In 2000, at the GLAAD Media Awards, where Taylor was honored for her work for the LGBT community, she made the first public declaration by anyone of the fact that Clift was gay and called him her closest friend and confidant.
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. Still, shooting kept being postponed, until Clift agreed to star in 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 be shot. He was replaced by Marlon Brando.
|1948||The Search||Ralph 'Steve' Stevenson||Fred Zinnemann|
|Red River||Matthew 'Matt' Garth||Howard Hawks|
|1949||The Heiress||Morris Townsend||William Wyler|
|1950||The Big Lift||Danny MacCullough||George Seaton|
|1951||A Place in the Sun||George Eastman||George Stevens|
|1953||I Confess||Fr. Michael William Logan||Alfred Hitchcock|
(aka Indiscretion of an American Wife)
|Giovanni Doria||Vittorio De Sica|
|From Here to Eternity||Robert E. Lee 'Prew' Prewitt||Fred Zinnemann|
|1957||Raintree County||John Wickliff Shawnessy||Edward Dmytryk|
|1958||The Young Lions||Noah Ackerman||Edward Dmytryk|
|Lonelyhearts||Adam White||Vincent J. Donehue|
|1959||Suddenly, Last Summer||Dr. John Cukrowicz||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
|1960||Wild River||Chuck Glover||Elia Kazan|
|1961||The Misfits||Perce Howland||John Huston|
|Judgment at Nuremberg||Rudolph Petersen||Stanley Kramer|
|1962||Freud: The Secret Passion||Sigmund Freud||John Huston|
|1966||The Defector||Prof. James Bower||Raoul Lévy||final film role|
|1939||Hay Fever||Performer||Television Movie|
|1963||What's My Line?||Mystery Guest||Episode: Montgomery Clift|
|1963||The Merv Griffin Show||Self||Season 1 - Episode: 86|
|1965||William Faulkner's Mississippi||Narrator||Television Documentary|
|1933||As Husbands Go||Performer||Sarasota, Florida|
|1935||Fly Away Home||Harmer Masters||48th Street Theatre, Broadway|
|1935||Jubilee||Prince Peter||Imperial Theatre, Broadway|
|1938||Yr. Obedient Husband||Lord Finch||Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway|
|1938||Eye On the Sparrow||Philip Thomas||Vanderbilt Theatre, Broadway|
|1938||The Wind and the Rain||Charles Tritton||Millbrook Theatre, New York|
|1938||Dame Nature||Andre Brisac||Booth Theatre, Broadway|
|1939||The Mother||Tony||Lyceum Theatre, Broadway|
|1940||There Shall Be No Night||Erik Valkonen||Alvin Theatre, Broadway|
|1941||Out of the Frying Pan||Performer||Country Theater, Suffern|
|1942||Mexican Mural||Lalo Brito||Chain Auditorium, New York|
|1942||The Skin of Our Teeth||Henry||Plymouth Theatre, Broadway|
|1944||Our Town||George Gibbs||City Center, Broadway|
|1944||The Searching Wind||Samuel Hazen||Fulton Theatre, Broadway|
|1945||Foxhole in the Parlor||Dennis Patterson||Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway|
|1945||You Touched Me||Hadrian||Booth Theatre, Broadway|
|1954||The Seagull||Constantin Treplev||Phoenix Theatre, Off-Broadway|
|1948||Academy Award||Best Actor||The Search||Nominated|||
|1951||A Place in the Sun||Nominated|
|1953||From Here to Eternity||Nominated|
|1961||Best Supporting Actor||Judgement at Nuremberg||Nominated|
|1961||British Academy Film Awards||Best Foreign Actor||Nominated|||
|1961||Golden Globe Award||Best Supporting Actor||Nominated|
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. The song "Montgomery Clift" by British band Random Hold concerns the legend that Clift enjoyed hanging from the window ledges of tall buildings.
Clift was the subject of fascination by the character Vikar (James Franco) in the film Zeroville, which was shot in 2015 and released on September 20, 2019 in limited theaters, to largely negative reviews. The character has a tattoo of Mr. Clift and Elizabeth Taylor on his shaved head. James Franco's brother, Dave Franco, portrays Montgomery Clift in a short scene in the movie.
Clift (portrayed by Gavin Adams) was a major supporting character in the 2020 feature film As Long As I'm Famous, which explored his intimate relationship with a young Sidney Lumet during the summer of 1948.