Hollywood's Elite - The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Leading Men 8
October 17, 1920 Omaha Nebraska, a momentous day for bank vice president William B. Clift and his wife Ethel. On this day fraternal twins were born, Edward Montgomery and Roberta (aka Ethel). Clift's mother was adopted, and amid a family linage brouhaha it is rumored that she may have been the granddaughter of Montgomery Blair, postmaster general under Abraham Lincoln.
This information, whether true or false, was of no consequence to Ethel, she raised her three children as aristocrats. Montgomery's mother home schooled the three and also hired tutors in the United States and Europe. This employment was on an uneven keel with Elder Clift's wallet.
Upon entering the public school system in their teens all found the adjustment difficult more on Montgomery than the other two, his grades lagged behind that of his brother and sister. All in all, he was educated in German, French and Italian.
At age 13 Montgomery Clift made his first stage appearance on Broadway where he succeeded and starred on the stage for 10 years obviously a natural.
1948 Montgomery made his Hollywood debut in a film opposite John Wayne called Red River . In that same year he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in the film The Search .
Starring opposite Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) my all time favorite. The romance scene between Taylor and Clift set the bar for the standard in Hollywood romance scenes. The subject matter of the film was gutsy for the era, since it dealt with unprotected pre-marital sex and its consequences. 1953 From Here to Eternity and the Young Lions cemented the actor's career as a Hollywood lead man.
An Unfortunate Accident
During the filming of Raintree County in 1956 opposite his best friend, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery attended a party in Beverly Hills thrown by Taylor. After departing the festivities he smashed his car into a telephone pole.
Actor and friend Kevin McCarthy witnessed the accident and ran to the aid of his friend. Upon arrival at the scene McCarthy had to physically remove a tooth that had lodged in the actor's throat on impact. Clift suffered a broken nose, jaw, fractured sinus and many facial lacerations that required plastic surgery. Injuries, all to his money maker, box office draw, his face scarred and partially paralyzed.
The studio movie suits worried about profits, but Montgomery rightly predicted that the film would do just fine, he figured the fans would show just to see if his appearance changed. Unfortunately, he was right again.
After the surgery Montgomery suffered sever pain which he medicated with alcohol and pills. Once during an interview he quipped about how his nose could be snapped back into place. Self medication coupled with a chronic intestinal problem, due to a bout with dysentery, took a heavy toll on the actor's health, psyche and appearance.
The disfigurement of Montgomery Clift was really not as noticeable to fans and others standing on the outside, but the actor felt differently. His substance abuse skyrocketed and was said by some to be "the longest suicide in Hollywood history" the actor became sinewy and gaunt physically.
Clift continued to work in front of the camera for another 10 years, but was a shell of his former self. In 1961 Judgment at Nuremberg, the actor's deterioration was quite evident, he couldn't remember his lines for the12 minute witness stand scene. Montgomery was told to improvise the scene. This improvisation earned him his last Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Montgomery was sued by Universal Studios due to frequent absences and destructive lifestyle that was causing the studio to go over budget. The lawsuits took place during the filming of Freud: The Passion, directed by John Huston, the suit settled out of court, and the film eventhough a box office failure, won awards for direction and screenwriting.
While filming John Houston's The Misfits, with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, the troubled Ms. Monroe described Montgomery Clift as "The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am."
It was also rumored that the actor was a closet gay, and that this secret was another burden that influenced his continuing substance abuse. If true the actor lived a torture existence between two worlds.
On July 23, 1966, Edward Montgomery Cliff died of a heart attack in New York City, at the age of 45.