The first Hollywood “moody, sensitive young man”
Remembering the talented and legendary actor Montgomery Clift
Montgomery Clift’s New York Times obituary in 1966 noted his portrayal of the “moody, sensitive young men”. The actor who paved the way for others like James Dean, was born Edward Montgomery Clift on October 17, 1920, in Omaha, Nebraska. As a teenager and young man, Clift could never adjust to school, and instead, he took the stage acting, beginning in a summer production, which led to his debut on Broadway by 1935. In 1945, at the age of 25 he moved to Hollywood, but not to become just another trendy actor. 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, along with Marlon Brando and James Dean. His first movie role was opposite John Wayne in “Red River”, which was shot in 1946 and released in 1948. On his second movie, “The Search”, unhappy with the quality of the script, he edited it himself. The movie was awarded a screenwriting Academy Award for the credited writers and Clift’s naturalistic performance, earned him his first nomination of an Academy Award for Best Actor. He quickly became a rising star in Hollywood and also, targeted as “Sex Symbol” due to his good looks. But despite the rumors of him dating other actresses in Hollywood, such as his co-star and friend Elizabeth Taylor, Clift was gay, an open secret in Hollywood in a time that actors couldn’t come out, risking to see their careers ending if they did so. Among his most well known romantic connections are the ones with other two big Hollywood sex symbols, Marlon Brando and James Dean. Dean reportedly gain an obssession with Clift after arriving to Hollywood and would leave cryptic voice mails in his phone. Clift never came out as gay, but 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 any one of the fact that Clift was gay and called him, her closest friend and confidant.During the 1950’s, Clift made some of his most famous and acclaimed movies, being perhaps the 1951 “A Place In The Sun” his signature role. He worked extensively on it and for his character’s scenes in jail, Clift spent a night in a real state prison, putting in practice the method acting. For his performance, he was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Marlon Brando, was so moved by Clift’s performance that he voted for Clift to win the award.
The “longest suicide in Hollywood history”
In 1956, at age 36, Clift’s life changed drastically. While filming “Raintree County”, Clift was involved in a serious car 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 Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor, alerted by a witness of the accident, saved his life, when she 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, and as a result, 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, and he never physically or emotionally recovered from his car accident. Because of his subsequent abuse of painkillers and alcohol. his post-accident career has been referred to as the “longest suicide in Hollywood history”. He still continued his career, but, his erratic behavior and addictions, slowly started to burn out his star. In 1961 he starred in another iconic movie, “The Misfits” directed by John Huston. The movie is notable for being the final one of 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”. Montgomery Clift’s last nomination for an Academy Award was for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1961 movie “Judgment at Nuremberg”, a 12-minute supporting part where he played a developmentally disabled man who had been a victim of the Nazi sterilization program. On July 23, 1966, aged 45, Clift died in his New York City apartment. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack, but is commonly believed that drug addiction was the main responsible for his early demise.Despite never achieving the same legendary level of James Dean or Marlon Brando, Clift remains the original “moody, sensitive young man”, and he wrote an important chapter in the movies history that still earns him a large cult following due to his intense development of the roles he played. Recently, in September 2018, the documentary “Making Montgomery Clift” was released, a revealing documentary that is based around a collection of audio tapes and other memorabilia kept by the Clift family.
Watch the 1951 acclaimed performance of Montgomery Clift in the movie “A Place In The Sun” alongside Elizabeth Taylor
Watch the trailer for the 2018 documentary “Making Montgomery Clift”
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