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Creator / Montgomery Clift

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He really was handsome!

Edward Montgomery Clift (October 17, 1920 – July 23, 1966)— yes, that was his real name — was one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood in the 1950s. He was known for playing sensitive, brooding young men and tortured loners in an era where most leading men were avatars of square-jawed machismo. He was one of the pioneers in bringing Method Acting to American movie screens, along with his contemporary, Marlon Brando.

He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, son of a banker. The crash of 1929 led to the family moving to New York, and while in his teens Clift started acting on the stage. He soon became very prominent in the New York theater scene, with several prominent parts, including starring roles in Pulitzer Prize-winners The Skin of Our Teeth and There Shall Be No Night.

In 1945 Clift moved to Hollywood. His first film was Red River, which matched him up with his antithesis John Wayne, but which wound up sitting on a shelf for two years. Thus his first film to be released was The Search (1948), in which he stars as a GI in occupied Germany who looks after a refugee little boy. It was a hit, and Red River, which was finally released that same year, was an even bigger hit. Clift became an instant movie star. Next came The Heiress, which paired him up with Olivia de Havilland (they didn't get along) and which was another critical smash.

Perhaps Clift's greatest role came in 1951 with A Place in the Sun, in which he plays hungry Social Climber George Eastman. From Here to Eternity (1953) earned him his third Best Actor nomination in six years (he eventually went 0-4 at the Oscars).

On May 12, 1956, Clift's life was changed forever when he crashed his car after leaving a party at Elizabeth Taylor's house. Taylor made it to the scene before the paramedics did and pulled a tooth out of Clift's tongue to save him from choking to death on it. Still, Clift was badly injured, suffering severe facial lacerations which destroyed his pretty-boy good looks. Worse, the pain from his injuries led to drug addiction and alcoholism which rapidly aged him. His alcoholism and deteriorating appearance caused the movie parts to start drying up, although he still starred in the acclaimed Wild River (1960) and had a memorable one-scene supporting role as a mentally challenged victim of Nazi persecution in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). A lawsuit from Universal over his behaviour making Freud: The Secret Passion go over budget didn't help matters; while he was able to provide plenty of evidence that filming ran over because he suffered an on-set accident that left him with cataracts, and the case was settled in his favour, but the narrative of him being troublesome and unreliable was set. Even his Oscar nomination for Judgment at Nuremberg was overshadowed by the belief that he'd had a nervous breakdown and the cameras just captured confused improv (a 2018 documentary by his nephew revealed it to be just acting, according to pages of dialogue he'd rewritten). He made only one film in the last four years of his life before dying in 1966 of a heart attack brought on by substance abuse.

His sexuality was long a matter of speculation. Taylor, who called him her closest friend and confidant, stated that he was gay. Taylor also said, "Monty could've been the biggest star in the world if he did more movies." He reportedly turned down starring roles in East of Eden and Sunset Boulevard.

The Clash's song "The Right Profile" (from 1979's London Calling) is about him, as is R.E.M.'s song "Monty Got a Raw Deal" (from 1992's Automatic for the People). West Side Story fans can also thank him for the show's existence; he was dating Jerome Robbins at the time and suggested one evening to make a musical that was Romeo and Juliet with New York gangs.

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Trivia about his career:

  • Actor-Inspired Element: He edited part of the script for The Search himself.
  • Awesome, Dear Boy: He was so keen to be in Judgment at Nuremberg that he offered to do the part for expenses only and no salary.
  • Creator Backlash: He didn't like The Heiress and walked out of the film's premiere.
  • Dawson Casting: He was considered far too old to play an A1 soldier in The Young Lions.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • For A Place in the Sun, he spent a night in jail to prepare for his character's scenes in prison.
    • The Search saw him living in an army engineer's unit and wearing fatigues everywhere.
    • He was actually drunk for a scene in From Here to Eternity where he and Burt Lancaster have a drunken heart-to-heart.
  • Executive Meddling: Morris of The Heiress was softened as a character in order to capitalise on Monty's status as a romantic lead.
  • Friendship on the Set:
    • He became close friends with Frank Sinatra while they were playing best friends Prew and Maggio in From Here to Eternity, although their friendship sadly ended a few years later after a drunken incident at a Sinatra party. He did however attend his funeral.
    • Marilyn Monroe befriended him on the set of The Misfits, saying it was unusual to see someone in worse shape than she was.
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: He was struggling with the scripted dialogue of Judgment at Nuremberg, so he was encouraged to come up with something on his own. This led to a story that the camera just captured confused improvising, but a documentary by his nephew showed notes confirming he had just rewritten his own lines, and the anguished performance was a deliberate choice.
  • Hostility on the Set: He supposedly resented having second billing behind Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, and told his friends he thought he was "a big bag of wind". Burt Lancaster was in fact very intimidated to be working with him, and his hands were shaking in their first scene together.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: The Young Lions was only moderately received by critics, but Monty considered it to be the best performance of his career.
  • Method Acting: Let's just say that Monty was synonymous with this trope.
    • For From Here to Eternity he learned to box and play the bugle. However he had to be doubled for those scenes in the finished film.
    • Red River, although he knew how to ride, it was a different kind that would be needed for this film. So he got coaching from veteran Western actor Noah Beery Jr.
    • He learned to play the piano for one scene in The Heiress.
  • Reality Subtext:
    • Film historians have theorised that Stanley Kramer determinedly cast Monty (as well as Judy Garland) in Judgment at Nuremberg - because their reputations for being broken and erratic were spot on for roles that called for pain, embarrassment and terror.
    • He and Frank Sinatra got on incredibly well during From Here to Eternity, which is reflected in Prew and Maggio's friendship.
    • Monty's father Bill was an emotionally and physically abusive and bigoted man who had an extremely damaged relationship with his son. It was said that whenever Monty played characters standing up to tyrants or bullies, he imagined he was speaking to Bill.
    • The Misfits has a heavy amount of Leaning on the Fourth Wall, where his character Perce is something of a drunken mess trying to get by however he can; paralleling Monty's own struggles after his accident. There's also a scene where Perce is on the phone to his mother and says his face is "all healed up" after an unspecified accident, as an obvious nod to real life.
  • Romance on the Set: He was rumoured to have an affair with John Ireland during Red River.
  • Star-Making Role: Red River was an instant success, as was he. A Place in the Sun is considered to be the part where he solidified his status in Hollywood.
  • Those Two Actors: With his close friend Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, Suddenly, Last Summer and Raintree County. It would have been four (see below).
  • Throw It In!: In Red River, when he says he's taking over the ride, John Wayne was supposed to cringe. Instead he said "I'm going to kill you, Matt" as an ad-lib. The surprised look on Monty's face is genuine.
  • Typecasting: Troubled, but Cute was his thing. He also played four soldiers in his time.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • He was rather infamous for some of the roles he turned down. Sunset Boulevard, High Noon and East of Eden for one.
    • Elizabeth Taylor suggested he play her husband in Reflections in a Golden Eye but he died before the film started shooting, and it went to his long time rival Marlon Brando.
    • Burt Lancaster was the first choice for his role in Red River, but he chose to do The Killers instead. They'd end up starring together in From Here to Eternity where Burt Lancaster would be so intimidated by Monty, he was shaking in their first scene together.