Although many actors and actresses go to Hollywood seeking stardom, the roles were reversed in the beginning for Montgomery Clift. Hollywood went after him in search of a new star. Monty had already proven his talents on Broadway, and Hollywood producers and directors were constantly pursuing him to star in almost any film. In 1946, he conceded to their efforts. After 12 years of turning down every film script directors proposed, Monty finally found one script too intriguing to reject. It was a western co-starring John Wayne, titled Red River. The move from Broadway to Hollywood did not alter his dedication and desire for stage acting, but Monty’s life was soon filled with new and exotic experiences.
Montgomery Clift was born on October 17, 1920 in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, William Brooks Clift, was a successful Wall Street stockbroker. His mother, Ethel Anderson, filled both parental roles while her husband was away. She would often take Monty, his twin sister, Roberta, and older brother, Brooks, on long trips to Europe or spend time at their second home in Bermuda while their father was busy with work in New York. Private tutors traveled with the family to educate the children while abroad. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Clift’s had to conform to a different lifestyle. They moved to a modest home in Sarasota, Florida when Monty was 13. He joined a local youth theatrical club there and tried acting for the first time. Montgomery was very committed to his work and his mother saw how natural he looked on stage. She started pushing Monty towards an acting career. His family moved to Sharon, Massachusetts where he auditioned for a part in the Broadway play, Fly Away Home. Monty was cast and the play ran for two seasons. His family moved to Manhattan when Monty secured another lead in the play Dame Nature. His lead in Dame Nature earned him Broadway star status at only 17.
Over the next three years, Monty took the lead in several Broadway plays, including There Shall Be No Night, The Skin of Our Teeth, Our Town, and Foxhole in the Parlor. During this time, members of the film industry continually tried to coax Monty to Hollywood. He rejected every offer. He loved to act, but he preferred the stage, not on camera. His passion was for Broadway. As with any growing young star, new horizons were inviting, and he finally decided to visit Hollywood for talks, but he was adamant about going there on his own terms. When MGM would not give him the agreements he requested, he walked out of the studio. Almost immediately, United Artists agreed to Monty’s terms, and he was cast alongside John Wayne and Walter Brennan in what became one of the most famous westerns of all time, Red River. Monty was excited to try a new type of role with both film acting and a western movie. Soon after “Red River” was completed, he was asked to play American G.I. Ralph Stevenson in The Search. This heartfelt war story gave Monty his Hollywood fame.
Becoming a Hollywood star, Monty formed many new friendships. One of his close friends was Mira Rostova, who coached Monty in almost every acting role he had. Perhaps the most famous friendship in Monty’s life was his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. The bond between them strengthened when the two starred together in A Place in the Sun. He would act with Taylor in two other films, Raintree County (1956) and Suddenly Last Summer (1959). He accepted both roles without even looking at a script because he wanted to act with Taylor. After A Place in the Sun, Clift did not make a movie for two years.
His return to the movie screen was in From Here to Eternity, which won eight Oscars and earned Monty a Best Actor nomination. He went on to star in the Hitchcock film I Confess and the movie Indiscretion of an American Housewife before taking another leave from acting. Monty was not seen on a stage or screen for more than three years.
One night in May of 1957, Monty accepted an invitation from Elizabeth Taylor for a dinner party. Afraid he would not be able to see his way home on the winding road Monty was the first to leave that evening. He veered off the road and his car collided into a telephone pole. The accident left Monty with a broken jaw and nose, a crushed sinus cavity, two missing teeth, and severe facial lacerations which required plastic surgery. His remarkable recovery let him return home after only eight weeks in the hospital.
After the accident, Monty starred in seven movies and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Judgment at Nuremberg. He also co-starred in The Misfits, which was Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable’s last movie. Monty was set to co-star with Elizabeth Taylor in Reflections in a Golden Eye, but filming would not start until after the current project she was working on. So, in the meantime, he was cast for The Defector. No one suspected this would be his last role. While waiting to begin work on Reflections, Clift suffered a heart attack and died in his home on July 23, 1966. At the age of 45, he was buried in Quaker Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.