Edward Montgomery Clift (nicknamed ‘Monty’ his entire life) was born on October 17, 1920 in Omaha, Nebraska, just after his twin sister Roberta (1920-2014) and eighteen months after his brother Brooks Clift. He was the son of Ethel “Sunny” Anderson (Fogg; 1888-1988) and William Brooks Clift (1886-1964). His father made a lot of money in banking but was quite poor during the depression. His mother was born out of wedlock and spent much of her life and the family fortune finding her illustrious southern lineage and raising her children as aristocrats.
At age 13, Monty appeared on Broadway (“Fly Away Home”), and chose to remain in the New York theater for over ten years before finally succumbing to Hollywood. He gained excellent theatrical notices and soon piqued the interests of numerous lovelorn actresses; their advances met with awkward conflict. While working in New York in the early 1940s, he met wealthy former Broadway star Libby Holman. She developed an intense decade-plus obsession over the young actor, even financing an experimental play, “Mexican Mural” for him. It was ironic his relationship with the bisexual middle-aged Holman would be the principal (and likely the last) heterosexual relationship of his life and only cause him further anguish over his sexuality. She would wield considerable influence over the early part of his film career, advising him in decisions to decline lead roles in Sunset Blvd. (1950), (originally written specifically for him; the story perhaps hitting a little too close to home) and High Noon (1952).
His long apprenticeship on stage made him a thoroughly accomplished actor, notable for the intensity with which he researched and approached his roles. By the early 1950s he was exclusively homosexual, though he continued to hide his homosexuality and maintained a number of close friendships with theater women (heavily promoted by studio publicists).
His film debut was Red River (1948) with John Wayne quickly followed by his early personal success The Search (1948) (Oscar nominations for this, A Place in the Sun (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)). By 1950, he was troubled with allergies and colitis (the U.S. Army had rejected him for military service in World War II for chronic diarrhea) and, along with pill problems, he was alcoholic. He spent a great deal of time and money on psychiatry.
In 1956, during filming of Raintree County (1957), he ran his Chevrolet into a tree after leaving a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s; it was she who saved him from choking by pulling out two teeth lodged in his throat. His smashed face was rebuilt, he reconciled with his estranged father, but he continued bedeviled by dependency on drugs and his unrelenting guilt over his homosexuality.
With his Hollywood career in an irreversible slide despite giving an occasional riveting performance, such as in Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Monty returned to New York and tried to slowly develop a somewhat more sensible lifestyle in his brownstone row house on East 61st Street in Manhattan. He was set to play in Taylor’s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), when he died in the early morning hours of July 23, 1966, at his home at age 45. His body was found by his live-in personal secretary/companion Lorenzo James, who found Clift lying nude on top of his bed, dead from what the autopsy called “occlusive coronary artery disease.” Clift’s last 10 years prior to his death from his 1956 car accident were called the “longest suicide in history” by famed acting teacher Robert Lewis.
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