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Montgomery Clift
Studio publicity photograph, c. 1948
Edward Montgomery Clift

(1920-10-17)October 17, 1920
Died July 23, 1966(1966-07-23) (aged 45)
Other names Monty Clift
Occupation Actor
Years active 1935–1966

Edward Montgomery Clift (/mɒntˈɡʌməri/; October 17, 1920 – July 23, 1966) was an American actor. A four-time Academy Award nominee, he was known for his portrayal of "moody, sensitive young men", according to The New York Times.

He is best remembered for his roles in Howard Hawks's Red River (1948), George Stevens's A Place in the Sun (1951), Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity (1953), Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and John Huston's The Misfits (1961).

Along with Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift was considered one of the original method actors in Hollywood (though Clift distanced himself from the term); he was one of the first actors to be invited to study in the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. He also executed a rare move by not signing a contract after arriving in Hollywood, only doing so after his first two films were a success. This was described as "a power differential that would go on to structure the star–studio relationship for the next 40 years". A documentary titled Making Montgomery Clift was made by his nephew in 2018, to clarify many myths that were created about the actor.

Early life and early career

Clift and Lois Hall in the Broadway production of Patricia Collinge's Dame Nature (1938)

Edward Montgomery Clift was born on October 17, 1920, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, William Brooks "Bill" Clift (1886–1964), was the vice-president of Omaha National Trust Company. His mother was Ethel Fogg "Sunny" Clift (née Anderson; 1888–1988). His parents were Quakers and met as students at Cornell University, marrying in 1914. Clift had a twin sister, Roberta (who later went by "Ethel"), who survived him by 48 years, and an older brother, William Brooks Clift, Jr. (1919–1986), known as "Brooks," who had a son with actress Kim Stanley and was later married to political reporter Eleanor Clift. Clift had English and Scottish ancestry on his father's side, wealthy relatives who hailed from Chattanooga, Tennessee. An adopted child, his mother Sunny maintained that Clift’s true maternal great-grandfathers were the US postmaster-general Montgomery Blair as well as Union commander Robert Anderson, a part of her lineage that was clarified to her (when she came of age) by Dr. Edward Montgomery, the family doctor who delivered her. She spent the rest of her life trying to gain the recognition of her alleged relations.

Part of Clift's mother's effort was her determination that her children should be brought up in the style of true aristocrats. Thus, as long as Clift's father was able to pay for it, he and his siblings were privately tutored, travelled extensively in America and Europe, became fluent in German and French, and led a protected life, sheltered from the destitution and communicable diseases which became legion following the First World War. At age 7, aboard a European ship, a boy forced Clift’s head underwater in the swimming pool for so long that a gland in his neck burst from his struggle to breathe; he had a long scar from the resulting infection and operation. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s ruined Clift's father financially; Bill was forced to downsize and move to Chicago to take a new job while Sunny continued traveling with the children. In a 1957 issue of McCall’s magazine, Clift quipped, "My childhood was hobgoblin, my parents traveled a lot…That’s all I can remember."

Early theater career: 1934–1946

Clift had shown an interest in acting and theatrics as a child living in Switzerland and France but did not take the initiative to go out for a part in a local production until age 13, when his family was forced to downsize and relocate from Chicago to Sarasota, Florida. He had a small non-paying role. Close to a year later, around the time the family moved again, settling in New York City, Clift debuted on Broadway at 14 years old as Harmer Masters in the comedy Fly Away Home which ran from January to July 1935 at the 48th Street Theatre. The New York World-Telegram noticed Clift’s "amazing poise and dexterity" while producer Theo Bamberger commended him for what he called a "natural histrionic instinct." Clift spent a short time at the Dalton School in Manhattan but struggled with traditional schooling. He instead continued to flourish onstage and appeared in works by Moss Hart and Cole Porter, Robert Sherwood, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams, and Thornton Wilder, creating the part of Henry in the original production of The Skin of Our Teeth. Clift proved to be a successful young stage actor working with, among others, Dame May Whitty, Alla Nazimova, Mary Boland, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Fredric March, Tallulah Bankhead, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne. In 1939, as a member of the cast of the 1939 Broadway production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever, Clift participated in one of the first television broadcasts in the United States: the Hay Fever performance was broadcast by NBC's New York television station W2XBS (the forerunner of WNBC) and was aired during the 1939 New York World's Fair. At age 20, he appeared in the Broadway production of There Shall Be No Night, a work which won the 1941 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Clift also had participated in radio broadcasts early in his career, though, according to one critic, he hated the medium. On May 24, 1944, he was part of the cast of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! for The Theatre Guild on the Air. In 1949, as part of the promotional campaign for the film The Heiress, he played Heathcliff in the one-hour version of Wuthering Heights for Ford Theatre. In January 1951, he participated in the episode "The Metal in the Moon" for the series Cavalcade of America, sponsored by the chemical company DuPont Company. Also in 1951, Clift was for the first time cast as Tom in the radio world premiere of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with Helen Hayes (Amanda) and Karl Malden (the Gentleman Caller), for The Theatre Guild on the Air.

Clift did not serve during World War II, having been given 4-F status after suffering dysentery in 1942. Immediately following the end of the war in September 1945 (in what would be Clift's penultimate Broadway performance) he starred in the stage adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's short story You Touched Me. He and actor Kevin McCarthy later wrote a screenplay for a film adaptation that was never made.

Adult career

Rise to film stardom: 1946–1956

A Place in the sun premiere
Clift at the premiere of A Place in the Sun (1951)

At age 25, Clift's first Hollywood film role was opposite John Wayne in the Western film Red River whose director Howard Hawks was impressed by his recent stage performance and was willing to sign him with no strings attached, which greatly appealed to Clift's sense of independence. Although filmed in 1946, the film was delayed release until August 1948. A critical and commercial success, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Clift's second film role, though it premiered first that same year, was The Search which earned him his first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Clift's naturalistic performance led to director Fred Zinnemann's being asked, "Where did you find a soldier who can act so well?" Clift was unhappy with the quality of the script, and reworked it himself. The film was awarded a screenwriting Academy Award for the credited writers. MGM distributed the film nationwide as magazines generated massive attention for Clift.

Paramount Pictures ended up offering him the best of any incoming studio offer (which he accepted): a three-film deal (down from the typical seven-year contract) that came with the freedom to turn down any script and any director, as well as the ability for either himself or the studio to terminate the agreement at any time.

Every major Hollywood studio wanted to make a deal with Clift and was collectively shocked that a young actor could command such leverage after the release of a single film: "the death knell of the producers and the moguls, and the birth of Actor Power." Clift was on the cover of Life magazine by December 1948. Look magazine gave him its Achievement Award and called him "the most promising star on the Hollywood horizon.

Clift's first film for Paramount was The Heiress (1949). While director William Wyler notably had difficulty with his poor posture, co-star Olivia de Havilland expressed difficulty with his seriousness, saying that "Monty was painstaking and I liked that about him, but I had a sense that Monty was thinking almost entirely of himself and leaving me out of the scene."

He tended to funnel most of his energy into intense rehearsals with acting coach Mira Rostova who accompanied him on set. Overall he ended up unhappy with his performance and left early during the film's premiere. The following summer in 1949, Clift shot The Big Lift in Berlin: intended to be more of a semi-documentary, pro-America wartime film and less of an acting vehicle, but still a welcome opportunity to portray a U.S. soldier.

Clift's next role as the drifter George Eastman in A Place in the Sun (1951) is regarded as one of his signature method acting performances. He worked extensively on his character, and was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. For his character's scenes in jail, Clift spent a night in a real state prison.

His main acting rival (and fellow Omaha native), Marlon Brando, was so moved by Clift's performance that he voted for Clift to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, sure that he would win. That year, Clift voted for Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.

A Place in the Sun was critically acclaimed; Charlie Chaplin called it "the greatest movie made about America". The film received added media attention due to the rumors that Clift and co-star Elizabeth Taylor were dating in real life.

After a break, Clift committed himself to three more films, all of which premiered during 1953: I Confess to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Vittorio De Sica's Terminal Station; and Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity which earned Clift his third Academy Award nomination (his second of two nominations for films directed by Zinnemann). For the latter, Clift committed to building strength and endurance, jogging laps around Hollywood High School as well as learning how to imitate playing the bugle and reading sheet music from trumpeter Mannie Klein for the role of middleweight boxer and bugle-playing soldier Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt.

Car crash

On the evening of May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, Clift was involved in a serious car crash after leaving a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, Michael Wilding. Clift had veered off one of the twisting hairpin turns and smashed into a telephone pole and the surrounding cliffside. Alerted by friend Kevin McCarthy, who witnessed the collision, Taylor found Clift conscious yet bleeding and swelling rapidly under the shattered dashboard. She pulled a hanging tooth that was cutting into his tongue, before accompanying him into the ambulance.

He suffered a concussion, broken jaw, broken nose, fractured sinuses, fractured cheekbones, and several facial lacerations which required plastic surgery. In a filmed interview years later in 1963, Clift described his injuries in detail, including how his broken nose could be snapped back into place.

After a two-month recovery period, Clift returned to the set to finish the film. Despite the studio's concerns over profits, Clift correctly predicted the film would do well, if only because moviegoers would flock to see the difference in his facial appearance before and after the crash.

Although the results of Clift's plastic surgeries were remarkable for the time, there were noticeable differences in his facial appearance, particularly the left side of his face, which was nearly immobile.

Continued pain from his injuries led him to rely on pills for relief as he had done after an earlier bout with dysentery left him with chronic intestinal problems. As a result, Clift's health and physical appearance deteriorated.

Later film career: 1957–1966

Montgomery clift from young lions trailer
Clift in the trailer for The Young Lions (1958)

For the next nine years, Clift made nearly as many films after his traumatic car accident as he had previously. His next four films were The Young Lions (1958), which is the only film featuring both Clift and Marlon Brando, Lonelyhearts (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and Elia Kazan's Wild River, released in 1960.

With his next two films, The Misfits (1961) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Clift pivoted to somewhat smaller supporting or cameo roles that required less overall screen time while still delivering demanding performances. As the faded rodeo rider Perce Howland in The Misfits, his first, introductory scene performed inside of a phone booth only took two hours of the scheduled two shooting days which impressed cast and crew. Marilyn Monroe (in what was to be her last filmed role) was also having emotional problems at the time; she described Clift in a 1961 interview as "the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am".

In his one 12-minute cameo scene in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Clift played a developmentally disabled German baker. Clift was willing to waive his fee entirely but accepted the supporting part with minimum compensation. His anguished performance (which earned him his fourth Academy Award nomination) was often thought to be due to his own nervous breakdown. Director Stanley Kramer, later wrote in his memoirs that Clift "wasn't always close to the script, but whatever he said fitted in perfectly" and that he suggested Clift turn to Spencer Tracy to "ad lib something" when he struggled to remember his lines for his one scene. In nephew Robert Anderson Clift's 2018 documentary, superimposed pages of Clift's own heavily annotated original script show that the actor was actually deliberately and consciously performing with his own rewritten dialogue as opposed to confused improvisation. On a taped phone call, Clift said that he played the character in a way that "holds onto himself, in spite of himself" with dignity.

Judgment at Nuremberg-Montgomery Clift
Clift in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

After completing John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), Universal Studios sued him for his frequent absences that caused the film to go over budget. Clift countersued with the assertion that he struggled to keep up with an overwhelming volume of last-minute script revisions and that an accidental blow to both eyes on set gave him cataracts. The case was later settled out of court, with evidence in Clift's favor, but the damage to Clift's reputation as unreliable and troublesome endured. As a consequence, he was unable to find film work for four years. The film's success at the box office brought numerous awards for screenwriting and directing, but none for Clift himself.

On January 13, 1963, a few weeks after the initial release of Freud, Clift appeared on the live television discussion program The Hy Gardner Show, where he spoke at length about the release of his current film, his film career, and treatment by the press. He also talked publicly for the first time about his 1956 car accident, the injuries he received, and its aftereffects on his appearance. During the interview, Gardner jokingly mentioned that it is "the first and last appearance on a television interview program for Montgomery Clift".

Barred from feature films, Clift turned to voice work. In 1964, he recorded for Caedmon Records The Glass Menagerie, with Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, and David Wayne. In 1965, he gave voice to William Faulkner's writings in the television documentary William Faulkner's Mississippi, which aired in April 1965.

During this time, Peter Bogdanovich was working at a cinema in New York City when Clift came to see a revival screening of one of his early films – I Confess (1953) – and decided to show him the guestbook where a cinema patron had written in a film request for "Anything with Montgomery Clift!"

Elizabeth Taylor put her salary on the line as insurance in order to have Clift cast as her co-star in Reflections in a Golden Eye, to be directed by John Huston. In preparation for the shooting of this film, Clift accepted the role of James Bower in the French Cold War thriller The Defector, which was filmed in West Germany from February to April 1966. He insisted on performing his stunts himself, including swimming in the river Elbe in March. The schedule for Reflections in a Golden Eye was then set for August 1966, but Clift died in July 1966. Marlon Brando was cast as his replacement.


I Montgomery Clift House, NYC, NY, USA
Montgomery Clift's former townhouse where he died (with green painted front door), located at 217 East 61st Street, Manhattan, New York City.

On July 22, 1966, Clift was in his New York City townhouse, located at 217 East 61st Street. He and his private nurse, Lorenzo James, had not spoken much all day. After midnight, shortly before 1:00 a.m., James went to his own bedroom to sleep, without saying another word to Clift.

At 6:30 a.m., James woke up and went to wake Clift, but found the bedroom door closed and locked. Concerned and unable to break the door down, James ran down to the back garden and climbed up a ladder to enter through the second-floor bedroom window. Inside, he found Clift dead. James then used the bedroom telephone to call some of Clift's personal physicians and the medical examiner's office before an ambulance arrived.

Clift's body was taken to the city morgue about 2 miles (3.2 km) away at 520 First Avenue, and autopsied. The autopsy report cited the cause of death as a heart attack brought on by "occlusive coronary artery disease".

Following a 15-minute funeral at St. James' Church on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, which was attended by 150 guests, including Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Walker, Clift was buried in the Friends Quaker Cemetery, Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Elizabeth Taylor, who was in Rome, sent flowers, as did Roddy McDowall (who had recently co-starred with Clift in The Defector), Judy Garland, Myrna Loy, and Lew Wasserman.



Year Title Role Director Notes
1948 The Search Ralph "Steve" Stevenson Fred Zinnemann
Red River Matthew "Matt" Garth Howard Hawks
1949 The Heiress Morris Townsend William Wyler
1950 The Big Lift Danny MacCullough George Seaton
1951 A Place in the Sun George Eastman George Stevens
1953 I Confess Fr. Michael William Logan Alfred Hitchcock
Terminal Station
(re-edited and rereleased in the United States as Indiscretion of an American Wife)
Giovanni Doria Vittorio De Sica
From Here to Eternity Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt Fred Zinnemann
1957 Raintree County John Wickliff Shawnessy Edward Dmytryk
1958 The Young Lions Noah Ackerman Edward Dmytryk
Lonelyhearts Adam White Vincent J. Donehue
1959 Suddenly, Last Summer Dr. John Cukrowicz Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1960 Wild River Chuck Glover Elia Kazan
1961 The Misfits Perce Howland John Huston
Judgment at Nuremberg Rudolph Petersen Stanley Kramer
1962 Freud: The Secret Passion Sigmund Freud John Huston
1966 The Defector Prof. James Bower Raoul Lévy Posthumous release

Film roles declined

Clift received and declined offers for roles in the following films:


Year Title Role Notes
1939 Hay Fever Performer Television Movie
1963 What's My Line? Mystery Guest Episode: Montgomery Clift
1963 The Merv Griffin Show Self Season 1 - Episode: 86
1965 William Faulkner's Mississippi Narrator Television Documentary


Year Title Role Venue
1933 As Husbands Go Performer Sarasota, Florida
1935 Fly Away Home Harmer Masters 48th Street Theatre, Broadway
1935 Jubilee Prince Peter Imperial Theatre, Broadway
1938 Yr. Obedient Husband Lord Finch Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway
1938 Eye On the Sparrow Philip Thomas Vanderbilt Theatre, Broadway
1938 The Wind and the Rain Charles Tritton Millbrook Theatre, New York
1938 Dame Nature Andre Brisac Booth Theatre, Broadway
1939 The Mother Tony Lyceum Theatre, Broadway
1940 There Shall Be No Night Erik Valkonen Alvin Theatre, Broadway
1941 Out of the Frying Pan Performer Country Theater, Suffern
1942 Mexican Mural Lalo Brito Chain Auditorium, New York
1942 The Skin of Our Teeth Henry Plymouth Theatre, Broadway
1944 Our Town George Gibbs City Center, Broadway
1944 The Searching Wind Samuel Hazen Fulton Theatre, Broadway
1945 Foxhole in the Parlor Dennis Patterson Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway
1945 You Touched Me Hadrian Booth Theatre, Broadway
1954 The Seagull Constantin Treplev Phoenix Theatre, Off-Broadway


Year Programme Episode Ref.
1951 Theatre Guild on the Air The Glass Menagerie

Awards and nominations

Year Awards Category Project Award Ref.
1948 Academy Awards Best Actor The Search Nominated
1951 A Place in the Sun Nominated
1953 From Here to Eternity Nominated
1961 Best Supporting Actor Judgment at Nuremberg Nominated
1961 British Academy Film Awards Best Foreign Actor Nominated
1961 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Nominated

In 1960, Clift was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6104 Hollywood Boulevard.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Montgomery Clift para niños

  • List of actors with Academy Award nominations
  • List of actors with two or more Academy Award nominations in acting categories
  • List of LGBT Academy Award winners and nominees
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