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'Rumpled Movie Idol': Inside Montgomery Clift's Whirlwind Life

Jaimie-lee Prince
May 22, 2019
04:45 P.M.
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Montgomery Clift is known in Hollywood as much for his immaculate looks as he is for his messy life. From the start, the beloved actor hit our television screens with a bang. 


Clift made his way onto the Hollywood scene with the 1948 film, "Red River" and then 1949's "The Heiress." He signed a deal with Paramount that would then allow him to steer his career however he wanted it. 

Clift was particular in other aspects of his life, too. He remained in his New York apartment in between work, avoiding the lights of Hollywood as much as he could. 

Other uncommon habits he had included eating just two meals a day, reading literature like Chekov and Aristotle, and visiting courtrooms just to observe fellow humans. 

Montgomery Clift filming "Raintree County" in 1956 in Indiana | Photo: Getty Images


It's no wonder that, according to Vanity Fair, people described the actor as "offbeat" and "weird." He wasn't with the in-crowd as he avoided club life and would do his own thing fashion-wise. 

In fact, Clift's quirky outfits gave him the nickname the "Rumpled Movie Idol." He exuded youthful rebellion in his time. Unfortunately, his demeanor also earned him labels such as being a "slob, unfriendly," and despised in the industry. 

On-screen, though, Clift was portrayed as a male sex symbol, but it didn't cross-over into his real life. The disconnect between Clift's non-existent love life and the magazines' need for juicy stories was glaring. 


Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in 1956 | Photo: Getty Images

One fan magazine ended up using scenes from "The Heiress" to concoct theories about how Clift kissed women for an article titled "Making Love the Clift Way."


As time went on, reporters continued to prod Clift about his love life. Speculation about his sexuality arose with the actor's denial of all suspected love interests.

Finally, it emerged in the '70s through two biographical pieces that Clift was gay. Some unconfirmed and other purely made-up stories appeared in the books about Clift's life. 

A more definite claim was reportedly made by his own brother Brooks, who said that Clift was bisexual. All this time, Clift had had to hide his sexuality because of the time he lived in.

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in 1951 while filming "A Place in the Sun" | Photo: Getty Images


Being gay in those decades was greatly frowned upon, and early on, Clift was warned that it would destroy his career. So he hid it throughout his life, keeping much of his off-camera business secret.

One thing that was spoken about was his relationship with the legendary Elizabeth Taylor and the devastating crash surrounding a party at her home. It's unknown how deep the two's relationship was, but they were close friends. 

In 1956, they worked on the film "Raintree Country" together. It was during that time that Clift crashed his car into a telephone phone and reportedly damaged his face. However, no pictures exist from the incident. 


It was clear that the results were serious, though. Clift retreated from the cameras for four and a half years. In that time, he had surgeries to restore his face. 

It worked to an extent but was greatly inhibited by poor habits that Clift picked up in that time. Drugs and alcohol had a very noticeable effect on Clift's face, aging him well beyond his years.

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor filming "Raintree County" in 1956 | Photo: Getty Images


Drug and alcohol abuse also affected Clift's behavior. Upon his return to work, the cast and crew began automatically expecting some level of drunkenness from the actor. As such, he became less and less desirable to work with. 

Even when Taylor tried to help him by having him cast on 1959's "Suddenly, Last Summer," it was a great challenge to get through scenes. Still, co-stars Taylor and Katharine Hepburn stuck up for him, ensuring he stayed on. 

When Clift later starred in "The Misfits," he went down along with his co-stars as the film failed initially, only to be praised years later for its genius. Sadly, it was also a foretelling of many of the actors' fates. 


Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in 1956 | Photo: Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe ended up in a psychiatric ward for a time as she dealt with her own addictions and Clark Gable died due to a heart attack one month after filming. 


As for Clift, he continued to drink himself until at last, he succumbed to a heart attack at just 45 years old. Taylor was unable to make it but sent flowers for the funeral. Clift's death was described by some as a "long suicide." 

Another Montgomery who tried to keep her private life under wraps was "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery. Unlike Clift, however, Elizabeth had many relationships with her colleagues of the opposite sex.

Elizabeth Montgomery, late actress | Photo: Getty Images


According to Herbie Pilato's "Twitch Upon A Star," Elizabeth was involved with iconic artists like Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, and Gary Cooper. Sadly, many of her relationships involved physical and mental abuse.

Elizabeth seemed to lean towards the "bad boys" of the industry, marrying four and giving birth to three children in her lifetime. Like Clift, she passed earlier than usual at age 62 due to cancer.