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Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Hot new kids on the lot-- Monty Clift and Marlon Brando-- rub 
elbows while locking horns in a secret, friendly rivalry.

Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift remain steadfast representatives of the bygone era of the "Method" revolution. This cataclysmic moment of artistic realism hit the homogenized world of Hollywood-ized acting with a disruptive, destructive, and seductive violence that was perhaps the most important milestone in cinema since the advent of sound. Ironically, it would be unfair to label either Brando or Clift as a "Method actor." Clift never studied the technique and only attended a few, early classes by invitation after he'd already had success in The Search. Brando did study the method thoroughly, but-- ever the humble fellow-- claimed to have invented his style himself and too asserted that instructor Lee Strasberg had merely taken the credit. Both men thought that Strasberg, the originator of this new school, was a bit of a quack, and both possessed enough natural talent, bravado, and (arguably) healthy narcissism to crawl from under the stigma of being one of Lee's proteges to become their own, unique Masters of the Craft.

Whatever teacher, technique, or lack thereof that either actor claimed to have, mattered not in the end. What they delivered was an almost unnatural brand of naturalism. One sect of the population would claim that the super-reality of their performances was the beginning of cinema's ruination, for it defiled the "art" of it-- the structure of illusion or the creation of the cinematic dreamworld was to be protected at all costs! (Strangely enough, this was the same issue that many took with the innovation of the 'talkies'). This theory would assert that there must be a thick, hard line between the real and the fake, between the viewers and the product. Film was supposed to effect an audience in a painless, subconscious fashion; this overt, emotional thrust was far too dangerous. Still, the other half of the population, not surprisingly the younger half, went ga-ga over their new Demigods. The fact that the movies had become real seemed like the final consummation of the initial promise of the movies themselves: art imitating life without appearing as imitation. The lie became true, and the male engines that could and did deliver this devout honesty would find themselves in a life-long battle of respect and rivalry-- envy and one-up-manship. The audience was just glad to sit back and watch.

Monty interprets the internalized, tormented American rebel in 
A Place in the Sun.

Bonus points, of course, are awarded to Clift for getting there first, yet the brash vitality of Brando has made his impression much more memorably poignant. Even today, when men come to Hollywood in search of their own artistic yearnings, it is the name of "Brando" that they speak. Clift is more of an afterthought or a later found gem. The reasons for this distinction are multifarious, but the most obvious place to start is in the men themselves. To borrow an analogy, Marlon was the "bull," and Monty was the "China shop." On the surface, these men couldn't have been more different, despite the fact that both were born in Omaha, NE. Clift was slightly senior, raised by a banker turned insurance salesman and an ambitious mother who had her eyes fixed on penetrating the social set. Monty was raised to believe that he was a first-class aristocrat, despite the family's occasional financial downfalls. He was nourished both artistically and intellectually, and behaved always with impeccable manners and the regal poise of a prince. Brando, on the other hand, while equally the son of a less polished businessman, was under-educated in the art of decorum. His family didn't wear a cloak of facade. A born rebel who was expelled from school, he preferred being an outcast to being, what he would consider, a pretentious monarch. He wore torn shirts, mussed hair, and seemed Hell-bent on disturbing the Hell out of people for the mere Hell of it. Though sprouted from essentially the same seed,  both Clift and Brando grew in vastly different directions and presented themselves with marked distinction. On the outside, one could easily say that Monty at least appeared to be the boy every mother hoped her daughter would marry, and Marlon was the boy all fathers feared. Monty would be invited in for tea; Marlon would be chased off the lawn with a shot gun.

Their manner, which invested itself particularly in their work, is definitely worth discussing. Both were instinctual men, prone to uncanny mimicry, and masters of observation. The way their talents manifested themselves was a product of their naturally different personalities. Clift was the intellectual, tearing everything apart in his mind and painstakingly putting it back together again to create a fully formed, perfectly natural character. He led with his mind. Brando led with his guts. He would simply step inside the character and wear him out. His being is much more physically dominant than Clift's. His characterizations, therefore, appear almost haphazard, as if he is figuring them out on the spot. He is always infinitely more interesting than the person he is creating, even in his most iconic performances. His raw, unapologetic interpretations were more intriguing to audiences, and even Clift saw this, admitting that Brando "connects better with his audiences." In this respect, Clift's calculation and perfectionism worked against him; he put the work before himself. Brando, no matter how great his performance, seemed to carry a sense of resentment for the work-- he didn't need it. He was just doing it because, whatever...

Marlon represents the animalistic, unapologetic American rebel
in On the Waterfront.

This made Brando fascinating, but it offered him fewer acting opportunities. Roles had to be tailored to his specific, male-animal type, whereas Clift could more easily conform to any role that tempted him. The most specific distinction could be that Clift cared, and Brando at least acted like he didn't. Monty sold his soul to his craft, and his determination and focus constantly stressed and tormented him. His resulting performances always came off flawlessly due to this diligence, but his acting seemed to alluringly creep up on his audiences because of his understated specificity. The camera had to search for him, and only after he was found did it realize how much it had wanted him in the first place. Thus, he let the audience find the story and him within it. Not so with Brando. His craft remained a sacrosanct secret. He didn't think too hard, or try too hard-- or so he claimed. He just did. As such, the camera grips him from the moment he hits the screen and never lets go. Of course, both men possessed pieces of each other, though in different proportions. The acting yin and yang, they served as perfect compliments to each other in their field, and offered audiences their personal preference of the modern man: class or crass. One could use an analogy of the men's acting by viewing them as lovers, which is fitting, since acting was probably their number one love in life anyway. Monty would woo the role, fall in love with it, endure all the fascinations and pangs of it, and wring himself dry on it, before leaving brokenhearted and altered after every performance. Marlon would have his way with a role, enjoy the stimulation of the carnal act, then kick it out of bed and move on to the next conquest, hungrily but dispassionately. Marlon had a better separation of himself from the role, (which is perhaps why he lived longer than the ever-conflicted Monty).

While both had their ups and downs in their careers in terms of critical approval and box-office, Clift would arguably appear to be the victor. He was so careful about the roles he chose and such a hard worker in each performance he made that, more often than not, even if the picture was a dud, he was still raved over. His career took a certain dive after his car accident, for his lack of a handsome face in a very superficial industry certainly crippled his early advantage, but there was never a doubt about his talent. That was always present, even if at moments it flagged under exhaustion, pain, or the dilution of drugs or alcohol. Brando didn't suffer from the same chemical dependencies that dismantled Clift's early promise, yet he too had a demon that worked against him: himself. Marlon couldn't seem to take the whole acting business seriously. Perhaps a part of him felt the need to keep himself at a distance from an occupation that was never accepted as "masculine." His much more macho presentation on film would also bolster this theory, for it was the necessary machismo that he injected into his performances that made him such an exciting presence on the screen. He needed to label himself as divergent-- other. He was not a pretty boy or an aesthete. He was no "sissy." He was changing the game. Thus, when he embodied his roles, he seemed to simultaneously thumb his nose at his own audience. As such, as his career progressed, he became lazy, disinterested, or perhaps even overly narcissistic, and stopped giving as much as he had early in his career. 

Monty's sex appeal at first appears uncomplicated. With the "face of an angel,"
seduction was simple. Yet he too had a sinister inner danger that gave him an
edge and elevated his appeal. (With Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity). 

One could also state that, since Brando was an unabated personality early in his career, he failed to become a great character actor until later in his reign. Early attempts, such as in Mutiny on the Bounty, fell flat. He wouldn't obtain the same critical reception as a character actor as Clift had until he pulled off his earth-shattering performance as "Don Vito Corleone" in The Godfather. In this respect, Monty seems to be the older brother passing on life lessons to a younger brother. Brando had to mature as an artist before he was able to distinguish himself as a character actor. When he was able to marry this talent to his innate charisma and power, he pulled off his second Academy Award for The Godfather (his first being for a more Marlon-like role in On the Waterfront). This contrast makes the two actors read like Fire (Brando) and Water (Clift). Brando reacts with instantaneous physicality, which gives way to his emotion. Clift reacts with immediate intellect, which then gives way to emotion. In this respect, it was Brando who was left at a disadvantage. A humorous example can be seen in their personal lives. At one point, Brando was dating Ellen Adler and took her to a party at which Clift was also in attendance. Brando wandered off into the mix, and Ellen found herself talking to Clift, who was, of course, all charm and manner. He asked inquisitive questions, he was attentive, and he began almost accidentally seducing her out from under Brando, who, by the way, stood frothing from across the room. Finally, seeing how Monty was seamlessly putting the moves on his girl, Brando came bursting through the crowd like an angry school child whose toy had been stolen: "She's my Jew, Monty!" Whoa. With that, he grabbed Ellen's hand and stormed off. Clift just stood in his place, smiling to himself at the pushy, uncouth amateur who had made a foolish scene. Marlon still behaved sort of like a cave man, clubbing his current choice over the head and pulling her into his cave. Clift didn't even have to bend a finger; he would hypnotize and bring the women to him like moths to a flame-- though his actual preferences lay elsewhere.

Of course, Monty enjoyed indulging in this prowess, and he certainly began the aforementioned "innocent" chat with Ellen to bait his arch nemesis. The rivalry between himself and Brando is legendary if not altogether scandalous. Aside from the Ellen exchange, both men truly respected each other too much to ever let things come to blows or immature arguments. Their careers and lives too had a strange way of running parallel to each other, if not completely overlapping. Clift met Brando for the first time when he went to see the latter perform in "I Remember Mama." Later, Clift was offered the role in "The Eagle Has Two Heads," from which Brando had just been fired. After seeing the play, Clift refused the role, and actually wound up riding back to New York on the same train as Brando. The two men shared a friendly but awkward exchange on board as a result. Initially, the hot, young Brando must have seemed like a thorn in Clift's side. After Monty extricated himself from a passionate but troubled relationship with Ann Lincoln, she turned to Brando and had an affair with him as well. When Clift ended another relationship with Judy Balaban, Marlon served as the best man at her wedding to Jay Kantor. Clift too had to host a party specifically so his enamoured acting coach, Mira Rostova, could meet Brando-- though she was too shy to ever introduce herself.

Brando's sexuality was more immediately violent. He was the "bad boy"
women fantasized about being dominated by, yet he too had
enough of the hidden vulnerability women wanted to
discover, as seen in his desperate cry for Stella!!!

Although both men could at times offer up an immature aside or two regarding their rival-- Monty making fun of Marlon's singing in Guys and Dolls, Brando saying that Clift looked like he had a "mixmaster" stuck up his ass-- they enjoyed a unique and somewhat competitive friendship. When both were up for the Oscar in 1952, they went to see the other man in his competing film. Both later admitted to each other that they believed the other man deserved the award more. Despite the classic performances of both-- in A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun-- it was Bogie who would win for his performance in The African Queen, which left their battle a fortunate stalemate. With no way of choosing between these two new, compelling actors, who were simultaneously reinventing the medium, why not just give it to the old guy? Perhaps more interestingly, the two were in talks to work together in East of Eden, with Monty as "Aron" and Marlon as "Cal." The role of Cal instead went to the boy who could have been birthed from the consummation of their artistic selves: James Dean. The only time M&M would share the marquee would be in The Young Lions. As if intimidated by Monty, Marlon's performance suffered in the film, and it gave Clift a great deal of pleasure when he witnessed Brando creeping around the set, trying to secretly watch him work. Yet, Monty had confidence in his rival. When Brando's career began to stall, Monty was vocal in his support: "Marlon isn't finished yet. He's just resting up. He'll be back-- bigger than ever." Brando's great return was indeed a triumph in both The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris. Brando too revealed a rare kindness when he came to Monty prior to Lions and begged him to get himself cleaned up off drugs and booze, because he needed Monty around to keep "challenging" him: "I've hated you because I want to be better than you-- but I'm not." Sadly, that battle would be lost. It is believed that Marlon took the role of "Maj. Weldon Penderton" in Reflections in a Golden Eye in honor of Monty, who was to have starred in the film opposite Elizabeth Taylor had he not passed away so suddenly.

Pick a side

It is hard for me to even conceive of Clift and Brando as separate entities anymore, knowing the way that they both secretly worked off each other and how they separately but equally influenced the very art of film acting. Their success is a product of multiple factors, but what made them stand out and stand the test of time so well was their unique appeal and modernity-- which, in turn, is eternal. Perhaps Monty said it best:  

"I don't think either Marlon or I are imitators, which is why I guess we both respect each other."

Eccentric, they may have been. Brash, cocky, and occasionally full of sh*t, you betcha. But phonies? Never. As such, we continue to trust them in every role that they played and allow them to lead us again and again through the maze-like plots of their competing films, wherein looking for them, we continue to find ourselves. They weren't a breath of fresh air in Hollywood; they were two cataclysmic tornadoes. We haven't been so enthusiastically nor thankfully shaken up since. One doubts we will ever be fortunate enough to encounter another such storm.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

HISTORY LESSON: Hollywood's Best Friend

Man's Best Friend. Hint: it's actually the guy on the left.

Life in show business is and has always been a bit cut-throat. Or a lot cut-throat... Needless to say, while competitive artists are scrambling to get to the top, or even just to get a paycheck, a lot of back-stabbing and corporate manhandling manifests itself in typical, menacing fashion. They say keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but in Hollywood-- the land of superficial relationships-- when you find a "good egg," it always works to one's benefit to hold onto it. One such diamond in the rough during the final roar of the studio era was Roddy McDowall. Due to the length of his career in film-- which spanned 6 decades, from the age of 10 to the age of 70-- and his naturally generous nature, Roddy became the sort of go-to boy about town. During his reign as a Hollywood character actor and occasional, atypical leading man, he got to know and befriend some of Hollywood's brightest talents and tragediennes. As a result, until his death, he was too a major source of information for any historian, author, or documentarian looking to dig into the secrets of Movieland's past. Having starred in everything from Lassie Come Home to Planet of the Apes, his career was nothing to sniff at either. He was, in fact, issued an apology from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences when they failed to nominate him for his performance as "Octavian" in Cleopatra, beings that his contribution was one of the few bright, honest moments in an otherwise disastrous, albeit fascinating, experiment in cinematic gluttony. Everyone seemed to love Roddy, professionally and personally, though he is far less recognized than many of his heartthrob contemporaries. So, what was it that made this guy so darn swell? If you want to know the measure of a man, count his friends:

Montgomery Clift (left) had a slow start in entering the social stratosphere. Home schooled for the majority of his early life, his brief attempt at public school was cut short when he and his elder brother, Brooks, were mercilessly bullied and harassed by the other students-- not a promising indication of civilian life. As such, his childhood, while filled with intellectual and artistic pursuits, was bereft of friendships outside his family-- which included his super close twin sister, with whom he had a secret, collaborative language. It is thus surprising that Monty turned out as warm, curious, and friendly as he did. Nonetheless, despite his many friendships within and without the industry, he was not one prone to trust others and rarely forged relationships that made him comfortable enough to confide his own personal issues. He took Elizabeth Taylor to his heart, of course. Another pal he let into his inner circle was the always non-threatening, easy-going Roddy. In fact, it was Roddy's 'easy-goingness' that was so effective in the friendship. The duo became acquainted by running in the same circle of friends, often going to parties together. When Monty's sour side would reveal itself, Roddy could always be counted on to temper the stormy conditions. For example, Monty didn't take a liking to Merv Griffin at one particular party-- the reasons remain unknown-- and the two ended up having a friendly, but not really friendly, pie-throwing fight. Sensing trouble brewing, Roddy would step in on occasions such as these by offering up a joke or aside that rendered the antagonistic situation hilarious and ended the hostility. Blaine Waller recalled, "[Roddy] was one of the funniest people I've ever met... We would actually fall on the floor laughing at him."

This sense of humor would carry over into smaller social gatherings, most particularly in the Monty-Liz Taylor-Roddy trio. The pals once ran amok at the Plaza Hotel after Elizabeth was presented with an exorbitant bill. In retaliation, she called for back-up. Roddy and Monty appeared, and the three performers caused quite a ruckus by getting tipsy on martinis and engaging in over-the-top pranks. They started hanging all the pictures they could get their hands on upside down, unscrewing bathroom fixtures, and throwing toilet paper around like streamers on New Years! Monty also swiped some exclusive Plaza towels and subsequently set them out for Elizabeth whenever she came to visit him at his own home. Laughs aside, the skirmish got the three friends in trouble, because the charade landed in the press. But, friends that play together, stay together. Monty trusted Roddy implicitly, and Roddy was equally enchanted by Monty's vitality, passion, and talent. His empathy for Monty's personal torments made him an easy ear and reliable shoulder. Monty's various secretaries always screened his calls, but Roddy was one of few whose voice was able to go directly through to the troubled actor. Always curious and supportive of Monty's career, he became an even more reliable touchstone after Monty's devastating car accident. He was deeply grieved at his death, and thus he treasured a photo he had taken of him, which he placed in his notorious powder room, now on display at The Hollywood Museum. The two would collaborate on but one picture, Monty's last: The Defector. (Liz and Roddy frolic in younger days, right).

Roddy, having literally grown up within the industry, had a profound respect for both it and the artists who had endured, survived, and even thrived within it. He had a particular fascination with female stars of the past, whom he idolized. As such, he struck up many odd and unlikely bonds with some of the most evasive Queens of the silver screen. One of these was Jean Arthur (left). In fact, Jean must have sensed a like soul, for she actually pursued a friendship with Roddy, sending him a fan letter after seeing him perform in a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of Saint Joan. Having earlier performed in the role of Joan of Arc herself, she saw in Roddy the perfect cast mate that she'd never had. Roddy returned the favor by visiting Jean on the set of her new television show, which was unfortunately a quick flop. He was surprised to see such a huge starlet, known as a creme-de-la-creme comedienne, behaving as frightened, stressed, and insecure as Jean. For whatever reason, Jean took Roddy into her inner circle, and he remained a steadfast confidante until her death. He worked diligently, but ineffectually, at bolstering her self-esteem, and was able to maneuver the precarious mine-field of Jean's emotions and mistrust. Jean loved Roddy, but she had ground rules: for example, No Pictures! Yet, Roddy was able to sneak photos of her on his camera when she wasn't paying attention. She even acquiesced and let him publish two of her pictures in his celebrity picture book Double Exposure: Take Two. Roddy was both flabbergasted and honored. It was Jean's way of showing that, deep down, she recognized his support and wanted to return the favor. It was always clear that a relationship with Jean could be a one-way street. Despite her peculiarities, Roddy loved her anyway.

Louise Brooks (right) was equally indignant to scrutiny in her later years, although she became much more vocal about her Hollywood experiences through interviews with people such as Kenneth Tynan, in addition to her own writings. Yet, she let few into her inner circle, perhaps worried about how avid fans would react to her age and the loss of her famous beauty. It was a sentiment shared by many of the women who had once been held up in their youths for their physical perfections. Luckily, with Louise, it was always more about brains than body, so she could let her guard down when she felt appreciated for the former. Enter Roddy, who again would use his passion for photography to crack a tough cookie. Roddy approached Louise in 1965 about appearing in his first effort, Double Exposure, to which the actress surprisingly agreed and even offered a blurb about Buster Keaton. Already a 37-year-old man at the time, Roddy was still so moved by Louise's presence, voice, and personal power that he left her apartment moved beyond comprehension. He would recall how he had randomly begun crying in the elevator upon his departure, as if he had just stepped away from God himself! Of course, he had to endure the usual attacks of paranoia that Louise exhibited and even moments of cruelty, in which she blatantly trashed Planet of the Apes, for example-- a film of which Roddy had been a part. Of course, the latter insult was meant to be protective, for she thought he was "wasting his talent." Roddy was equally protective of Louise, and because she had entrusted him into her life, he honored the privilege by not "selling her out" to others. As with Jean, Roddy respected the actress enough to adhere to the stipulations of her odd behavior, perhaps understanding, as a survivor of the film world himself, that the effects are often hard to get over.

Ava Gardner (left) too became enchanted with Roddy when they worked together on his sole directorial effort Tam Lin (The Devil's Widow). The two had actually met in the forties, when Roddy was but a young boy and Ava a much more developed young woman, though a mere six years his senior. They saw each other at the MGM "school" for child stars, though a more social friendship would have to wait a few years. Another faded love goddess by 1969, Roddy's eager interest in Ava's life and career and his utmost respect for her as a person put her at ease during the shoot and allowed her to relax under the pressure of her role. Though only in her late forties, she felt like an ancient, old lady among the rest of the youthful cast. In the film, Ava was to play a "demonic godmother to a band of swinging, stoned young wastrels." More literally, she played a witch in a contemporary "horror fable." Ava didn't want to accept the project, as she had been enjoying time away from pressure-filled Hollywood, but Roddy coaxed her into it. He wanted to get her back to work, and she wanted to help him become a director. The project didn't wind up doing much for either professionally, but it did help them forge a strong bond. Roddy adored Ava, and vice versa. Ava wound up enjoying her time on the shoot for the most part, where she became den mother to the younger actors, who always called her "Big A." Roddy tried to get Ava to trust herself as an actress, but as she had never valued her own talent, his constant compliments and reassurances did little good, other than to warm her heart a bit. His attentions did provide a missing comfort from her life, and it was enough to make them friends for life.

Clearly, despite his own fame and reputation, Roddy could definitely "geek out" in the presence of celebrities whom he considered iconic, and who had in fact inspired his own childhood fascination with acting and cinema. For this reason, the fanatic in him would go out of his way to meet those personalities whom he had especially admired. He had a little help from George Cukor in arranging the following dream situation: a meeting between Greta Garbo and Mae West (right)! Roddy approached George with a kind of dare to get the two infamous and obviously different women together: "George, you're the only person who could get Greta Garbo and Mae West to your house for dinner together, and I want to be invited!" Challenge extended. Challenge accepted! If there were any man who got around more-- in a totally innocent sense-- than Roddy McDowall, it was George Cukor. Thus, a miracle occurred, and two polar opposites on the feminine, sexual spectrum met... and became thick as thieves for their brief meeting! Both were somewhat intimidated and definitely impressed by the opposing woman's talents and fame. Mae, when introduced, even gave the bashful Garbo a kiss, a moment that George noted was particularly unusual. After a bit of an awkward dinner, the two women found a quiet corner and talked all night long. The rest of the guests, Roddy included, sat salivating nearby and watched with rapt attention: What could they possibly be talking about!? Roddy could have used the moment to edge his way in, but somehow, what he was witnessing was too perfect to disrupt. He never became close with either woman as a result, but watching the sexually ambivalent Greta talking to the sexually luxurious Mae about the latter's surprisingly heavy shoes was enough for him. 

It is always interesting to witness a star who is just as starstruck as the Average Joe. Roddy definitely fit the bill, and it is perhaps his humble and genial nature that, not only made him an appealing presence on the screen, but allowed him to endear himself to so many big screen performers. His loyalty to the cinematic realm was very strong and equally devout. In fact, he is allegedly responsible for another particularly moving honor: bestowing Florence Lawrence with her headstone at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, for her grave had for a great many years remained unmarked. If true, it indicates indeed Roddy's passion and interest in the people that made the world of movies so grand. The respect he paid to others has certainly been paid back to him in the continued interest each generation shows in his work. Roddy, thank you for being a friend!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Acting is no day at the beach, but Montgomery Clift takes advantage 
of his proximity to the ocean to peruse some scripts.

In the midst of filming The Big Lift and riding the wave of his current success, the film offers were rolling into Montgomery Clift. A savvy actor,  he was pretty good at weeding out the good prospects from the bad. One particular item that initially presented itself as a "goody" was the chance to collaborate with Billy Wilder. The project: Sunset Blvd. Wilder had in fact written the part of "Joe Gillis" with Monty in mind. Who better to portray the jaded, morally ambiguous screenwriter than the mysterious, multi-faceted Monty? For awhile, it seemed a done deal, and Monty and Billy went back and forth about the project over a period of months. Imagine the director's surprise when Monty's gave him a long-distance phone call from Berlin and informed him that he would not be taking the role. Billy was flabbergasted... and a bit miffed! After all, he thought that they had come to an understanding? Monty stood firm, insisting that the part wasn't right for him. In the end, Billy was stuck with the much more macho and cynical answer to his prayers, William Holden. Monty's decision turned out to be a blessing for the project, which went on to become a critically acclaimed masterpiece that reignited William's career. In retrospect, Monty always maintained that he was proud of his decision and thought the film was amazing. His refusal of the part was perhaps the simple result of his business acumen, and his knowledge that there was a better fit for the role out there, but many also made assertions that he found too many uncomfortable commonalities between the nature of Joe's relationship with the dominating "Norma Desmond" and his own relationship with his mother.

Fortunately for cinema, Bill Holden took no umbrage to being under a powerful
woman: with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd.

Monty's perception about casting extended beyond his own career. On many of the projects he was involved with, he had definite ideas about whom should be cast opposite him. One such example occurred when he landed the role of "George Eastman" in A Place in the Sun. It was already announced that Elizabeth Taylor was to be his leading lady, after hearing the news of which Monty responded, "Who's Elizabeth Taylor?" One hopes he was being sarcastic. The role of his more ill-fated girlfriend in the film was still up for grabs, however. Monty had great respect for Betsy Blair (left), and he had become good friends with both her and her husband Gene Kelly. With her subdued and underplayed talent and her handsome but modest appearance, Monty thought she was the perfect fit for "Alice Tripp." He went to bat for her, but-- perhaps due to Betsy's leftist political leanings during the "red scare"-- the part went instead to Shelley Winters. Monty was displeased. Almost as critical of others' performances as he was of his own, he was vocal of his dissatisfaction with Shelley's portrayal of the forlorn assembly line worker. He thought she was coming on too strong and playing the part too pathetic and desperate from the get-go. Despite his misgivings, others praised Shelley's performance and many claimed that it was the best of her career. Betsy, as fate would have it, would finally have her own day "in the sun" 4 years later when she appeared as the plain Jane leading lady of Marty.

Oh, life's wondrous options: Monty and Shelley deal with the consequences
in A Place in the Sun.

Tippi Hedren (right) didn't really know how to react after the success of her first major film, The Birds. On the one hand, she was a bona fide actress now on her way to being a full blown movie star. On the other, the filming process with Alfred Hitchcock, the obsessive director who had discovered and essentially bought the young model, had been a debilitating and back-breaking one. "Sexual Harassment" didn't even begin to describe the abuse that she had suffered at the hands of the Master of Suspense. There were days when Tippi found herself cornered by a sexually demanding Hitch; there were days when birds were literally tied to her with string so that they were forced to remain close to her body for a shot, which led to them pecking and biting at her. Co-star Jessica Tandy was one of many watching in horror as the poor girl wandered from the set to her dressing room covered in bird sh*t. Unfortunately, there was no escape after wrap-- Hitch had Tippi under exclusive contract, which meant she couldn't get work anywhere else. The next torment was set to be Marnie, which included a demeaning rape scene that Tippi was not looking forward to in the slightest. A slight ray of hope entered the horizon when it was mentioned that Grace Kelly would be returning to the screen from her royal sojourn in Monaco to assume to lead role. Tippi was not at all upset that she was being replaced. It was like a Godsend! Unfortunately, politics got in the way, and Grace found herself unable to re-team with her still lovelorn director. Thus, the burden fell on the frail Tippi's shoulders again. Marnie remains a curiosity more than a triumph, though it does possess its merits. Then again, perhaps Grace simply smelled an over-complicated clunker and knew that re-entering the fray was not the best idea. After the film, Tippi underwent an arduous process of extricating herself from Hitch's maniacal control, but her career never took wing the way it should have after The Birds.

Hitch gives Grace a hand. His idolatry of her made him much
easier for her to handle, yet made life with him after her
Hollywood exit traumatic for the actresses to follow.

Barbara Stanwyck (left) had her eyes and ears open all the time for projects that either spoke to her or could serve to enhance her career. She got particularly excited when she learned that the controversial (and lengthy) Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead was going to be adapted into a film. She was eager to play the role of "Dominique Francon," and when Lauren Bacall dropped out of the project, she campaigned heavily for the role. Contributing factors may have been the leading man-- Gary Cooper-- and the director-- King Vidor-- both of whom she had collaborated with so flawlessly in the past. It turns out that Ayn had insisted on Cooper's casting in the role, which had ousted original candidate Humphrey Bogart and, in effect, Lauren Bacall, who left after Bogie was denied. With the door open, Babs was more than ready to step into the role of the cold, scheming Dominique, whose reserve and isolation is penetrated by Coop's passionate, individualistic architect "Howard Roark." Unfortunately for Babs, an unknown, willowy ingenue with a Southern, scotch-coated drawl was cast in her place: Patricia Neal. Few were certain of the casting decision, including Coop, who saw Pat in early tests and thought that she was dreadful. Must have been early nerves, for Coop certainly warmed to her after filming began. The duo were able to make it the length of filming without giving into temptation, but as soon as the director called "that's a wrap!" they indulged in a lengthy and scandalous affair. Now see: had they cast Babs, they could have avoided that whole catastrophe. (In related, funny news, Coop later admitted to Ayn after his lengthy, heady courtroom speech that, while he had memorized his lines to a T, he had absolutely no idea what he had been talking about).

Coop and Pat embark on a dangerous partnership in The Fountainhead.

Much has been made of Errol Flynn and his tendency toward young ladies. Apparently there was some sort of court case about it... But few know the following story about how life very nearly imitated art. Errol's last major love affair was with the teenaged Beverly Aadland, otherwise known as the "Wood-nymph" (together right). Pushing 50, Errol was a mere fragment of the vibrant, young man he had been during his reign as Hollywood's favorite swashbuckler and ladies' man. Three failed marriages, financial troubles, and a devastating sense of self-loathing and regret only served to enhance his alcohol and drug addictions. On the one hand, he seemed to be a man who desperately wanted to live life to the fullest; on the other, he seemed to be resolutely committed to killing himself. Somehow, he was still working, albeit intermittently, and his relationship with the naive yet seemingly loyal Beverly buoyed his spirits, to perhaps a deluded extent. Stanley Kubrick was coincidentally hunting for actors for his upcoming Lolita, a movie that explored the scandalous obsession and sexual relationship between a middle-aged man and his teenaged step-daughter. To Errol, it seemed like kismet. Not only would he indulge in a role that explored his own demons, but he hoped to star in it with his latest paramour, Beverly, in order to help her own career along. Stanley was intrigued, not with the inexperienced Beverly, but with Errol, who seemed a prime candidate for "Humbert Humbert." It was not to be. Errol passed away before filming ever began, though it is questionable that, in his poor condition, he would have received the role anyway. The parts went instead to James Mason and Sue Lyon, the latter of whom made her film debut in the role of the dangerous nymphet.

The act of painting a woman's toe-nails is often used to exemplify emasculation in film.
James Mason illustrates the point with Sue Lyon in Lolita.

Much has been made of the recent speech Clint Eastwood made at the Republican National Convention. Some stated that he respectably blended his status as an entertainer with the political nature of the event; others said that his oration was clumsy, rambling, and misguided. Spoiler alert: Republicans dug it, Democrats did not. (Don't you just love election time)? Anywho, Clint's big send-off at the conclusion was his most infamous line: "Make my day." The eternal, squinty-eyed pro first delivered this quote through steely teeth in the now iconic role of 'Dirty' Harry Callahan. Dirty Harry (left) was a game changer in the cop drama, which blended realistic investigations with pulp, taut suspense, and an edge of comedy. The result, was pop-cultural history. Yet, another notorious tough guy almost played the most impersonated cop in history: John Wayne. No, that is not a joke.  (I'll give you a minute to recuperate). However, Duke turned the job down, not having confidence in the material nor in himself in the role. After the film went on to great success, getting Clint out from under his cowboy hat with a different holster, Duke had regrets. Clearly, he had missed out on a great opportunity. His solution was to take on a similar role in the film McQ as another vengeful Lieutenant. The results of this film would not be as stellar, and Duke would make but three more films before succumbing to cancer. He went out in a role that better suited him, that of a cowboy in The Shootist. Thus, while Clint won the cop war, Duke still owns the West. I kinda want to hear Duke ask me if I "feel lucky," though...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


"Subtext"and "Clift" are pretty much synonymous. In The Misfits, Monty drew on his own
ever-complicated relationship with his mother to add layer to an early phone 
conversation his character had. He nailed it in one take.

Where do good characters come from? One could say that the genius lies in the writing, but that's only half the battle. A good idea is just a ghost of intention if there is never an actor to grab a hold of it and flesh it out. Every performer has his own way of getting to a character, whether it be through Method, Meisner, or raw instinct, but some of the pieces of life experience that inspire a characterization and bring it more fully to life are just as fascinating as the movies themselves. Actors are perpetual creatures of human study. Al Pacino made a brilliant documentary recording his own quest to find and create one of the most complicated characters in literary history, Richard III, in Looking for Richard. One of my own acting teachers, we'll call him JHR, entertained the class with an episode that he experienced with Marlon Brando. At a restaurant, he happened to see (a much older and fatter) Marlon eating at a table across the way. He then saw Marlon observe another diner, who was struggling with his meal due to a neck brace, which clearly handicapped his movements. Marlon stopped, pulled back, assumed the same posture, and tried to eat in the same crippled fashion. I guess an actor acts, always. The following is a series of more descriptive circumstances that stellar performers used to shape their roles into realities. Here are a few answers to the question: How did he come up with that?!

 Montgomery Clift had definite standards when it came to acting. His chosen profession was more than a job, it was a mission.  If anything worth doing is worth doing right, than to Monty anything worth doing was worth hitting out of the park. Thus, he took his characterizations very seriously. In addition to getting in touch with the inner mechanisms of the man he wanted to portray, he too would try to establish him physically. For example, when preparing for the role of Father Logan in I Confess (left), he studied the way that priests walk, noting that they seemed to push their long robes forward with their hands as they moved. His attention to detail and sense of conviction would drive certain directors and producers nuts, but no one could argue with his results. As always, the battle between money and artistry is tough-going, especially in the factory mentality of Hollywood. As Monty himself would say, "I'm not an actor out there, I'm called a 'hot property.' And property is only good if it makes money-- a property is lousy if it loses money at the box office."

Nonetheless, the mighty arm of studio mandates never broke Monty's artistic sensibilities. Throughout his career, he looked for motivations for his characters in unusual places, sometimes keeping observations in his pocket for years before he was able to put them to use. One example of this occurred in 1949, after Monty had just started to strike a chord with American audiences. Since he was hanging around friend and mentor Thornton Wilder a great deal, he steeped himself in brainy literature. Always an avid reader, he went on a rampage, consuming the entire works of Franz Kafka (right), with whom he had become absolutely fascinated. (His absorption in The Metamorphosis seems particularly uncanny, considering the parallel that he would later have with character "Gregor Samsa's" repulsive transformation). While on this literary journey, Monty became transfixed by a photograph of the author, which was taken in Prague the very year of his death. Something in the gaunt, bat-like face with haunted eyes seemed to move and disturb him, and the image certainly effected him enough that he felt compelled to rip it out of the book and carry it with him over the next nearly 10 years. He reportedly looked at it every day. 

Fast forward to his casting in The Young Lions after his own post-crash "metamorphosis." He was to bring to life the character of "Noah Ackerman," a Jewish soldier. In uncovering the nature of this man, he knew immediately how he wanted to flesh him out. In addition to losing 20 pounds and wearing purposely baggy clothing, he too made adjustments to his face to make himself look like Kafka in the infamous photo (left). Something about the author's tragedy and Noah's defiance against his own victimization made sense to him. He recalled his performance as his favorite role and the one of which he was the most proud.

Carroll Baker was one of many members of the Method crew that seemed to follow in the wake of Monty's naturally intuitive brand of acting. (Though he had never been a Method man himself, many of Strasberg's students would find themselves trying to create what Monty seemed to have invented). Carroll proved from the minute she arrived in New York that she was ready to go the distance in her acting. This soon got her noticed by Hollywood, who was interested in both her talent and beauty. Fortunately, she also had a brain. The wheels were definitely already spinning with regard to character "Baby Doll Meighan" by they time she began filming Baby Doll, yet there were certain behavioral elements she needed to round off. She found the perfect subject to study when she landed on location in Benoit, MS. No sooner had she set foot on Southern soil than she came into contact with a local woman named Ellie May. The typical Southern Belle, Ellie May was feminine, colorfully dressed, and also possessed a remarkable speech pattern that reflected both her Mississippi heritage and a blend of baby talk. Jackpot! For the remainder of her visit, Carroll kept Ellie May in close company and under even closer scrutiny. The way she was both delicate and assertive, coy yet calculating, gave Carroll all that she needed to use for her character (see right). The mimicry worked, and the role changed her life.

Carroll had another moment of divine inspiration when director Elia Kazan, known as "Gadge," was looking for a little extra oomph for one particular scene. Early in the film, Baby Doll sits and waits for her sexually frustrated older husband, "Archie," in their car. When he finishes his business and comes to meet her, the watching locals were supposed to start heckling him. Elia didn't believe that the scene worked without some sort of context, so he asked both Carroll and co-star Karl Malden for ideas. A light bulb when off: Carroll told Elia that her father had been a traveling salesman and that whenever she had to wait for him in the car somewhere, if she had been a good girl, he would bring her an ice cream cone. Elia loved it! The extra action of having Archie approach his young, ambivalent, untouched bride with a dripping vanilla cone provided a sexual undertone, an embodiment of the characters' power struggle, and also the blatant age difference. It totally worked. Thus, Archie stands in the hot sun sweating, while the object of his desire sits quietly lapping it up (left). Perfection.

James Cagney had a lot of personal material to draw on when he needed to add gravity to his performances. An easy touchstone for him was always his father. James Frances Cagney had been a lovable, tender man with an unfortunate penchant for alcohol. Occasionally, he would go into "fits," wherein he would endure severe headaches that left him moaning and howling uncontrollably. The only one who could calm him down was his wife, Jim's mother, Carrie. Meanwhile, the children in the family hid their eyes and covered their ears, unintentionally showing their fear of the man they loved so much. Jim  never forgot the sound... After several years in Hollywood as a leading man, he would tap into this particularly painful vein in order to deliver one of the most gut-wrenching moments of his career. In White Heat, his hard as nails gangster has but one soft spot-- for his mother, who ironically, is the only person who can calm him when he gets one of his "headaches." When later imprisoned, he is eating in the mess hall when he hears the news that his beloved mama is dead. His character, "Cody Jarrett," completely loses control of his senses, lets out an ear-splitting series of animal noises, and flails around madly about his fellow inmates (right). The extras in the scene had not been told what to expect, so when their star started braying desperately, many of them thought James Cagney had actually lost his mind! The stunned look of shock on their faces says it all. The noise Jim created was the same awful sound that he had heard growing up. He only watched the scene once, then refused to ever watch it again. It was far too painful. Yet, to him, it was worth it to cut himself open for the role.

Jim used his pops for a much more light-hearted gag in an earlier film he made, Taxi (left, with Loretta Young). When he used to horse around with his father as a kid, the senior fellow would sometimes wrap his arm around his son's neck in mock anger and lightly pepper his chin with fake punches, saying all the while, "Why I oughta..."  Thus, in a scene in Taxi when Jim is jealously teasing a paramour, he wraps his arm around her neck, taps her chin and spouts: "If I thought that..." The action was a way of paying homage to his old man. When his mother, Carrie, saw this moment in on the big screen, she started weeping right in the middle of the theater. It meant a lot to her that Jim would honor one of his warmest memories of his father.

Luise Rainer was one of a kind. A delicate, feminine creature who often portrayed women of great romance and modesty, she was also a thinker who refused to ever get caught up in the Hollywood game. She was never in it for the stardom, she was in it for the story, and was honored that she was one of the few people in the world who had the great privilege of bringing interesting women to life. Nonetheless, there was great controversy surrounding her casting as "O-Lan" in The Good Earth (right), if only because she had been chosen over Anna May Wong in the role of the Chinese heroine. Luise understood the resentment, but studio politics being what they were, she graciously accepted the role and vowed to make good in it. She refused elaborate make-up, which she believed would caricature the race, and determined to work from "the inside out" in building O-Lan authentically. Through the subtle, quiet movement she observed in the female Chinese community, she was able to establish the modest touch she was looking for. Yet, she wasn't quite satisfied. She had the structure of O-Lan, but in her mind, she hadn't "found her" yet. Ah, serendipity: one day on the set, Luise was dressed in character and surrounded by genuine Chinese extras. She accidentally dropped her pocket book, and when she bent to pick it up, she knocked heads with another women, who kindly handed her wallet back to her. Their eyes locked. Suddenly, the extra realized that she was standing next to the star of the film! Her eyes went wide and she blushed. She seemed to pull back inside herself a bit in humility. "There she is," Luise thought. "That's O-Lan!" She used this woman and her honest, demure reaction as a model for her characterization... and won an Academy Award for her performance, (for the second year in a row, btw)!

Lon Chaney was, of course, the consummate character researcher as the consummate character man. As he occasionally found himself in Chinese roles, he-- like Luise-- would go to Chinatown to observe the people and study their mannerisms. His ultimate test if he had mastered his movements and make-up, was to ride the electric car to Chinatown and back, as authentic Chinamen got on and off around him. During the ride, if no one noticed that he was some actor in make-up, he knew that he had it (see him in Mr. Wu, left). He also liked to visit the courts and watch the different criminals, convicts, and cretins come in for their verdicts. He always found a lot of material there for his own villains. His attention to detail can be seen in all of his films, and his work has gone on to inspire many other actors. In fact, he was directly used by one actor in particular during the filming of Full Metal Jacket. Vincent D'Onofrio is an accredited character actor of his own generation, as is evident in his lengthy, varied filmography. His role as "Private Leonard Lawrence" in Full Metal Jacket was at once annoying, child-like, and demented. An important scene comes when he reacts to the abuse that the fellow soldiers are inflicting upon him, and (spoiler alert) he subsequently loses his mind and shoots off his own head. The day before they were to shoot, Stanley Kubrick was conferring with the young actor about this heavy scene. "Make it big," he said. "Lon Chaney big!" Vincent did. His maniacal control and sinister presence sends chills down the spine. He totally delivers in this shocking moment by going over-the-top mad! It works. Lon Chaney clearly isn't the only creeper, but because he was the first, his followers are much better prepared.

I've seen that face before... (Vincent D'Onofrio goes full-on Chaney
 in Full Metal Jacket).

*My apologies to those of you who may have caught a glimpse of an early draft of this article. I accidentally pressed "publish" instead of "save." :-/ Hey, I'm allowed one blonde moment a day!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

STAR OF THE MONTH: Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift

There are certain actors and filmmakers I turn to when I want reassurance that cinema is indeed an art. Unfortunately, most of the gems I treasure most seem to belong to the films of yesteryear. One such muse is Montgomery Clift. Yet, the reason that his talent holds up is not because he stood out so well in his own time, nor that in comparison with the modern product of Hollywood that he has a nostalgic pull. Monty stands out because he is timeless. He stands out because he gave a damn and gave his all to his performances, which is an astounding fact that propels him up and above the majority of his past, present, and future peers into the level of genius. What Monty had that so many lack is integrity. His work mattered.

The 'integrity' of his work came first, over everything. He could easily have been tucked into the confining corner of "pretty boy," or starred as a romantic heart-throb in two-dimensional roles to inherit a hefty paycheck, but he refused. He could have acquiesced and played the Hollywood game for recognition and career security, but he would not. This is not an easy battle to fight, nor one that is often won. With Monty's poetic defiance there too was the heavy burden of his personal demons comingled with his personal sexual confusion, which handicapped but still could not fully sabotage his artistic intentions. Feeling an outsider in a world that demanded easy answers when he could offer only an honest mess of human complexity, Monty suffered under the weight of what he had to offer. Van Gogh cut off his ear to quiet the violent voices that conflicted public consensus. Monty's self-destruction was a similar, albeit slower, process of disintegration. His blade: drugs and alcohol. When comparing Monty in The Search to Monty in The Defector, one has to wonder, "Where did Monty go?" The easy answer is that, like James Dean, he died in a fatal car crash-- yet his corpse bravely carried on from the wreckage. The more difficult truth is that Monty was dying almost as soon as he was brought into the world. As with all of us, it was living that killed him.

Monty cuts his teeth with the famous Lunts in "There Shall Be No Night."

Montgomery Clift suffered from a raging case of the Smother Mothers. To her credit, Ethel "Sunny" Clift loved her children. Brooks was the first born, followed by twins "Sister" and Monty, and she adored them all. Due to the fact that Sunny was abandoned by her own parents, whom she later learned were Northern aristocrats torn asunder by conflicting families, she developed a bit of a superiority complex. Being adopted, she always felt displaced and was treated like an underdog. Her salvation was her determination, a quality she passed onto her younger son. She excelled in school, was passionate, and after she learned of her secret parentage, she became a bit of an elitist. She was determine to claim her rightful lineage and be acknowledged by her true family. As such, after she wed Bill Clift-- banker and later insurance man-- and bore his children, she lived in the mindset that she and her offspring were special. Even when the Nebraska-born brood experienced moments of poverty, she never let the illusion drop. Her token word of identification was "thoroughbred." She insisting on educating her children, home-schooling them so that they became fluent in German and French, and taking them abroad on lavish trips that instructed them on art and culture. Unarguably, Monty was her favorite. Her precocious, sensitive child, equally blessed with a handsome face, was treated like a prince... to a fault. He was isolated from children his own age, doted upon, and never allowed to seek out his independence or do anything for himself. His impulses were ignored, yet his actions were faultless. He was taught not to serve, but to be served. He never learned to stand on his own two feet. He was a prisoner in the ivory tower of his mother's own imagining.

The key to his escape was acting. A trip to Paris and a visit to the "Comedie Francais" lit his curiosity, and his eager and avaricious mind became ravenous for the ability to try on different lives, to live them out honestly and intensely, and to finally suck out all the marrow from this human experience that he had so been missing. This over-eager appetite would later cause him much trouble. Sunny was skeptical. Nice, refined boys didn't twiddle around in show-business. (She had hoped Monty would be a diplomat). Yet, after she saw him on stage, she acquiesced. He had something special. Brother Brooks too was never jealous of his younger brother's talent but was in awe of it. Many would remark on Monty's regal manner juxtaposed with his earthy realism. After a stint doing modeling, which he found achingly boring, Monty started making the rounds at casting offices as a young teen. He landed gigs in "Fly Away Home" and "Jubilee," always making a great impression on his audiences. His on stage presence was electric, and the attention to detail he put into his performances excited his peers as much as his viewers. Acting with such famed talents as Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, he further cultivated his skill, determined to give his characters a natural and honest quality that made him a "Method" cultivator before the Method was even established. After his success in "There Shall Be No Night," Hollywood was frothing for the handsome, gifted actor, but Monty always demurred. The roles he was offered didn't compel him to make the move from the New York City stage, and the occasional trips he made to Hollywood always left him... un-enthused: "I don't want to be a slave."

The bookends of an era: Duke and Monty in Red River.

In time, however, he was wooed by none other than Howard Hawks, who was looking for a young, vital force to go mono e mone with John "Duke" Wayne in Red River. The opportunity to work with such a legendary director, as well as the challenge of working with such a well-established star, definitely peaked Monty's interest. He remained a difficult sell, but after he was able to swindle a sole, one-picture deal contract, he agreed to make the film. Duke was skeptical too, especially concerning their big fight sequence, until he saw Monty at work: "He can hold his own." The two were polar opposites on the definition of acting, and never got along off camera, but the tension and distinction between their two styles created just the juxtaposition between young and old that Hawks had been looking for. Thus, Monty Clift the "star" was born in a Western! Yet, he would actually debut in The Search, which was filmed second but released first. In this film, he brought great humor and heart to the role of a young American soldier who suddenly finds a 9-year-old Auschwitz refugee in his charge. He lived in an army engineer's unit outside Zurich to prepare for the role, and worked steadily at perfecting his soldier's gait. His efforts earned him an Academy Award nomination. With his smash successes in both films, the offers were pouring in. Stacks of scripts arrived to him, both for the stage and screen, but Monty remained particular. He dreamed of doing Chekhov and Shakespeare, of performing roles of real meat and substance,  none of that la-di-dah empty-headed stuff people were throwing at him. His resume slowly grew with The Heiress and The Big Lift , but it was A Place in the Sun-- a film Charlie Chaplin referred to as the "greatest film ever made about America"-- that sky-rocketed him into the stratosphere. It also introduced him to a little actress named Elizabeth Taylor.

Monty and Elizabeth "Bessie Mae" Taylor-- as he called her-- fool around on the back lot.

The relationship between Monty and Liz remains a fascination that warms the heart. As a real twin himself, Monty found an identical showbiz twin in Elizabeth. The two not only looked alike, but they shared the same brand of the childhood experience-- one bereft of independence. Liz had been the family breadwinner from a young age and had issues with her own parents that Monty fully understood. Expecting Liz to be an uptight, empty-headed movie diva, Monty was not enthused about working with her, but that all changed the first time they met. On a studio mandated publicity date, Monty escorted Liz to the premiere of The Heiress. She hopped in his limo, let out a string of obscenities, and melted Monty's heart. Here, clearly, was a beautiful woman trapped within the same game as he. Working together on A Place in the Sun, Elizabeth became grateful for Monty's encouragement, and labeled him as the first person to treat her like an actual human being capable of depth and thought. As her first mature role, the film changed her life. It was little secret that she fell desperately in love with Monty, and he in turn with she... in a way. The unity and loyalty they had for each other lasted the length of Monty's short life. But, it could never be consummated in the romantic sense. Monty, who yearned for a family and children, also knew that he was incapable of obtaining such things due to his confusing sexual preferences. He couldn't curse Liz to the kind of life he would provide her with, nor any other woman for that matter.

Monty was known for tearing his scripts apart with notes and analyses. 
He often cut much of his own dialogue in order to make his characters' 
words and responses more authentic.

A major instigator in Monty's doom was the fact that he never fully accepted his homosexuality. His conflict wasn't that he was forced to hide his true identity from the masses, but that he seemed to be secretly hiding it from himself. He nonchalantly engaged in affairs with both sexes, admitting that he preferred the company of women-- who always flocked around him as mother figures, friends, and hopeful lovers-- but that he was sexually attracted to men. But then, he had been raised an upstanding "thoroughbred," hadn't he? "Queers" were detestable, sub-human, or mentally unstable. He could never admit that he had this thing "wrong" with him. So, he led a double life. He put on the handsome, leading man persona for the general public, and then discreetly "cruised" for male companionship for more carnal pleasures. Many of his friends maintained after his death that they had no idea that he was gay, though they did recollect that he did seem to have random male companions in his company from time to time... In truth, Monty was a bit of a little-boy-lost. The friendships he made were very integral to his being for he feared the isolation of his youth. In the same vein, he too had to maintain a certain amount of authority and detachment. His friends were at his beck and call, but-- for the most part-- he could not be depended upon to deliver the same duty. He refused to be ensnared. He always seemed to attach himself to wedded couples, creating for himself a strange sort of asexual threesome-- mother-father-son-- including Kevin McCarthy and Augusta Dabney, Fred and Jean Green, the Karl Maldens, and the Lunts. In addition, he sought out women as mothers, to deliver the warmth and compassion that he had always craved from his own mother, yet this time delivered without a stifling, possessive quality. This he found in acting coach Mira Rostova, scandalous lover/mother Libby Holman, and later co-star Myrna Loy. He did have male friends, but he kept his true self at a distance for fear of the effect. He enjoyed palling around with Jack Larson, Thornton Wilder, and Frank Sinatra. Frank adored Monty during their stint in From Here to Eternity, but when he learned of Monty's sexual proclivities, he quickly distanced himself. It was just this brand of hurt that Monty sought to avoid.

In the midst of all the emotional and mental demons twisting around his insides, Monty hurled everything he had into his acting. For example, in From Here to Eternity, he learned to play the trumpet so that his throat and mouth movements matched the "Taps" soundtrack in the film. It was another triumph, and the equal beauty and ugliness he injected into each performance only further cemented his stellar reputation at the box-office. Unfortunately, the quiet moments disturbed him, and he often found himself disappearing in booze and an assortment of pills-- uppers or downers depending on his current need-- to quell his existential dementia. It was a far cry from the young man who used to refuse liquor because he drank "only milk" and wasn't allowed to eat candy, because it was "bad for [him]." The co-dependent relationship he forged with his therapist was also questionable. It seemed to many on the outside that Monty was being strung along by Dr. William Silverberg to feed the physician's own fantasies, a fact made blatantly clear when he urged Monty NOT to enter drug rehabilitation. Ironically, on the night of May 12, 1956, Monty hadn't been drinking when he suffered the greatest catastrophe of his life. After a night with Liz Taylor-- with whom he was shooting Rainree County-- Kevin McCarthy led the way down the steep hill from her home while Monty followed in his own car. Kevin watched in horror as Monty lost control of his vehicle, or perhaps even blacked out, and crashed into a telephone pole. Monty suffered a broken nose and jaw, a concussion, two of his teeth had been knocked out, and he too had severe cuts all over his face. However, he never underwent plastic surgery. His face was repaired as best as possible by the attending surgeon the night of his accident. While the swelling in his face went down,  his nose remained hooked and his mouth twisted.

Monty's brief, unpaid role in Judgment at Nuremberg earned him yet another Academy 
nomination and proved the depths of his talent. Still a perfectionist in characterization, 
he purposely got a bad haircut for the role. It remains one of the most brilliant 
pieces of acting ever caught on film.

Despite the devastating physical and emotional effects of the crash, Monty vowed to fight through the intense pain to finish his role in Raintree. He wasn't ready, and the stress he put on himself was painful for anyone to watch. Still, he made it through, but the film was not the sensation anyone had hoped it would be. Monty feared it would be his last piece as an actor-- who would want him anymore with this face? People were more intrigued by the picture to see how that face had changed and to see how their idol had fallen than to witness his usual talents. As he grew healthier, Monty saw that he was still wanted. He performed at Liz's bequest in Suddenly Last Summer and at Marlon Brando's in The Young Lions. He interpreted the depths of human heart break in Lonelyhearts. It became clear to everyone that his talent was still there, still palpable, and only improved since his personal tragedy. But the tragedy of his life finally started to claim him. His unresolved issues with his mother-- whom he loved and hated with seeming equal fervor-- his destroyed vanity, and his sexual confusion, all propelled his drug use. In fact, he was known as a bit of a pharmacist, who carried his own personal collection of pills in a secret bag. Everyone was in awe-- and shock-- at his medicinal knowledge: how he could name every pill under the sun, its uses, and its side effects like a walking encyclopedia. By the time he was called in to make The Misfits, the adoring Marilyn Monroe was forced to admit: "He's the only person I know who's in worse shape than I am."

Monty's health took a steep decline in the last ten years of his life. Severe pain in his back and jaw was soon joined by cataracts, hypothyroidism, and increasing paranoia. He had the body of a man twice his age. He seemed to stop caring-- his behavior becoming increasingly erratic and even despicable. He stopped hiding his sexuality, making it increasingly difficult for the publicity department to keep his actions from the press. Friends with whom he had once been so close now started pulling away from him, chased away by his antics and disruptive behavior. Mostly, they were tired of watching him kill himself. When Lorenzo James was hired as his secretary, he became determined to whip the disturbed actor into shape. He made progress, slowly cleaning him up, getting out of his hermetic cocoon, and weaning him off drugs, but it turned out to be too little too late. Monty was found dead in his bed on July 23, 1966 having died of occlusive coronary artery disease. The Prince was dead.

Clearly displaying the Jekyll and Hyde to his nature. Monty's beauty acted as a shield
from his internal issues. Once it was gone, his soul was quick to follow.

Where did Monty go? Friends must have asked themselves this question multiple times and must have blamed themselves for not doing more to help him. But Monty was so darn stubborn! He was as passionate in his personal convictions as his was in his professional. He built up high walls and refused to let anyone in. Yet, it was the conundrum in Montgomery Clift that made him so fascinating. He was incredibly evasive about himself, yet deeply invested and curious about others. He was secretive, yet probing; still, yet violent. He was a magnetic presence who kept the world at arm's length. He was a forceful and seductive personality, often ruffling the feathers of his directors with his own ideas and determinations, yet he was an incredibly sensitive soul, deeply mortified when reprimanded, like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The dissenting voice in Monty's ear that questioned his sense of self always wore the face of his mother, whose protection indirectly deprived him of the sense of security and strength that could have made him not only a master of his craft but a master of his own life. The inner turmoil, the palpitations of his aching human heart, are felt in every performance he delivered, where he shamelessly martyred himself for whatever cause that he found worth fighting for. Each script released from him another chapter in the hefty tome that seemed to be weighing him down. He had so many stories left to tell when his book was abruptly closed. Yet, he managed to kick open a door to acting that had been slowly creaked ajar by his predecessors, and he changed the public expectation of film acting as art. Because he gave a damn, so did we, and so do we still, every time we seem him at work in the legacy he left behind.