Forget The Mystery, Meet The Man—Montgomery Clift
In Hollywood a myth can move faster, travel further and reach more gigantic proportions than in any other place on earth. In six short years, since 1948 when he starred in “The Search,” Montgomery Clift has grown into a Hollywood legend. Ask anybody walking down Wilshire Boulevard and he’ll tell you. “Monty Clift? He’s a mystery—moody, shy, terrifically talented, true. But a mystery.” They don’t go much further; they can’t. For it’s hard to pin down exactly how this myth began and why it’s perpetuated.
Monty came to Hollywood in 1946. Many people forget that when he arrived he carried with him years of experience on the New York stage. His first picture, “Red River,” was for Howard Hawks but by the time it was released, he had finished “The Search” and it had already appeared. Only one year after both were released Monty was hailed the “top star of tomorrow” in a nation-wide poll and voted “the leading male personality in the motion-picture industry” in another. Two pictures later, in “The Heiress” with Olivia de Havilland, Monty capped Hollywood success. And Hollywood acclaimed him as its most fabulously successful newcomer.
Monty was the only one who didn’t agree with all the furor—and said so. Perhaps this is when the legend began.
He’s not only modest, but also dead- honest, two qualities that throw Hollywood. “One has a part,” he said, “and one goes ahead and works on it.” After all, he’d been plugging along on his career for several years now—in fact, ever since he was fourteen—and personally he didn’t believe he’d made any quick change. He’d turned down film bids before. “Considering the long life span possible to an actor, I felt it wouldn’t be right to hurry things too much. I wanted to grow as much as possible in the theatre, to get as much experience as I could before I turned to Hollywood and to filmmaking.”
Strange talk for a new star, Hollywood thought, but it was in for another surprise. The young Mr. Clift accepted few social invitations, shunned all glamour and romance just as seriously as he attended to his career, and bought neither a Beverly Hills mansion, a new convertible nor a wardrobe befitting his new status. He made it plain that New York was his home. Even today, Monty rents a small apartment when working in Hollywood and sticks to a modest car. He cares little for clothes and feels most comfortable in slacks and a sports jacket. As a result, he’s been called eccentric, shy, unfriendly. To anyone who does know him, this seems very unfair.
With his friends, Monty is goodnatured and trusting almost to a fault, but anyone in his position has to be aware that some people will take advantage of him. This is partially why he has never married and may seem afraid of becoming involved romantically with any particular girl. He’s in the difficult position of never quite knowing whether someone likes him for himself or likes him because of an idealized version of Montgomery Clift the actor. Having been in the theatre since his teens, he has seen more than his share of ambition and self-interest perverting love and marriage. He dislikes people who are outright mercenary and especially distrusts. driving, opportunistic women.
Very sensitive himself, Monty likes girls who are quiet and shy and feminine. Trying to pin down the charm of foreign-born movie stars like Audrey Hepburn, Leslie Caron, Pier Angeli and Jean Simmons, he once said, “Maybe they didn’t have to struggle so hard to succeed. Somehow all of them still look vulnerable. I think that’s the essence of being feminine.”
You’ll never hear Monty’s name linked with glamour queens. He prefers to date girls outside the theatre and away from night clubs. For this reason, people have said he’s not interested in romance. Not true. He just feels it’s an invasion of his privacy—and his date’s—to have their friendship discussed in the gossip columns.
For some time now, Monty has been quoted as hating Hollywood. He isn’t nearly as rabid as he’s supposed to be. He has his reservations about life in the tinsel community, but the fact is he genuinely likes New York and the kind of life he leads there: He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, some thirty-four years ago, but his family left and moved to New York shortly after and has lived there ever since. He has the same kind of loyalty for his home town that most of us have for ours. The city has been good to him. His family is well-to-do and as far as material circumstances are concerned, he’s had a very comfortable and pleasant youth, seeing New York from its most pleasant side. While Monty achieved fame—and a good bit of money—in motion pictures, he feels he owes more to Broadway than to Hollywood. It was on the strength of what he had done in the theatre that he got his first movie parts. Monty also loves to travel and has made junkets to Cuba, Europe, Mexico, Israel and the Near East and he finds New York a convenient jumping-off-place for his frequent jaunts. But more important, his friends and his family live there—it is his home.
Probably one of the most popular stories about Monty is that he lives, hermit-like, in an inexpensive apartment devoid of luxury conveniences. This is ridiculous. He lives on a quiet, tree-lined street right in the heart of Manhattan. For many people it would be difficult to imagine anything so lovely and quiet could exist in the heart of the city.
The house is a handsome graystone. It has an outside flight of stairs which you use to enter the house. Directly inside, there’s a small foyer decorated in black and white domino pattern that leads to the first level of his quarters. On the first level is the kitchen, dining room and living room, which are separated by a spacious alcove. Here Monty has installed a television set, a bar and his hi-fi record player. He likes both classical and popular music and has a full record library. He’s especially fond of Bing Crosby, and he has just about every record that Bing has made. On the same floor there is also a closet with a deep-freeze unit. Up on the second floor is Monty’s bedroom and bathroom and a large den. The view from here is terrific, opening on gardens and trees. Anne Baxter lives near by and sometimes waves when she’s sunbathing on her balcony. The general furnishings are crisp, functional and masculine. The house was decorated by friends who are professional decorators and Monty takes great pride in it, frequently adding new furniture.
A maid keeps the place neat and clean and a cook comes in about twice a week to prepare several meals in advance and freeze them in the deep freeze for other evenings. Monty prefers eating at home to dining out and does quite a bit of cooking on his own, warming up what the cook has prepared or making his selection from a variety of frozen meats. His favorite food is meat—steaks, chops, roasts, any cuts. He doesn’t care for vegetables much but loves orange juice. He never eats lunch—just considers it unnecessary.
Monty’s often been accused of saving money on his wardrobe. While he certainly doesn’t try out for the “best-dressed men” listing, the two large closets in his bedroom testify that he does have more than one pair of Levis. One closet is filled with the jeans, Levis, “Red River” belts, ducks, baggy pants, sloppy jackets, T shirts, sport shirts and loafers that he loves to wear. The other closet houses his more impressive wardrobe of expensive suits, jackets, slacks with matching ties and rows of polished shoes—rarely worn but appreciatively owned. His motto is comfort first.
At one time or another, Monty’s been called all kinds of a screwball. After he played Robert Prewitt in “From Here to Eternity,” everyone said, “Clift’s a non-conformist.” True, he may not always conform to a rigid pattern—liking a more relaxed and independent way of living—but he’s far too intelligent to go overboard in the opposite direction, realizing that eccentric behavior can easily become a pose and a kind of standardized pattern in itself.
When he played George Eastman in “A Place in the Sun,” people said he was moody, shy, taciturn. This, too, is high tribute to his ability as an actor, for Monty’s real self is quite different from his stage or screen personality. He loves the sea, loves swimming and sails whenever he can. His manner is assured; he’s self-confident and decisive and an easy talker with a wonderful command of the language. There definitely isn’t anything solemn or dignified about him. Because he’s thin and has a tendency to slouch, most people also think of him as frail and short—he’s six feet and strong as a bull.
Also lacking in his actual personality is the tinge of sadness that he always injects into his stage and screen portrayals. After “Indiscretion of an American Wife,” rumors said that Monty Clift was an unhappy person. Aside from his good looks, tenderness and charm, this sadness is one of the qualities that makes him so enormously attractive to female moviegoers. It seems to arouse their maternal instincts.
Monty does have a weakness—and that’s for books. He can’t pass a bookstore without stopping in—and usually comes out with a book or two. His big complaint is that he never gets time to finish them, so he hopes some day to hide away and do nothing but read all those he’s started.
Rather than being the cold, restrained young man he’s pictured to be. Monty’s sincere and warm with his friends and family—and particularly with children. He’s crazy about his twin sister’s five children, who live in Texas. He loves to go shopping for them—never asks anyone to do this for him. His feeling is that it detracts from the value of a present if he doesn’t select it himself. He has many friends, some who are writers and actors, and many who are not in the profession.
There is one part of the myth, however, that is true. The part that says Monty is dedicated to his work. He is. He has a very real concern for the theatre and the dramatic arts. During the past year, he turned down countless movie offers, at fabulous salaries, and accepted the role of Konstantin, the young writer-poet in Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at $100 a week. It took him weeks to hammer every line into shape along with close friend Kevin McCarthy and his drama coach, Mira Rostova. It looked so effortless when it was finally performed on the stage that few could realize the exhausting toil that went into it. Monty has been quoted as saying that” he didn’t have enough vanity to care whether or not he gave a good performance each night. The truth is that he did care, very much, that every performance was good, for the play’s sake and for the cast’s. Whatever he does, Monty does his very best. He is a perfectionist and can’t stand seeing things done haphazardly.
After almost a year’s leave from Hollywood, Monty hibernated in Maine this past summer with a batch of film scripts. He finally found one that really fascinated him. It was the script for “Bannon,” in which he will co-star with Spencer Tracy for M-G-M. A hard-hitting romantic drama, it’s set against the background of the labor movement in the United States. Monty will play a rather idealistic young labor leader. He’ll be back in Hollywood any day now to make “Bannon” and because he’s Monty, you can count on his winning new acting honors and, no doubt, creating a whole new batch of rumors about the man named Clift.
—BY GEORGE KINGSLEY
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE DECEMBER 1954