Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to ponder once again the nature of that notoriously intense relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Was it love or was it something else?
Question — did it ever anger a jealous Richard Burton, Taylor’s most famous partner two times over? (He was Taylor’s fifth husband for a decade beginning in 1964, and then her sixth after they remarried for a year.)
But at the time Taylor and Clift costarred as rich-girl poor-boy lovers in 1951’s A Place In The Sun, Taylor was winding up the first of her eight marriages (to Nicky Hilton) and was months away from her second to British-born actor Michael Wilding. She made no attempt to conceal her passion for the handsome Clift onscreen and off, and vice versa.
The problem: although not generally known at the time, Clift was gay. In a penetrating analysis of the movie and of the Taylor-Clift tie, British trade magazine Sight & Sound concludes that the intense love expressed by their characters in the film is ultimately thwarted, just as it was for Monty and Liz in real life. Though frequently romantically linked, and the dearest of friends until Clift’s death in 1966, their sexuality was incompatible.
There’s no question that the actress may have saved Clift’s life five years after A Place In The Sun.
Late on the night of May 12, 1956 — while he was costarring with Taylor in MGM’s Raintree County — Clift crashed his vehicle into a telephone pole after leaving a party Taylor and then husband Wilding had thrown at their Benedict Canyon home in Los Angeles.
Taylor famously raced to the accident scene. She manually pulled broken teeth out of the choking actor’s mouth. He had sustained a broken jaw and nose along with multiple facial lacerations. Much of his face had to be surgically rebuilt.
He was badly scarred and many predicted his career was over. MGM was forced to suspend production on Raintree County, a Civil War-era romance that the studio had hoped would be another Gone With The Wind. Undoubtedly, the studio brass gave considerable thought to replacing Clift as Taylor’s costar. Over her dead body! After a two-month suspension, Raintree County resumed production.
In late September, 1966, according to recently published The Richard Burton Diaries, Taylor learned of Clift’s death. At the time, Burton wrote (referring to Taylor as “E”):
Monty Clift, possibly E’s greatest friend…died of a massive heart attack in New York. He died in his sleep. The news was told to E by phone from New York by (actor) Roddy McDowall. He said, to E’s horror , that the death was caused by a combination of drink and drugs.
This turned out to be totally untrue. Little Roddy, even when he loves someone, loves their attendant disasters almost as much.
He, Monty, left E anything of his possessions in his will….His companion, nurse and major domo very kindly send E his (Monty’s) handkerchiefs which he had only recently bought in Paris and which he loved, delicate white on white. And to me — Monty’s favorite soap! Should I use it or keep it?
E was very upset and still cannot believe he is dead. A little Monty Clift cult has started since his death. It would have been more useful when he was alive. He couldn’t get a decent job for the last 5 years of his life.
Poor sod. I didn’t now him very well but he seemed like a good man.
So much for the notion that Richard Burton was ever jealous of Montgomery Clift.