Late on the night of May 12, 1956 — while he was costarring with Elizabeth Taylor in MGM’s Raintree County — Montgomery Clift crashed his vehicle into a telephone pole after leaving a party Taylor and then husband Michael Wilding had thrown at their Benedict Canyon home in Los Angeles.
He was badly scarred and many predicted his career was over.
Hello Everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, continuing today our two-part exploration of a fellow actor’s used their clout to help a pal who might have lost a key film role due to an horrible auto accident.
When Clift crashed his vehicle Taylor famously raced to the accident scene. She manually pulled teeth out of the choking actor’s tongue, perhaps saving Clift’s life. He had sustained a broken jaw and nose along with multiple facial lacerations. Much of his face had to be surgically rebuilt.
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. Clift predicted the movie would be a box office success because moviegoers would flock to see the difference in his looks in scenes filmed before the accident and after. Although many people did the film, was NOT a commercial success — a big, lumbering roadshow presentation complete with an intermisssion (pretentiously called back then an “entre’ acte”).
Thanks to Taylor, there was no way that Clift would have been taken off the picture. She and Clift remained loyal friends until his death a decade after his fateful accident. In fact she was instrumental in getting him cast as the doctor in Suddenly Last Summer, which was a hit film.
Clift himself wasn’t so bad on the friendship department.
The late Ernest Borgnine, who so convincingly played the role of sadistic Army sergeant “Fatso” Judson — stabbed to death by Robert E. Lee Prewitt (portrayed by Clift) in 1953’s From Here To Eternity — recalled in his autobiography that Clift had in a way mentored him as a young actor.
After the completion of the movie’s startling, back-alley knife fight sequence in which Judson is killed and Prewitt is seriously wounded (a night scene that took 13 hours to shoot), Borgnine and Clift retired to his hotel room.
So Monty and me we sat there talking…and watching the sun rise. It was the most interesting, inspiring fun talk I’ve ever had with a man in my life, wrote Borgnine.
Years later, when I was told he was gay, I really was surprised…He never made a pass at me, but maybe that was just me. All I know for a fact is that he died too young at the age of forty-five.