11 Things You Didn’t Know About Montgomery Clift

"Failure and its accompanying misery is for the artist his most vital source of creative energy."

Happy birthday to Montgomery Clift, who would have turned 97 today.

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Clift got his start on Broadway as a teen and, after turning down film roles for nearly a decade, finally accepted a part in 1948’s Red River opposite John Wayne. That film, along with The Search (which earned him an Oscar nomination) made the young actor a Hollywood star.

One of the first Method actors in Hollywood, Clift was billed as a “new kind of leading man”: Sensitive, with brooding good looks—the type of man female audiences would want to take care of.

Clift was either homosexual or bisexual, though his relationships with men were not widely known during his lifetime. He had close platonic relationships with several including Nancy Walker, Libby Holman, Myrna Loy, and most famously Elizabeth Taylor, his co-star in Suddenly Last Summer, A Place in the Sun and Raintree County. (Taylor was the first to address his sexuality in public during the 2000 GLAAD Media Awards.)

In 1956, while filming Raintree County, Clift was involved in a serious car accident leaving Taylor’s house. (The actress rushed to his side after his car accident and pulled a tooth out of his tongue that he was choking on.) He suffered a broken jaw and nose, a fractured sinus, and serious facial lacerations that required plastic surgery. After weeks of recovery, he return to film his final scenes, though he looked noticeably different.

Clift continued to work but increasingly self-medicated with alcohol and narcotics. (His post-accident career has been called “one of the longest suicides in Hollywood.”) Montgomery Clift died in 1966 of a heart attack brought on by severe drug and alcohol abuse. He was only 45.

As a birthday tribute, check out some Montgomery Clift trivia below.

  1. He had a twin sister, Ethel.

    NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    Their mother, Sunny, was fixated on her children—Ethel, Monty and older brother Brooks—being raised as aristocrats. They were privately tutored, traveled extensively through Europe, but were kept from other children, whom Sunny considered “common.”

  2. When Clift first arrived in Hollywood, Clift refused to sign a contract.

    He waited until after the success of his first two films to negotiate a three-picture deal with Paramount that gave total discretion over projects, which was unheard of at the time. It set a precedent that influenced the star-studio dynamic for the next 40 years.

  3. Political commentator Eleanor Clift was his sister-in-law.

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    She married his older brother, Brooks.

  4. Clift turned down countless parts in now-classic movies.

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    Including starring roles in East of Eden, High Noon, and Sunset Boulevard.

  5. He’s been name-checked in numerous songs.

    Including R.E.M.’s “Monty got a Raw Deal” and The Clash’s “The Right Profile.” The Clash’s 1999 live album, From Here to Eternity, was named for one of his films.

  6. He appeared in one of the first television broadcasts in the U.S.

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    As part of the cast of a televised production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, which he also starred in on Broadway.

  7. He was arrested for solicitation.

    Clift took pains to keep his sexuality secret—making trips to Ogunquit, Maine, and then Fire Island, for romantic trysts. In 1949 he was arrested on 42nd Street for soliciting a hustler, but Paramount made sure the charges were dropped without publicity.

  8. He mentored the Rat Pack.

    Twentieth Century-Fox

    Clift was close friends with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, offering advice on developing their stage personas. (Martin, his co-star in The Young Lions, nicknamed Clift “Spider” because of his feverish conversational style and gesturing.)

  9. Matt Bomer is slated to play Clift in a upcoming biopic.

    Getty

    “He had to deal with so many things that we don’t have to deal with as much these days,” the out actor said. “So I thought it was an important story for people to remember.” (Bomer added that, as a child, he saw Clift on screen and I thought, ’Oh wow he actually looks a lot like my brother.’”)

  10. Clift co-starred with Marilyn Monroe in 1961’s The Misfits.

    United Artists/Getty Images

    She described him as “the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.”

  11. He enjoyed recording home movies.

    Including this clip of him kidding around at home with Marlon Brando.

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