Montgomery was born in Omaha, Nebraska during 1920. His mother was Ethel Fogg, known as Sunny. His father was William Brooks Clift, a banker with familiy ties to the South. Montgomery had a twin sister (Roberta) and an older brother Brooks. The family was well to do and Sunny took the children to Europe to soak up culture. The Wall Street Crash (1929) affected the family's situation and they returned to America. Their peers thought their accents and foreign terms they used rather snooty, creating some problems for them. Montgomery had a disorganized education, but took an interest in acting. He was by age 13 on the Broadway stage. Clift had a career as a child star, but on Broadway not a Hollywood film career. The plays he appeared in were not very successful, but he was noted by imporant directors. He made his first Hollywood film with John Wayne, "Red River" (1948). Clift in the same year received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for "The Search". Clift was a sensation in his Hollywood debutes. Hollywood commentators saw in Clift a very different leaing man than the standard pre-War Hollywood leads. Clift was handsome like other Hollywood leads, but he was also sensitive and vulnerable. This was different. Hollywwod commentatirs theorize that this image was appealing because many women would want to mother him.
Montgomery's mother was Ethel Fogg, known as Sunny. She was illegitimate, although related to notable Southern ancestors like Montgomery Blair. Montgomery's father was William Brooks Clift, a banker with familiy ties to the South. His family wasn't impressed with Sunny and attempted to prevent the marriage. Montgomery had a twin sister (Roberta) and an older brother Brooks.
Montgomery was born in Omaha, Nebraska during 1920. His father was a successful banker and the family was well to do. This enabled Sunny to persue her two passions: finding her southern ancestors and raising their children like little aristocrats. Sunny in order to put a Ruropean polish on the children took them to Europe to soak up culture. The Wall Street Crash (1929) affected the family's situation and Sunny reluctantly had to return to America. Finally back in America, their peers thought their accents and foreign terms they used rather snooty, creating some problems for them.
We have few details about Montgomery's childhood clothing. Given Sunny's desire to raise the children like littlearistocrats, it is likely considerable expense and attentin was given to their clothing. One report aboard the Il de France on the way to Europe describes all three children being dressed alike with white shirts, short pants, and bobbed hair giving an androgynous look which amused the other passengers. [Capua, pp. 6-7.] With the trip to Europe, we suspect that Sunny adopted European styles.
Montgomery had a disorganized education. His brother and sister attended regular schools when they returned from Europe. But Sunnt, responding to his nterest in the theater, signed him up with a modeling agency and arranged fpr a tutor to help with acgting lessaons. When his acting career bloomsed, it was difficult to attend regular school. He briefly attended the Dalton School (1938). The time in Europe and later his stage career made attendance at regular schools difficult. Sunny hired tutors of varying quality. Some topics were covered well, but there were major gaps in his education. Montgomery took an interest in Shakespeare and thriugh that interest acting.
Montgomery had a career as a child star, but on Broadway not a Hollywood film career. After being signed up with the Robert Power's modeling agency, he got some advertising jobs, including ones with Arrow Shirts and Steinway Pianos. His first theatrical role was an amateur production that Montgomery got through his tutor--"As Hubands Go" (1932). His father was very skeptical about an acting career for his son, but Sunny encouraged Montgomery's interest, helping with his lines.
He was by age 13 on the Broadway stage and worked there for 10 years. His first Broadway play was "Fly Away Home" (1933-35). Most of the plays he appeared in were not very successful, but this one was. Some were bombs, such as "Eye on a Sparrow (1938). Whatever the success of the plays, Montgomery was noted by imporant directors. He played typical child roles, until the play seen here--"Dame Nature". This was a work by French playwrite André Birabeau. Clift played the role of 15-year old André Brisac. Here he started the transition from child roles, to more complicated adult themes. The subject of the play was rather sensational, but the show debuted during te Munich crisia in Europe (September 26, 1938). The produce who expected a hit theorized that Munich made the personal travails, however sensatonal seem petty. Director Worthington Miner explained, "The stomp of Storm Troopers' boots drowned out the fragile voices of two teenage children in love." [Schaffener, p. 93.] However successful the plays, Clift before arriving in Hollywood, Clift was an accomplished, fully formed actor. The characteristic that critics most consistently noted was his intensity. Clift is one of the very few child stars to make the transition to adult stardom.
Clift made his first Hollywood film with John Wayne--"Red River" (1948). Howard Hawks' "Red River" was not a particularly notable film, although a considerable box office hit. This and making a film with Wayne gave considerable attention for Clift's Hollywood debut. His next film was a critical success. Clift in the same year received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in "The Search". Clift was a sensation in his Hollywood debutes, especially "The Search. The little boy in "The Search" gave a wonderful importance, in part because of the time Clift took in developing a personal relationship with him. Hollywood commentators saw in Clift a very different leaing man than the standard pre-War Hollywood leads. Clift was handsome like other Hollywood leads, but he was also sensitive and vulnerable. This was different. Hollywwod commentators theorize that this image was appealing because many women would want to mother him. He had a meteoric career. He appeared in quite a number of important films during the 1950s. His performance with Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun" (1951) made the film a Hollywood classic. He received critical aclaim in "A Place in the Sun" (1953). Perhaps his best knownfilm was "From Here to Eternity" (1958). Another important film was "The Young Lions" (1958). By the 1960s, Clift's personal deamons and substance abuse was aimpairing his film career. Clift's last major film was "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961) in which he played a German man sterilized by the NAZIs. He received an Academy Award nominatin for Best Supporting Actor.
Despite his Hollywood success, Clift led a troubled life. He had a range of medical problems, including allergies and colitis. He was rejected for military service by the Army because of chronic diarrhea. He apparently was deeply troubled by his homosexuality which he attempted to hide. Many believe this is why he became an alcoholic and drug abuser. As a result of these problems he sought psychiatric assistance. This led to a car crash (1956). It occurred during the filming of "Raintree County". After drinking heavily at a party given by Taylor he drove his car at high speed into a tree. Elizabeth Taylor saved his life by removing teeth that hasd become impacted in his throat. Reconstructive surgery was needed for him to finish the film. Taylor who was not aware of his sexual identity was apparently in love with him and expected Clift to propose. He never did. Clift suffered a heart attack, believed to have been caused by his drug and alcohol abuse (1966).
Capua, Michelangelo. Montgomery Clift: A Biography (McFarland: Jefferson, North Carolina, 2002), 184p.
Schaffener, Franklin J. Worthington Miner: A Directors Guild of America Oral Histoty (New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1985).
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