The curse of Montgomery Clift, the actor who almost survived Hollywood


Updated:07/01/2022 00:22h


The Hollywood star’s manual dictated that he had to die young, handsome and without asking many questions to be a legend, like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, but Montgomery Clift was determined to survive a terrible accident to resurface in the form of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. In 1956, on a break from filming “The Tree of Life,” he rammed his car into a telephone pole, drunk after a night out at his friend Elizabeth Taylor’s house. It was she who found him, with a split lip, a broken and crushed nose, a disjointed jaw and a slashed left cheek. Also who pulled out the teeth that he had stuck in his throat and prevented him from breathing.

He saved his life but was never able to rescue him from himself, the victim of a spiral of self-destruction that is considered the longest suicide in Hollywood, another of the clichés with which that cursed generation is romanticized.

«I wanted to return to this text to give it another ending. We are heirs to that idea of ​​the cursed artist, of a vision of the creator as someone tormented and lonely; I believe that a creator is someone who celebrates, someone who lives in amazement, someone who empathizes with goodness, with humanity,” says theatrical poet Alberto Conejero, who rewrites one of his first texts to give it a new ending, more optimistic, in ‘How can I not be Montgomery Clift?’ (Two Whiskers), an ode to the fallen artist, to the talent in the shadow of ghosts and to the actor, who rebelled against clichés. “Beyond the love of celluloid, of the purple of fame, it is the story of a human being trying to get ahead, to survive, to save his vocation,” explains the playwright in an interview with ABC.

The cinema was Clift’s downfall and redemption. The actor, who debuted as John Wayne’s son in ‘Red River’ (1946), got four Oscar nominations in just over a decade, an award that always eluded him. Otherwise she had it all, but only in appearance. The accident changed his face, unrecognizable after the surgeries that tried to rebuild his attractiveness, but also his career, allowing him to aspire to a cinema closed to the handsome. «That contradiction accompanied him until the end of his days: he lived with the ghost of that beautiful young man who ended forever in the traffic accident but, on the other hand, he freed himself from that mask and accessed roles that perhaps he would never have arrived if he had continued in the cliché or prisoner of that beauty, ”says the playwright.

The tyranny of beauty

A beauty from which he tried to escape by clinging to the Stanislavski method, for which he memorized a mass in Latin for his role as a tortured priest in ‘I confess’ and he rehearsed his famous monologue in ‘From here to eternity’ for 24 hours straight, which gave him another nomination but not the statuette. In the form of a theatrical monologue, Conejero puts the actor in front of his own mirror to reflect on his traumas, his sexuality, but also on the broken toy factory that was golden Hollywood, where you only reached Olympus if you lived fast and didn’t think much. and, above all, if you followed the rules of a game to which the interpreter, “intractable”, never lent himself. “It is very difficult to escape from what others think we should be. Sometimes the gaze becomes a narrow cage and it is very difficult to break or widen those walls of the other’s gaze. It happened to Montgomery Clift but also to Marilyn Monroe, who throughout her short life tried to show that beyond that presence and that aura, because they were absolutely magnetic people, there were human beings with intellectual concerns”, observes the author.

Both Marilyn and Montgomery were the masks that Norma Jean and Edward put on to achieve success, admiration, although the price they paid was too high. “There’s a line from Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ that Clift is rehearsing in the book all the time that says: ‘When I think of my vocation, I don’t fear life.’ He tried all his life not to pay that price that was demanded of him. There is a reflection that for fame not everything, because one can burn to the point of being consumed. I don’t think it makes sense,” suggests Conejero.

Marilyn Monroe’s mask

Other voices parade through the “populated solitude” of Montgomery Clift, such as that of her friend Elizabeth Taylor, with whom she formed an “alliance of the fragile”, or Marlon Brando, also born in Omaha with his own traumas but who did achieve success who eluded the actor from ‘Winners or Vanquished?’, a film in which he had to improvise due to the difficulty in remembering the script due to his alcohol abuse. «Clift was wrong to think that they were not going to hire him after the years, lost the beauty, because of this idea that Hollywood used and threw away those young beauties. Marlon Brando is the opposite example. In the book, Clift tells him: “Do you think they’re going to hire you when you’re fat, when you’re bald? They will blame you that you are no longer the beautiful animal from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’”. All those questions show him wrong, because Brando agreed to splendid roles already in his maturity and with his body punished. They had a rivalry of those that are sometimes artistically necessary to grow and grow. It was one of those rare friendships in which admiration and envy go hand in hand”, affirms the playwright, who contrasts the two actors precisely because Brando conquered freedom, while Clift, “who was trying to free himself from that yoke, did not could.”

Despite their deaths, many tragic and others alive, time makes actors survive because they have a talent that does not run out. Sometimes unfairly, they are buried in oblivion. Others resist. Sometimes it’s just a matter of distance, of perspective. “Time is a beautiful and terrible sieve because names are disappearing. How many stars were and now we have forgotten them. Some survive and continue to accompany us because their brightness was almost infinite. Time allows us to sift, to distinguish. They are arts that have something ephemeral and there is an invisible agreement generation after generation to save something of all that legacy, “says Alberto Conejero. And so, even far from John Ford’s West, “when legend becomes fact, legend is written about.”

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