‘Making Montgomery Clift’ in Glasgow

Marilyn with Montgomery Clift at the ‘Misfits’ premiere, 1961

Making Montgomery Clift will have its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, screening at the Everyman on Thursday, February 28, and Friday, March 1, following rave reviews in the US. (As yet, it’s unclear whether Monty’s friendship with Marilyn features in the documentary, but The Misfits was one of his most important films, and likely to be mentioned.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

“Co-director Robert Clift is the film’s onscreen searcher, heard in incisively written voiceover and seen poring over an astounding, and often poignant, assortment of Clift family memorabilia, items that go well beyond the usual photo albums and home movies … the film unravels the accepted wisdom that Clift’s life was one of inner conflict and painfully guarded truths. In footage of him at leisure, his joy and exuberance light up the screen. He might not have been ‘out’ — who was in those benighted times? — but his intimates testify that he was anything but closeted. By refusing to sign a studio contract, he was not only maintaining his artistic independence but protecting his private life from the kind of show marriage, like Rock Hudson’s, that the Hollywood publicity machine insisted on for gay stars.” – Sherri Linden, Hollywood Reporter 

“That ‘secret’ – that Clift was gay during an impossible era (the 1930s through the 60s) – led many interpreters to conclude that the actor must have led a life riddled with fear and shame. It hardly helped lend nuance to that reading that Clift was a well-known and long-time abuser of pain killers and alcohol, actions which likely sped his death from a heart attack at 45 in 1966 … In fact, the attitudes he and his family held towards his relationships with men were strikingly modern.

[Robert] Clift asserts that the actor’s use of alcohol and prescription drugs stemmed, primarily, from a near-fatal car accident in 1956. He used them to numb his physical pain. The accident changed his appearance, and many biographers assumed Clift felt ruined by it and, so, drank more.

Many of the myths surrounding Clift sprang from two biographies: a salacious one by Robert LaGuardia and another flawed work by Patricia Bosworth, titled A Life. The film-makers interviewed Bosworth extensively for the movie, but they contrast her words with old taped conversations she had with the actor’s brother. He pleaded with her to make changes to her book to correct the mischaracterizations. While she sounds apologetic, the changes were never made.

As to why Bosworth drew on the gay-self-hate narrative, and why that view took hold, the directors blame the homophobia of the time the book was written, in the 1970s. ‘The view then about queer people was that they would be inherently conflicted or tormented about their sexuality,’ said [Hillary] Demmon. ‘If you have a story that tracks along that line, that will feel true to people. Which gives that narrative a lot of traction. Now we’re at a historical point in mainstream queer discourse where that story seems less viable.'” – Jim Farber, The Guardian 

“And an alternative version of Monty, laid out by Making Montgomery Clift: Montgomery Clift was open about his sexuality. He was not ‘tormented’ by it. The man even had a sense of humor! Some of his favorite work came after that crash. Montgomery Clift’s story is not a tragedy of self-loathing, but a tale of a man who refused to be put in a box by the Hollywood system—only to be put into a different sort of box after his death, when he was no longer around to counter the narrative that began to calcify soon after his passing.” – Rebecca Pahle, Film Journal

Marilyn’s Misfits at the Christmas Tree Inn

Photo by Eve Arnold

The former Christmas Tree Inn & Casino in Nevada, where Marilyn and the Misfits crew partied on October 17, 1960 – will reopen under new management and a new name, as Jonathan L. Wright reports for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“Chef Colin and MaryBeth Smith are heading for the hills. The couple, owners of Roundabout Catering … just purchased Tannenbaum Event Center, tucked in the pines halfway up Mount Rose Highway.

The business, to be called Tannenbaum by Roundabout, occupies a landmark property where the Christmas Tree restaurant sat for nearly 60 years before being reborn as Tannenbaum in 2005 after extensive renovations.

The Christmas Tree opened as a bar in 1946; it became a restaurant in 1947. The place became known for its panoramic views of Washoe Valley, its warm fire and its steaks grilled over mahogany. In the 1950s and early 1960s, celebrities visiting or performing in Reno and at Lake Tahoe frequently stopped by the Christmas Tree.

From the mid-1960s on, the Christmas Tree experienced a fire and rebuilding, a foreclosure, a reopening after sitting empty for a bit, and several changes of ownership. The restaurant closed for good in 2003. The next year, the Nobis family purchased the property and remade it into Tannenbaum Event Center.

MaryBeth Smith recalled eating at the Christmas Tree in the late 1990s when she first moved to the area. ‘They had the mahogany steak on the menu, so we might do some pop-up restaurants here that serve the mahogany steaks. It will be our remembrance of the Christmas Tree.'”

As Gary Vitacco-Robles writes in Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, this was the Millers’ last public outing as a married couple, and so the memories were bittersweet.

“The company hosted a surprise birthday party for Miller, turning forty-five, and Monty Clift, five years younger, on the following Monday evening at the Christmas Tree Inn & Casino. The event also served as a wrap party. Clift told [Ralph] Roberts that the evening was a highlight of his life, and sadly, this was a true statement. Within two years, Clift experienced a major depressive episode and lived virtually as a hermit …

Marilyn, in a pearl dress from the party she hosted for Yves Montand before the start of Let’s Make Love, sat beside Clift and expertly twirled fettuccini alfredo on a spoon as only the former wife of an Italian-American could. Russell Metty made the toast: ‘… Why don’t you wish [Arthur] a happy birthday, Marilyn? This truly is the biggest bunch of misfits I ever saw.’ Marilyn smiled but shook her head in negation. After dinner, the party gambled in the casino. At the roulette table, Marilyn teamed with Eve Arnold. [John] Huston handed Marilyn a pair of green dice.

‘What should I ask the dice for, John?’ she asked.

‘Don’t think, honey, just throw,’ Huston replied. ‘That’s the story of your life. Don’t think, do it.'”

TCM Brings Marilyn (and More) to Bonham’s

Marilyn at the St Jude’s Hospital benefit, November 1953

A treasure trove of Hollywood memorabilia will go under the hammer tomorrow at Bonham’s, as part of their latest auction, ‘TCM Presents …. Out Of This World!

Several Marilyn-related items are on offer, including a 1950 memo from Twentieth Century Fox to filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz, confirming her casting as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve; and her contract for Horns of the Devil, a property she purchased in 1954.

Marilyn and Arthur by Janice Sargent, 1958

There is also a group of rare photographs, including some taken by amateur photographer Janice Sargent at a children’s hospital benefit in 1953, and one photo from the 1962 Golden Globes. Two photos of a visibly pregnant Marilyn with husband Arthur Miller, taken by Sargent during filming of Some Like It Hot in 1958, are also featured.

Marilyn with Jose Bolanos (right) at the 1962 Golden Globes

Another lot contains several photos taken during filming of Bus Stop, and an interesting photo of Marilyn and Arthur visiting Montgomery Clift on the set of his 1958 film, Lonelyhearts. Marilyn was working on Some Like It Hot at the time, also on the Samuel Goldwyn Studio lot.

 

Marilyn, John Huston and ‘Freud’

This letter from Marilyn Monroe to John Huston, in which she rejects a part in the director’s planned film on Sigmund Freud (from the Margaret Herrick Library of AMPAS), was posted today by James Grissom on the Follies of God Facebook page. The letter was also discussed recently on the Stars and Letters blog.

Marilyn was advised against this project by her controversial psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, who had just begun treating her and would do so until her death, less than 2 years later. He was in contact with Anna Freud, who objected to the film being made. Marilyn had seen her as a patient a couple of times, and would leave part of her estate to the Anna Freud Children’s Clinic in London.

Monroe wrote to Huston on November 5, 1960 – shortly after they completed The Misfits. Although I strongly believe she had the capacity for more serious work, I think this role would have been traumatic for her personally. It certainly was for Montgomery Clift, as he clashed with Huston many times during filming.

Montgomery Clift and Suzannah York in John Huston's 'Freud: The Secret Passion' (1962.)
Montgomery Clift and Suzannah York in John Huston’s ‘Freud: The Secret Passion’ (1962.)

Suzannah York replaced Marilyn as ‘Cecily’, a character loosely based on Freud’s patient, Anna O., opposite Clift in Freud: The Secret Passion (released four months after Marilyn’s death, in December 1962.)

Transcript:

“November 5, 1960
Dear John,
I have it on good authority that the Freud family does not approve of anyone making a picture of the life of Freud– so I wouldn’t want to be a part of it, first because of his great contribution to humanity and secondly, my personal regard for his work. Thank you for offering me the part of ‘Annie O’ and I wish you the best in this and all other endeavors.
Yours
Marilyn”

 

 

Hollywood Misfits: Monty and Marilyn

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‘The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift’ – an extract from Anne Helen Petersen’s upcoming book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood – is published at Vanity Fair today.

“Clift appeared in The Misfits, a revisionist western best known as the final film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. The director, John Huston, supposedly brought in Clift because he thought he’d have a ‘soothing effect’ on Monroe, who was deeply embroiled in her own addictions, with her own personal demons. But even Monroe reported that Clift was ‘the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am.’ The pictures from the set are as poignant as they are heartbreaking: it’s as if all three were meditating on their respective declines, and there’s a sad, peaceful resignation at the difference between what their bodies could do and how people wanted to remember them.

But 1961 audiences were too close to the day-to-day deterioration of its stars to see the meditative genius of The Misfits. It was also a dark, melancholy film: as a review in Variety pointed out, the ‘complex mass of introspective conflicts, symbolic parallels, and motivational contradictions’ was so nuanced as to ‘seriously confound’ general audiences, who were likely unable to cope with the philosophical undercurrents of the Arthur Miller script. Or, as Bosley Crowther, taking the populist slant in The New York Times, explained, the characters were amusing, but they were also ‘shallow and inconsequential, and that is the dang-busted trouble with this film.’

Whether morally repulsive or philosophically compelling, The Misfits bombed, only to be recuperated, years later, as a masterpiece of the revisionist genre. Looking back, the film had a legacy of darkness surrounding it: Gable died of a heart attack less than a month after filming; Monroe was only able to attend the film’s premiere with a pass from her stay at a psychiatric ward. She wouldn’t die for another year and a half, but Misfits would be her last completed film. As for Clift, the shoot was incredibly taxing, both mentally and physically: in addition to acquiring a scar across his nose from a stray bull’s horn, severe rope burns while attempting to tame a wild horse, and various other rough-and-tumble injuries, he also performed what has widely come to be regarded as one of his best scenes, a stilted, heartbreaking conversation with his mother from a phone booth. Even if Clift himself was already spiraling out of control, playing a character that did the same only amplified the psychological toll.”

The Misfits: End of An Era

Marilyn and Eli Wallach, 'The Misfits'
Marilyn and Eli Wallach, ‘The Misfits’

Yesterday we learned of the death of Marilyn’s friend and co-star, Eli Wallach. At 98, he was one of America’s finest character actors. I will post a longer tribute soon, but for now here’s a great review of The Misfits from Carley Johnson over at the Black Maria blog – a movie that was so greatly enriched by Eli’s performance as the likeable, but untrustworthy Guido. While Marilyn, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter all died within a few years of making The Misfits, Eli went on to even greater triumphs – winning a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2010, the same year his last movie was released.

“By 1961, the Hollywood Studio System had begun a slow rot from the inside out which would, by decade’s end, see to its total collapse thus ending the Golden Age of classical Hollywood. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, is a fascinating relic from those years in flux that bewildered its audiences just as much as it bewildered the execs. On paper, the words Clark Gable (the king), Marilyn Monroe (the queen) and Montgomery Clift (the rebel) looked like box office magic. The result is a mixed bag that would be Gable and Monroe’s final film, and one of Clift’s last.

Miller masquerades a deeply intimate, and highly modern, character study under the guise of a Western romance. It was no secret that Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife. The role of Roslyn could have been played by anyone, sure, but perhaps no other performance would have been nearly as truthful.

Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach were all Method actors. Monroe’s close friend and acting coach happened to be Paula Strasberg who was a constant presence on the set. Gable came from a more… square shooting school of acting, perhaps best summed up by Jimmy Cagney: know your mark and know your lines.

There is no denying the fact that The Misfits proved enormous strain on Gable, physically and emotionally. But. Be that as it may, the truth is, The Misfits didn’t directly kill Gable anymore than the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn. The strenuous Misfits shoot did not cause Gable’s premature death– but at the same time, cannot be disqualified as one of its many contributing factors.

Clift was greatly shaken upon hearing of the tragic death of his dear friend Marilyn, and was noted as having said ‘Hollywood deaths always come in threes. First Gable, now Marilyn… who’s next.’

The eerie lyricism of Miller’s words would prove to be hauntingly prophetic: ‘Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.'”

 

Marilyn, Monty and Liz

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Entertainment writer Liz Smith pays tribute to Montgomery Clift in her latest post for New York Social Diary.

“I didn’t know Montgomery Clift but when I was a young movie magazine editor for something called Modern Screen I often begged the editor-in-chief to write about him. I knew he was talented. But the editors stuck with Tony Curtis.

I went on to know more about Clift because my straight brother, Bobby, worked as a waiter in a gay cafe on Christopher Street. He often served Clift and always told me after about how unhappy he seemed. “He gave big tips!” said Bobby, who even then had a live-and-let-live attitude.

I finally saw Montgomery Clift in person, with Marilyn Monroe, at the New York premiere of The Misfits. They sat right in front of me, enjoying each other like real friends. I was mostly stunned by how gorgeous she looked in a black fox fur. It was a privilege to see them even once.

As you know, Elizabeth Taylor, too, loved Monty and took a lot of care of him through their experiences on A Place in The Sun, Raintree County (she saved his life after his terrible car accident) and Suddenly Last Summer. Elizabeth also put up the insurance money for Monty to co-star with her in Reflections In a Golden Eye. But he died just before production began. Marlon Brando, in all his mannered glory, took the role.)

However, after working with Monroe in The Misfits Monty declared, ‘I would rather work with Marilyn than any other actress.'”

Montgomery Clift’s Personal Archive

This candid photo of Marilyn with her co-star and dear friend, Montgomery Clift, from the late actor’s private collection, is featured in a slideshow over at Vanity Fair‘s website. The Montgomery Clift Archive is now stored in the New York Public Library.

Thanks to Eric Patry

“Clift with a sultry Marilyn Monroe in a souvenir photograph taken at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, which once boasted a variety of alluringly named nightspots, including the Venetian Room, the Squire Room, and the Tonga Room. The two starred in the 1961 film The Misfits; it would be Monroe’s last picture before her 1962 death. ‘She gave so much as an actress,’ Clift once recalled. ‘Working with her was like going up and down on an escalator.'”

Almodovar Praises Monroe’s Method

Penelope Cruz channels Marilyn in Almodovar’s ‘Broken Embraces’, 2009

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar – who paid homage to Marilyn in his 2009 film, Broken Embraces – has praised her again in a recent interview for the Yorkshire Post, describing MM as one of the few method actors who could play comedy:

‘”To me, Saturday Night Live seems like cabaret, the cradle for decades of the best American comics. The Actor’s Studio, however, with all the respect and admiration it deserves, seems just the opposite to me,’ he explained. ‘Brando, a comedy actor? No. And he tried it. He even sang and danced in Guys and Dolls, stiff as a board, but Brando was too self-aware. I don’t know if Montgomery Clift ever actually tried it but I can’t imagine him. Or James Dean. Or Daniel Day-Lewis.”

‘I don’t debate his greatness but no matter how thin he is, Daniel Day-Lewis can’t manage to give the slightest sensation of lightness,’ Almodovar candidly stated. But surely, there must be someone who bucks the rule? Someone who managed to get the highest dramatic training, yet could still be effortlessly light and funny? Well, there is: ‘Marilyn Monroe is still the exception. Adopted by the Strasbergs, she managed to overcome the weight of the Method.'”