Unrequited: New Book Maintains Elizabeth Taylor's Greatest Love was Montgomery Clift

Sunday May 9, 2021
Originally published on May 8, 2021

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in a promotional photo for "A Place in the Sun" (1951)
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in a promotional photo for "A Place in the Sun" (1951)  

In "Elizabeth And Monty: The Untold Story Of Their Intimate Friendship," a new book about the relationship between two of the 1950s hottest stars, Charles Casillo claims that Elizabeth Taylor's greatest love was Montgomery Clift. The two had starred in the 1951 classic "A Place in the Sun," when Taylor was 17 and Clift was 28, during which Taylor fell for her sexy co-star.

"When she first met him, Taylor was blown away," reports the Daily Mail in an interview with Casillo. " 'He was the most gorgeous thing I'd ever seen,' she said. 'I remember my heart stopped when I looked into those green eyes, and that smile, that roguish, boyish smile.' "

"What astonished him most was the deep level on which he was able to communicate with Elizabeth," writes Casillo. "They could make each other laugh like no one else."

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in "Raintree Country"  

But while they hit it off on an emotional level, Taylor was never more than a bff to Clift, who was a not-so-closeted gay throughout his career, even when she took baths with the actor sitting on the edge of the tub. "According to Casillo," the DM writes, "it was the first time a man had 'ignored her beauty and sensuality and paid attention to the person inside the gorgeous body... and it had a profound effect on her'."

Such an effect that, Casillo maintains, "If it's true that our first true love of life is the greatest, the one that leaves a mark, the one that changes us, then the greatest love of Elizabeth Taylor's life was Montgomery Clift." The result, the DM continues, was "they had an intense, even romantic, relationship which, while never consummated, would weigh heavily on Taylor's life, propelling her into a string of misguided marriages."

Even while he flirted with Taylor while making "A Place in the Sun," Casillo says that Clift would arrive "on set with a string of young men he had picked up the previous night and 'making it obvious they had been intimate.' " But an undaunted Taylor, who had little knowledge of homosexuality at that time, saw the men as challenges she could vanquish. When this failed, she married playboy hotel heir Nicky Hilton, an aggressive drunk who physically abused her, in the first of her eight marriages.

A pivotal event in their relationship would change Clift's career. In May 1956, an inebriated Clift hit a telephone pole after leaving a party at Taylor's Hollywood home. Taylor rushed out to help him and found his famously beautiful face reduced to a bloody pulp. "He was bleeding so much that it looked like his face had been halved," the actress later recalled. "I was just holding him like a baby and rocking him. He opened his eyes and saw me. His eyes looked the color of a bright red rose." Seeing that he had difficulty breathing, Taylor put her fingers down his throat and pulled out his front teeth that had been lodged in his throat. "The friends who had accompanied Taylor, including Rock Hudson, would attest that she almost certainly saved his life," adds the DM.

Clift survived, but his career didn't. The actor had relied so much on his classically handsome looks, and his career went on the skids. "Monty was robbed of his beauty, which was his fortune and his shield in Hollywood," says Casillo. Adding to his problems was his erratic behavior, alcoholism, drug taking, and his indiscretion about his homosexuality during an era when public knowledge of it would have ended his career and even brought a jail sentence.

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in the early 1950s  

" 'Drinking and pill-popping would turn Monty from a charming, dignified man into a childlike monster,' says Casillo. In restaurants, he would eat food off other people's plates with his fingers and drop his steak on the floor where he would cut it up and eat it."

At the time of the accident, Clift and Taylor were starring in "Raintree Country," an antebellum-era drama. He returned to the set three months later after plastic surgery. Taylor was haunted by guilt that she could have done more to have kept him from driving the night of the accident, which made them even closer, "They spent hours in each other's hotel rooms, sometimes sleeping in the same bed," reports Casillo. "On some nights, Monty showed up at Elizabeth's door, drunk and naked. She would let him in, shower him, towel him dry and tuck him into bed."

By the time the pair made "Suddenly, Last Summer," in 1959, Clift's erratic behavior he making him a pariah in Hollywood. "When the vodka-soaked Clift simply couldn't remember his lines during filming in the UK, and — despite playing a brain surgeon — couldn't even hold a cup of coffee steadily, producers wanted to replace him with Peter O'Toole but Taylor again saved him after threatening to walk out," reports the DM.

Things got even worse by the early 1060s. "By then Clift was an emaciated wreck, taking heroin and so dissipated he was impotent. 'At clubs and orgies — arranged by his lover Claude — a drunken Monty would pass out and anyone could have him,' says Casillo. 'He became a sort of sexual prop, in that his body would be stripped, licked, and worshipped as a fallen movie idol.' Taylor, however, never forgot him. 'With Monty, where other people saw waste and ruin, Elizabeth still saw beauty,' says Casillo."

Taylor even went out on a limb to get Clift work in 1966 when she was signed to star in John Huston's "Reflections of a Golden Eye," in which he was to play her closeted gay husband, by putting up her one million dollar salary as surety that Clift would complete the film. But Clift was to pass away from a massive heart attack in July, 1965 before the film was to be made. The part went to Clift's friend Marlon Brando, who had earlier encouraged Clift to join Alcoholic Anonymous, which he refused to do, saying he didn't have a drinking problem.

With his death, Casillo says, " 'Hollywood's greatest unrequited love affair' had finally run its course."

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