Published On: Sat, May 8th, 2021

Was Liz Taylor’s greatest love the one man she COULDN’T have?

Eight-times married Elizabeth Taylor could be cruel to the men in her life, but she cradled Montgomery Clift’s shattered face in her hands with the tenderness of a mother caring for an injured child.

It was an evening in May 1956 and the matinee idol had gone to the home Taylor shared with second husband Michael Wilding in the Hollywood Hills for a small dinner party while they were making the historical romance Raintree County together.

Later, tired and woozy from sedatives he had unwisely mixed with alcohol, he drove home — going too fast down a badly lit and sharply winding road, he lost control and crashed his car into a telephone pole.

Taylor rushed out to help him, clambering into the wrecked car and finding his famously beautiful face reduced to a bloody pulp.

It’s no secret that the stars — acclaimed as two of the most beautiful in Hollywood history — were close and starred in a string of films together

‘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 colour of a bright red rose.’

He was trying to mumble something to her but she couldn’t hear. She suddenly realised he was choking on his own broken front teeth and, as his blood pooled in her dress, she instinctively stuck her fingers down his throat and pulled them out.

The friends who had accompanied Taylor, including Rock Hudson, would attest that she almost certainly saved his life.

It was the beginning of the end for Clift’s career — the star of A Place In The Sun, From Here To Eternity and The Heiress relied heavily on his looks and they were ruined. However, it was also — says a new book on Taylor and Clift — a moment that spoke volumes about their passionate devotion to each other.

It’s no secret that the stars — acclaimed as two of the most beautiful in Hollywood history — were close and starred in a string of films together, sometimes after Taylor had overruled producers who didn’t want to use the brilliant but drink-and-drug-addled Clift.

However, according to biographer Charles Casillo, Taylor never loved any of the many men she bedded and married — including even Richard Burton — as much as she loved Clift. Even Burton knew it, once telling ‘Monty’: ‘She likes me, but she loves you’.

Of course, there was one fundamental problem: Clift was gay.

As Casillo reveals in Elizabeth And Monty: The Untold Story Of Their Intimate Friendship, 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.

Casillo told the Daily Mail this week: ‘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.’

She fell in love with him and even wanted to marry him when, as a voluptuous but still virginal 17-year-old, she starred alongside Clift — who was 11 years older — in the critically-acclaimed 1951 romantic drama A Place In The Sun.

‘By the time she met Richard Burton, Elizabeth was much more jaded,’ added Casillo. ‘People said that what most interested Burton about Elizabeth was her fame. Their love grew to be encompassing and “furious” but it wasn’t as pure as the love she and Monty shared. Elizabeth never really let Monty go.’

When she first met him, Taylor was blown away. ‘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.’

Both came from wealthy backgrounds and had controlling mothers who lived vicariously through their children. Both were major sex symbols and shared a similar ‘raunchy’ sense of humour.

‘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.’

Taylor was keenly aware of her effect on men — in an earlier film, Conspirator, co-star Robert Taylor was so excited playing a bedroom scene with her he could only be shot from the waist up.

And yet Clift didn’t take the bait — even while she took baths during filming. He would sit on the edge of the tub chatting and didn’t appear remotely distracted by her naked body.

According to Casillo, 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’.

Casillo says Clift was flattered by Taylor’s interest and flirted back, encouraging her to go on a ‘full-out campaign to seduce him’ even as it made him agonise about his conflicting feelings towards women.

They were seen kissing passionately in the back of limos but Taylor later revealed: ‘Just when he overcame all his inhibitions about making love, he’d panic and pull away.’

Clift, aware that he was getting himself in too deep, started turning up on set with a string of young men he had picked up the previous night and ‘making it obvious they had been intimate’.

Casillo claims Taylor, whose knowledge of gay behaviour was limited and whose arrogance was limitless, saw the men simply as competition she would inevitably vanquish.

When her mother Sara, who had heard the Hollywood whispers about Clift’s homosexuality, heavy drinking and generally self-destructive behaviour, tried to warn her daughter that he was a ‘disaster’, Taylor — who saw marriage as a way of escaping her domineering mother — wanted him even more.

The ‘antidote’ to Monty was her first disastrous marriage, aged 18, to playboy hotel heir Nicky Hilton, an aggressive drunk who physically abused her. She left him when one of his beatings made her miscarry.

Clift, meanwhile, was succumbing to addiction — at the height of his fame in the early 1950s, he was an alcoholic, compulsive smoker and took so many pills he had a floor-to-ceiling medicine cabinet specially built in his bathroom to accommodate them.

‘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.

And although his homosexuality, if revealed, would not only have destroyed his career but landed him in prison, he didn’t bother trying to be discreet when he picked up men.

Taylor would stay with him in New York in between films, telling friends she was still in love with him and once admitting: ‘It’s strange because I never get angry or jealous when I hear of Monty with boyfriends. But when I hear of him with a woman, I just go to pieces . . . because he’s mine.’

A friend recalled her once ringing Clift from her New York hotel ‘begging him to marry her before she committed to Michael Wilding’. She wed Wilding, a gentlemanly British film star twice her age, in 1952. Wilding’s former lovers included Marlene Dietrich and — so it was rumoured — Stewart Granger.

Casillo believes it’s no coincidence Wilding was a ‘less handsome, less complicated facsimile of Montgomery Clift’, adding: ‘Monty was gay, and she couldn’t have him. Wilding was rumoured to be gay and she conquered him completely.’

Her marriage to Wilding petered out as Taylor embarked on a string of affairs, including with Frank Sinatra. By the time she agreed to play a southern belle in the 1957 civil war drama Raintree Country, persuading Clift to star alongside her, he hadn’t made a film in three years.

Clift repeatedly arrived drunk for filming. On the fateful night of his car accident, he turned up for dinner looking tired and dishevelled. Taylor, by contrast, was immaculate in a white satin cocktail dress and dripping in gems — but the pair sat close together on a sofa and conversed almost in whispers.

He emerged glassy-eyed from the bathroom after taking some strong sedatives and admitted he felt ‘none too gorgeous’. Taylor knew that meant he was succumbing to one of his sudden waves of depression.

Friends would later complain that she should never have let him drive home and Taylor, who had pressed a reluctant Clift to come over, was ‘forever changed by Monty’s accident’, says Casillo. She was haunted by nightmares about the bloody scene in his car and was furious when their film’s producers suggested replacing him.

Three months later he returned to the set having had plastic surgery, although his looks were never the same. ‘Monty was robbed of his beauty, which was his fortune and his shield in Hollywood,’ says Casillo.

Taylor became even more devoted to him. ‘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.’

When he returned to New York, Clift — intensely vain — had all the mirrors removed from his apartment. Marlon Brando, who watched him glug vodka as if it was water, tried to persuade him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous but he wouldn’t accept he had a problem.

He and Taylor continued to be close through her successive marriages, he serving as her trusted confidant. While he could be charming, the neurotic Clift’s dependency on his long-suffering friends to tolerate his vile, drunken behaviour sometimes taxed even Taylor’s affection as she weathered tragedies such as the death of third husband Mike Todd in a plane crash in 1958.

Then came singer Eddie Fisher — whom Taylor stole from her ‘best friend’ Debbie Reynolds — and Richard Burton.

In 1959, Taylor — fast becoming Hollywood’s biggest star — flexed her muscle by agreeing to make the film Suddenly, Last Summer only if Clift played her on-screen lover. By that time, 39-year-old Clift — now living with a toyboy French lover, Claude, and regularly entertaining male prostitutes in their New York house — had become so erratic he was considered unemployable 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.

Taylor began her affair with her Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton in 1962, later marrying him and divorcing him twice. Clift never criticised Burton to her face but didn’t rate his acting and told friends the Welshman was shamelessly trying to leech off her fame.

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.

She was determined to kickstart his career again and finally managed it in 1966 when she insisted he must play her gay husband as her condition for starring in Reflections In A Golden Eye. Nobody would insure Clift to finish the movie so Taylor said she’d put up her $1 million salary as surety.

In fact, he was to die in July 1966 at 45 of a massive heart attack — probably caused by his many addictions — before it ever went into production. Taylor, filming in Italy with Burton, locked herself in her bedroom when she heard the news. ‘Moments after,’ writes Casillo, ‘Richard and the staff could hear her wailing in pain.’

She sent two huge bouquets to his funeral. ‘Rest perturbed spirit,’ said the card on one. What Casillo calls ‘Hollywood’s greatest unrequited love affair’ had finally run its course.

Elizabeth And Monty: The Untold Story Of Their Intimate Friendship by Charles Casillo (Kensington Publishing).

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