The Passion of Montgomery Clift

Michael Newton writes:

Montgomery Clift was a lush, a loser and a masochist; for more than 15 years he was also one of the finest actors in America – as Clark Gable put it, ‘that faggot is a hell of an actor.’ His beauty, his drinking, his homosexuality, his failure and his unaccountable talent have all re-formed themselves as elements of the icon that stands in for Clift, a potent image of the suffering star. Having seen himself in Howard Hawks’s Red River (1948), Clift, so the story goes, knew that fame was coming to him, and grabbed the opportunity to get drunk anonymously one last time. In the years of his renown, it could seem as though his aim was to hold on to that anonymity while in the throes of stardom. For all that, he clearly loved the limelight, and in some perverse way tried to turn celebrity into concealment. The sad joke of his career was that his fame outlived his success; after Red River, he couldn’t even be anonymous in failure.

(LRB 7 October 2010)

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