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The platonic passion of two of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age

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Daily News
 12 days ago
“Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship” by Charles Casillo

They were broken in all the same places.

Both had grown up with domineering mothers and distant fathers. They had gotten into show business young and been exploited early. It seemed Elizabeth Taylor, and Montgomery Clift were destined to fall in love – even if they would never fall into bed.

Charles Casillo’s “Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship” shares the details of that platonic passion and its hidden truths. The biggest secret, during the era when both were superstars? Montgomery Clift was gay.

That didn’t stop Taylor. At first, she thought if any woman could win him, she could. When they started their first movie, “A Place in the Sun,” Taylor invited Clift to her home for private rehearsals. When he arrived, she was naked, taking a leisurely bath.

He calmly pulled out his script and sat on the edge of the tub.

Her body, he confided later, was “magnificent.” But once Taylor realized he wasn’t interested – and liked her anyway – they forged a lifelong bond.

Montgomery Clift was born in Omaha in 1921, the youngest son of an investment banker and a social-climbing mother. By the time he was a teen, the family had moved to Manhattan, and he had discovered the joys of amateur theater. By 14, he was on Broadway, his good looks winning him ardent fans.

Elizabeth Taylor was born in London in 1932, the only daughter of a failed actress from Arkansas and a gay English art dealer. She was, her mother, Sara, confessed later, “the funniest looking baby I had ever seen.” Her eyes were shut tight. Her body was covered with downy hair. “A little monkey,” pronounced a family friend.

Then 10 days later, as if by magic, the fur disappeared. And Elizabeth opened two huge, violet eyes, rimmed with double-rows of black eyelashes.

After the family moved to America, Sara Taylor started courting producers. A long-shot push to get Elizabeth cast as Vivien Leigh’s daughter in “Gone With the Wind” came to nothing. But a screen test at MGM landed her a part in “Lassie Come Home” in 1943 and launched her career.

Clift and Taylor moved on separate tracks for a while. He stayed in New York, where he studied his craft, doing theater. She worked in Hollywood, growing up onscreen while waiting for her first serious, adult part.

Eventually, Clift headed West to make “Red River.” Sexy but sensitive, masculine yet vulnerable, he was a different kind of male star (and an inspiration to later ones, like Marlon Brando and James Dean). Soon, Hollywood decided to team the moody, mysterious leading man and the voluptuous, virginal ingénue.

Sparks flew the moment they met.

“The most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen,” Taylor said. “Those green eyes, and that smile, that smile, that roguish, boyish smile.” Clift was equally awestruck but covered it with a joke. “How did you ever get into the movies with a face like that ?” he deadpanned.

And Taylor instantly knew they were going to be friends.

When “A Place in the Sun” debuted in 1951, audiences fell for the gorgeous couple and happily bought into the fantasy of an eventual, off-screen romance. Real life, naturally, was different.

In an attempt to escape her overbearing mother, Taylor had jumped on the marriage-go-round early wedding hotel heir Nicky Hilton. It led to eight months of physical abuse, and it was so bad, Taylor said, she miscarried. By 1952, she was on her second unhappy marriage, this time to father figure Michael Wilding.

Clift, meanwhile, had begun an affair with Jack Larson, Jimmy Olsen from TV’s “The Adventures of Superman,” but spent most of his time with obsessive older women, monstrous maternal substitutes like the alcoholic singer Libby Holman. His substance abuse – mostly sedatives and vodka – was growing out of control.

“Raintree County” was the couple’s next movie. Partway through filming in 1956, Taylor decided to host a dinner party. Clift begged off at first but finally drove up the winding mountain road to her house. He had a drink or two and had popped a couple of sleeping pills. Then he headed home again.

He never made it.

Falling asleep at the wheel, Clift plowed into a tree, turning the car into an accordion. The other party guests ran down to help. Rock Hudson tried and failed to pry a door open. Somehow Taylor succeeded and squirmed in. Clift’s face was a bloody pulp. He was choking to death. Taylor had to pull his broken teeth out of his mouth.

Once at the hospital, the inventory was grim. A facial nerve was severed. One cheekbone was shattered, and one lip was torn in half. His nose was broken in two places, and his jaw was broken in four. Doctors labored to paste Montgomery Clift back together.

Clift would never look nor act the same again. How could he? So much had changed.

Taylor soon entered her own dark days. They began when she fell dizzily in love with Mike Todd, a burly, boastful producer completely unlike the sensitive boys she usually swooned over. They married, impulsively, in 1957. That union ended, horribly, the following year, when his plane crashed.

This tragedy was followed by scandal, as Todd’s best friend, Eddie Fisher, started coming over to console Taylor – and spending the night. That he was still married, to perpetually perky Debbie Reynolds, didn’t seem to matter to them.

“You can’t break up a happy marriage,” Taylor blithely told gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. “And theirs never has been.”

The couple married three hours after Fisher’s divorce came through.

Whatever life threw at her, including a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in 1961, Taylor survived. In fact, she thrived. But Clift was slipping away, scarred and scared, his career in shreds. Taylor managed to get him cast in her film “Suddenly, Last Summer.” But every day was a strain.

Closing in on 40, Clift seemed closer to 80. His weight dropped to nothing. He couldn’t remember lines. Sometimes, he could rally, shining in films like “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Other times, like on “Freud,” he fell to pieces.

“The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am,” Marilyn Monroe said, after working with Clift on “The Misfits.”

By the mid-60s, Taylor’s star was still ascending. She had already won an Oscar for “BUtterfield 8.” Her role in “Cleopatra” had made her the highest-paid star in the world and introduced her to Richard Burton. After her divorce from Fisher, the two actors would marry and retreat into a lovely bubble with yachts, diamonds, and champagne.

Still, Taylor didn’t forget Clift. She demanded he co-star in her next movie, “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” But by now, Clift lived in a world of hustlers and heroin. When the studio refused to insure him, Taylor pledged her salary as collateral.

Then, on July 23, 1966, he was found dead in his Upper East Side townhouse. The coroner blamed a massive heart attack. Montgomery Clift was 45.

“I miss Montgomery Clift,” Taylor said haltingly years later, her voice breaking. “I miss laughing together, and doing silly things together…

“Oh, I loved him!” she finally blurted out. “And, I still do.”

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