From the Archives: Montgomery Clift, 45, Dies of Heart Attack in New York


Actor Montgomery Clift, 45, three times nominated for Academy Awards, died early Saturday of a heart attack in his plush East Side townhouse.

Clift was nominated for awards for his roles in “From Here to Eternity,” “The Search” and “A Place in the Sun.”

Clift’s lawyer, Jack Clareman, said Clift was discovered by his personal secretary, Lorenzo James, about 6 a.m. James said the actor had gone to bed “in good spirits” Friday night.

Clift had returned to the United States last month from Munich, Germany, where he completed a spy film called “The Defector.”

He was to costar soon with Elizabeth Taylor in a production of “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” The actor had played opposite Miss Taylor in “A Place in the Sun.”

Unable to Rouse Him

James said he found Clift lying face up in his bedroom and tried to rouse him but failed. A doctor was called and pronounced him dead of a heart attack.

Clift leaves his mother, Mrs. Ethel Clift of New York City; a sister, Mrs. Ethel McGinnis of Austin, Tex., and a brother, Brooks, of Atlanta, Ga.

Clift was born in Omaha on Oct. 17, 1920. When he was 14 and the family was wintering in Sarasota, Fla., he was invited to appear in an amateur production of “As Husbands Go.” From that moment, he later recalled, he felt the theater was his calling.


John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in "Red River." (MGM)

Clift Tried to Attain Perfection as Actor

Dave Larsen, Times Staff Writer

It was generally conceded that one of the most effective pieces of acting in the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg” was that of a mumbling Polish witness who had been sterilized by the Nazis.

The actor was Montgomery Clift. He did it for nothing. When someone asked why, the hawk-faced Clift replied quietly: “Because I wanted to play it.”

This was the enigmatic man who died Saturday in New York City at the age of 45, little understood but always respected for the sensitivity of his approach to any part he played.

“He’s always striving for perfection,” Burt Lancaster commented while working with Clift in “From Here to Eternity.”

Donna Reed, another participant in that movie, said: “I’ve never known an actor who went so far as Monty did in getting every detail, every reaction, every emotion of the character he was depicting.”

The angular Clift was extremely selective about his roles. His publicist said he turned down an average of 10 scripts a month. One, according to the publicist, was for a part in the movie “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.” Clift felt it was in bad taste.

“I’ve never been ashamed of any picture I made,” the actor said.

Highest Fee

He was in some good ones. The last time he was seen on the screen was in “Freud” in 1962, for which he received $300,00, his highest fee ever. He recently returned from Munich after completing work in “The Defector.”

His other movies included “The Heiress,” “The Misfits,” “Lonelyhearts,” “I Confess,” “The Search,” and “A Place in the Sun.”

He also appeared in such Broadway stage shows as “Fly Away Home” and “The Skin of Our Teeth.” He once turned down a substantial offer in order to play for $100 a week in an off-Broadway production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”

Clift, a bachelor, was known as a loner, but he did not enjoy being described as lonely. “The reason I don’t go to night clubs,” he said, “is because that is where you find the really lonely.”

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun." (File photo)

Auto Crash

He was a close friend of Elizabeth Taylor, his costar in “A Place in the Sun” and “Raintree County.” It was while heading for a party at her Beverly Hills home in 1956 that he suffered injuries which nearly ended his career.

Clift’s car struck a power pole while he was going down a steep grade. Word reached Miss Taylor, who hurried to the accident scene and, wearing a mink coat, cradled Clift’s bleeding head in her lap while awaiting an ambulance.

Clift required extensive plastic surgery on his face.

Although he gave the impression of being a brooding introvert, he was not without a sense of humor. During the filming of “The Young Lions” Dean Martin nicknamed him “Spider.” When Clift found the title inscribed on his set chair, he burst into laughter.

Aside from the time he worked here, Clift avoided Hollywood life and was regarded as a maverick. He was elusive with the press.

When he once was asked why he didn’t live in Hollywood, Clift said:

“If I were a shoe salesman and had to work in Denver three months, that doesn’t mean I’d move my residence to Denver. I’m an actor and I go where the work is.”


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