glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Clift, Montgomery (1920-1966)  

Brooding and intense, Montgomery Clift was one of a group of young actors in the 1950s who personified the emotionally repressed loss of innocence of the post-World War II generation. A dedicated actor who exhausted himself both emotionally and physically with the depth of his characterizations, Clift was also an isolated and tortured, closeted gay man who used drugs and alcohol to escape his pain.

Although he was both friend and inspiration to the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift felt his own acting achievements were undervalued, and he died as bitter and broken as the characters he played in many of his films.

Clift was born into privilege in Omaha, Nebraska on October 17, 1920, the son of a wealthy stockbroker. His father spent most of his time working in New York, leaving Clift, his twin sister Roberta, and his older brother Brooks in the care of their high-strung mother.

An upper-class childhood filled with lengthy trips to Europe and the Bahamas ended suddenly with the stock market crash of 1929, and the family moved to a small house in Sarasota, Florida. There Clift discovered the theater in a local teen acting club.

Clift's mother encouraged her son's acting ambitions, and when the family moved back to New York in 1935, he auditioned and was cast in a Broadway production, Fly Away Home. His 1938 performance in the lead in Dame Nature established Clift's acting career. He was seventeen years old.

Clift's success on Broadway continued, and he soon found himself courted by Hollywood film executives. He rejected a number of scripts before finally making a memorable film debut in Howard Hawks' 1948 film Red River. He followed that with a critical success in Fred Zinneman's The Search (1948), which earned him the first of four academy award nominations.

Clift continued to make successful films and developed friendships in Hollywood, the closest of which was with actress Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor and Clift were both passionate and vulnerable people who felt a bond immediately. They worked together on several films, beginning with George Stevens' A Place in the Sun in 1951, and remained friends until the end of his life.

Clift had always had relationships with men, but he dated Taylor and other women to conceal his homosexuality. In the early 1950s, he turned down a role in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb gay murder case, probably because it might have led to speculation about Clift's own life.

Though at the beginning of his career, he drank only moderately and conducted his private life discreetly, by the mid 1950s he was using alcohol and drugs excessively and spending wild nights cruising.

In 1954, Clift rented a house in the gay resort of Ogunquit, Maine, and spent the summer picking up men on the beach for S&M parties. The studios did their best to keep Clift's exploits out of the press, but rumors about his lifestyle abounded.

On May 12, 1956, after leaving a party at Taylor's, Clift drove his car into a telephone pole. The crash caused scarring and partial paralysis of his face, which would affect his appearance for the rest of his life. Although he continued to act, and gave some of his most memorable performances after the accident (in, for example, Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg and John Huston's The Misfits in 1961), both his expressive acting and his personal life were never the same.

In his final years, Clift plunged more deeply into drug and alcohol abuse and wild sexual behavior. He began to be considered unreliable by studio bosses. Sadly, by the time his companion Lorenzo James found him dead of a heart attack at their home, on July 23, 1966, he was virtually unemployable.

Tina Gianoulis


zoom in
Montgomery Clift.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots

Gay Liberation Front

The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980

Leather Culture

Anthony, Susan B.
Anthony, Susan B.

Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence



Computers, the Internet, and New Media



   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Actors: Gay Male

Although few gay actors have been permitted the luxury of openness, many of them have challenged and helped reconfigure notions of masculinity and, to a lesser extent, of homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  The Western

A distinctive American narrative genre that has developed over more than two centuries, the Western is now consumed worldwide; characteristically depicting homosocial relationships, it is also frequently suffused with homoeroticism.

arts >> Dean, James

Although he spent only two years in Hollywood before his untimely death, James Dean became an enduring icon of American film, one whose brooding non-conformity helped challenge rigid notions of masculinity.

arts >> Griffin, Merv

Singer, talk show host, and a creator and producer of television shows, Merv Griffin remained in the closet even as his bisexuality was an open secret within show business communities.

arts >> Leopold, Nathan F. (1904-1971), and Richard A. Loeb (1905-1936)

The case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who gained notoriety for the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy in 1924, has since become a staple of popular culture, inspiring numerous books, films, and plays.

arts >> Lunt, Alfred (1892-1977), and Lynn Fontanne (1887-1983)

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were known as the first family of the American theater, but theirs was a lavender marriage and their presentation of themselves as the ideal married couple may have been their greatest performance.

arts >> Robbins, Jerome

Bisexual choreographer and director Jerome Robbins was both a great choreographer of classical ballet and a Broadway innovator, but he was fearful that he might be outed.


Finch, Stephen. "The Montgomery Clift Shrine: A celebration of a great movie star."

Hoskyns, Barney. Montgomery Clift, Beautiful Loser. New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1992.

Kalfatovic, Mary C. Montgomery Clift. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994.

LaGuardia, Robert. Monty: A Biography of Montgomery Clift. New York: Arbor House, 1977.

Purtell, Tim. "No Place in the Sun." Entertainment Weekly No.180 (July 23, 1993): 76-78.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Clift, Montgomery  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated May 6, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.