Elizabeth Taylor immediately fell hard for her co-star Montgomery Clift.
The violet-eyed film star and her leading man first starred together in the 1951 drama “A Place in the Sun,” resulting in a life-changing friendship that lasted until Clift’s death in 1966 at age 45.
Recently, author Charles Casillo, who previously wrote about Marilyn Monroe, released a new book on two screen legends titled “Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship.” He tracked down some of the last surviving insiders who had known both Taylor and Clift over the years.
Casillo told LBL that after discovering their “extraordinary” bond, there was no doubt in his mind that Taylor and Clift were “soul mates.”
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“Through the years, only bits and pieces of their friendship were told,” he said. “After talking and researching my sources, I felt that a thorough exploration of that relationship was really necessary.”
“A big question that has always been on everyone’s mind is whether they did or not?” he shared. “Was they sexually involved or not? My conclusion was that although Elizabeth loved being with Monty this way, it was not possible because he was primarily gay.”
Taylor was just 17 when she first worked with Clift, who was 29. It was a transformative time for Taylor, who first appeared on screen at the age of 10. As for Clift, he was seen as a moody loner who avoided the Hollywood crowd. and ridiculed the press. He saw the industry only as a film making machine, with no regard for making art.
Casillo said that Taylor was initially “a bit hesitant” and even “a bit scared” of working with Clift because of his reputation as a no-nonsense stage actor. Taylor, a product of the studio, saw himself as “a Hollywood like nothing”. And he had good reason to be concerned. Clift, who knew he would be working with her, barked at the producers and dubbed her “a made-up star”.
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However, Casillo said there was lightning in the air when the two first met in director George Stevens’ office.
“There was an instant connection,” he described. “Elizabeth said she was the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. And Monty got excited to work with her. And the bond only grew when they started working together.”
Despite their age difference, Taylor was smitten by the actor.
“She was a virgin and ready for her first dramatic love affair,” Casillo explained. “He thought Monty was gorgeous and intelligent. He was already being treated as an object of lust by many. And yet he was the first person who saw her beyond his physical self. He was really into her sexually loved.”
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According to Casillo, Taylor longed for a romance that would lead to marriage, escape her “controlling mother” and equally dominate Hollywood studios. While Clift was ecstatic that the in-demand actress would fall for him so quickly, it simply didn’t work out.
“He was gay, which she didn’t know before,” said Casillo. “He was trying to tell her in some way without coming out. For example, he would bring in men he was dating on set to meet him. In later years, Elizabeth would say that it was a lot. It was obvious. But that didn’t stop this great friendship from forming. Elizabeth once said, ‘I told her things I’d never told anyone else and I’ll never say. And she told me things I’d never say’ I will not tell anyone else.’ That was the only connection they had.”
“The truth is that Elizabeth was insecure in her life as a woman and an actress,” Casillo continued. “Monty wanted her to know that she was more than just her body, her face. It helped build her self-esteem. It gave her a sense of encouragement that she, too, could actually become an actress with talent.” He was deep and sensitive, but with Elizabeth, he could let loose, joke around. He didn’t need to show off and wasn’t someone he wasn’t around. He could be honest. And those Back in the days, as a closed man, it must have meant the world to him.”
Clift even gave Taylor his personal nickname for her – Bessie Mae.
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“Finally she said, ‘Why are you calling me Bessie Mae? Casillo shared. “He said, ‘The whole world knows you as Elizabeth Taylor. Only I can call you Bessie Mae. There is a part of you that is mine that no one else can have. And I call her Bessie Mae. ‘ They did this together for the rest of their lives.”
And it was Taylor who saved Clift’s life. In 1956, Clift threw a dinner party at Taylor’s home in the Hollywood Hills. He was drenched with two “downers” to help him sleep when he got home. His car collided with an electric pole. Several reports claimed that the crash was so loud that Taylor heard it, prompting her to go to the crash site.
Casillo said that if Taylor had not reached his throat and pulled out his broken teeth, which had become stuck in his trachea, Clift could have died. Then he held her bloodied head on his lap while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
“The car looked like an accordion,” said Casillo. “He was dismembered from the inside and his face was completely destroyed. His nose and jaw were broken in several places. The car was still moving and it was dangerous to go inside. Because of the impact, the doors would not open. This It was Elizabeth who pulled over to the back door and managed to get in. She began to suffocate and she actually poked her fingers down her throat to pull out her broken teeth. Everyone at the scene said that It really saved his life.”
Clift required extensive plastic surgery after the accident. His famous features were long overdue.
“His career took off,” said Casillo. “His drug and alcohol levels leveled off. He got harder and harder to cast. His physical condition deteriorated to such an extent that no insurance company wanted to be involved. And no director wanted to hire him. It was because he couldn’t get insurance. But Elizabeth fought for it. She risked her career to make sure she always got a chance to work. She became the most powerful person in Hollywood and she used her influence. Used to make sure Monty could still work.”
The two starred in two more films together – 1957’s “Raintree County” and 1959’s “Suddenly, Last Summer.” Shortly before Clift’s death, Taylor was looking for another script they could do together. She found “Reflections in a Golden Eye” and felt it would be perfect for her.
But this film never happened between the two. Casillo said Clift’s final years were “excruciating” as he battled drug and alcohol abuse. He also struggled to find work that really spoke to him and “no one wanted to hire him.”
Casillo said that Taylor was “completely broken” when he was found dead of a heart attack in his New York City townhouse. At the time of his death, Clift’s personal secretary, Lorenzo James, said that the actor had recently slept “in good spirits” after completing a spy film titled “The Defector” in Germany. Los Angeles Times Reported.
“Richard Burton said that when she heard the news, she went to her room to be alone,” said Casillo. “He could hear screams from across the room. She was just devastated. She later told the press, ‘I lost my brother, my friend.’ And I think he really did.”
Taylor died in 2011 at the age of 79. Casillo hopes that his book will shed new light on one of the greatest relationships to come out of Old Hollywood.
“She was a true friend who loved you till the end and I don’t think she gets enough attention,” he said. “As for Monty, he was all about his acting and the truth in life. He didn’t like hiding. He didn’t like lying. So in many ways, they saved each other.”