On the evening of May 12, 1956, in the Hollywood Hills, movie star Montgomery Clift was bleeding to death inside his car.

Only 8 months previous, James Dean was beheaded in his car.  When Monty heard the news of his contemporary’s death, he was on a cruise ship with torch singer Libby Holman, who later said that Monty immediately vomited over the liner’s satin sheets.  It was said that Clift was the most sensitive man in Hollywood.  A friend would later remark that “if you kicked a dog three cities away, Monty would feel it.”

So, amongst whirring thoughts of his own imminent death, surely there was a point where this coincidence of fate with a fellow Method (ish) actor occurred to him.  He had only his own thoughts to keep him company in the car.  He was alone and trapped, the telephone pole he struck on that treacherous mountain road crumpled him in.

It was dark; the number of homes in those hills in the 50’s were fewer and so no lamplights shone.  Clift’s face had hit the dashboard (no airbags then).  His nose and jaw had immediately broken.  His body was forced and pinned underneath the dash, not only mangling his torso but also (much more ominously) keeping Clift himself sitting on the accelerator.

The wheels spun and spun but the car wasn’t going anywhere (telephone pole).  The gas tank had been struck and was in danger of rupturing.

Clift made wheezing, choking noises that no one heard, not even Kevin McCarthy, his best friend, star of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and the man whom Clift was following down the mountain that night.

If he had died that night, instead of ten years later, it’s been said that he would be more famous today than James Dean.  By that point, Dean had only made three major films and received a posthumous Oscar nomination.  Clift, on the other hand, had three nominations under his belt (“The Search”, “A Place in the Sun”, and “From Here to Eternity”), and one more was to come for “Judgment at Nuremburg”.  But by 1956, Clift’s reign had been set.  He was the first Method actor on the scene, beating Brando and Dean (who both idol-worshipped Clift, only a few years their senior).  It’s a misconception that Clift was the first true Method movie star.  Clift’s technique was always a combination of head and heart.

That was his spell.  His roles epitomized victim-heroes, sensitive souls never made for lasting in this world.  For all interested parties, he aroused simultaneous feelings of sex and mothering.  You wanted to sleep with him and then take care of him forever.  I imagine this is why Hitchcock worked with him in “I Confess”.

One of the women who had it bad in both these ways for Monty was Elizabeth Taylor.  She was one of his closest friends.  They had met on “A Place in the Sun”.  He was 30, and she was 18.  A star of sweet movies like “National Velvet” and “Father of the Bride”, this was Taylor’s first role as a romantic lead, a sexual being she would come to typify.  Frankly, Taylor was having trouble with the elevated material and in using her body to lure in the mens.  Clift schooled her on both fronts.  In many of their long nights spent together, Clift would rehearse their lines as both his George Eastman and her Angela Vickers.  Taylor later said Clift even played Angela brilliantly.

She didn’t immediately sense he was gay.  She was an innate read of people, but it was also 1950, she was 18 years old, and he looked like Monty Clift.  She fell into deep, childish love with him.

Taylor, a child star, carried with her a great smack of Hollywood, an entourage and an interfering mother; all things Clift, a New York theatre brat, was squeamish about.  Still taking a shine to her, he decided to take the precious piss out of her with the nickname “Bessie Mae,” a term of endearment used between the two friends until Clift’s death in 1966.  Her love for him deepened.

But Clift was gay, and she quickly, painfully, learned that.  Wounded, she ran into the arms of hotel heir Nicky Hilton, Jr., the first of her historic eight marriages.

Her marriage to the abusive Hilton lasted only a few months, but Monty remained in her life, even through his ensuing drug-and-alcohol years.

It was at Elizabeth Taylor’s home she shared with husband #2, Michael Wilding, that Clift crashed his car.  Also at that cocktail party was Rock Hudson and his “wife” Phyllis Gates.  Monty had been working long days with Elizabeth on the set of their new movie “Raintree County”, and he left the party early.  Kevin McCarthy was leaving the party as well, and said he would guide the sleepy Monty down the mountain road.  It didn’t end well.

Kevin heard the crash, saw that Monty was trapped and drove back up to the house for help.  Elizabeth was going to run down the hill to Monty, but Michael, Kevin and Rock insisted she get in the car.  They all shone their headlights on Monty’s car.  Elizabeth leapt out ahead of the men.  The side doors were too wrecked to enter.  She pried open the trunk window with the adrenaline strength of ten men and climbed inside.

She found Monty, moved him off the accelerator and cradled him carefully.  His blood had already soaked her dress.  His face had swelled to the size of a pumpkin.  She told him help was on the way.  He tried to speak to her.  Wheezing, coughing.  Something was wrong.

Bessie Mae saw his wounded mouth and sensed it at once.  She secured his body between her legs so he wouldn’t shake and then stuck her fingers deep into his throat…

And removed his two front teeth, which had become lodged in his throat and were slowly suffocating him.  He breathed a full breath.

More lights shone on the car.  Help had come.  But why weren’t there sirens?

The photographers had beaten the ambulance to the scene.  As the flashbulbs began to pop, Bessie screamed at them with the sonar reach of Zeus, “If any of you bastards take a single picture of him like this, I’ll never let you anywhere near me again!”

But common decency and “no” has never stopped a photographer before, and it didn’t stop them that night.

So, Michael Wilding, Kevin McCarthy and Rock Hudson, three big men, stood at the front windshield, forming a tight wall around the car, protecting Bessie and Monty from view until the ambulance arrived.

That was Elizabeth Taylor.

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Written by Adam Sass

Adam Sass

ADAM SASS is a journalist and copy editor for Mediaplanet, which prints in USA Today. His short story appeared in the anthology STARLING SCI-FI: NEW TALES OF THE BEYOND and was nominated for Best Science Fiction Story by Writer’s Digest. He lives in New York City with his husband and two dachshunds.

Keep up with Adam’s pop culture blogging at GeeksOut.org and on his (over)active Twitter: @TheAdamSass.