Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift starred opposite each other in the 1951 film A Place in the Sun, but their on-screen chemistry was just as genuine when the cameras weren’t rolling. “Soulmates are real,” Charles Casillo, author of the new biography Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship, exclusively tells Closer Weekly. “And Monty said toward the end of his life: ‘When everyone else abandoned me, Elizabeth stood by me.'”
In the last minutes of their hit drama, Elizabeth’s character says, “I’ll go on loving you for as long as I live.” Her words were scripted, but the star’s feelings for Monty were absolutely real. Though their love would prove impossible, it bonded the actors together for life and provided each of them with a refuge from the outside world. Elizabeth, then 17, came to the set of A Place in the Sun hoping to fall in love.
“She was looking to escape the influence and control of her mother — which she could only do through marrying,” Charles explains in Closer‘s latest issue, on newsstands now. Monty, then 29 and hot off his Oscar nomination for The Search, started off ambivalent about his beautiful costar, but warmed up after he witnessed Elizabeth’s difficult interactions with her mother, Sara. “At first, he looked at Elizabeth as the epitome of a Hollywood brat,” Casillo shares. “But he would watch her mother’s grasp on her, and he related to it. His mother was very much the same way with him.”
Their friendship blossomed and then deepened as they spent more time together. “He started teaching her about the fine art of acting, while she showed him the lighter side of Hollywood,” says Casillo. And even though Monty detested the studio publicity machine, he escorted Elizabeth to parties and premieres. “In the first year of knowing each other, they were both exploring where the relationship could go,” Casillo says Elizabeth fell hard, and so did Monty, even though he knew he was gay.
“If a heterosexual relationship had been possible for Monty, it would have been with her,” Casillo says. “But he realized that sex with Elizabeth would be clumsy and unfulfilling for both of them — and he didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship.” Elizabeth, however, needed convincing. “I think that even though he was gay, she would have married him,” says the author. “She wanted Monty to be the one, but he knew that was impossible. The impossibility of the situation caused the greatest unrequited loves in both of their lives.”
Just weeks before her 18th birthday, Elizabeth wed Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, but marriage to another man didn’t prevent her from remaining emotionally close to Monty. When she visited him in New York, they would attend the theater together and enjoy long boozy dinners for two. “They would go to places that weren’t very glamorous so that they could sit, talk, drink and smoke,” Casillo shares. Elizabeth confided to Monty about her troubles in her marriage, and Monty felt relief that he could be himself around her.
“He didn’t have many long-lasting friends,” says Casillo, “but she gave him that.” On May 12, 1956, Elizabeth insisted Monty attend a dinner party at her home in the Hollywood Hills. Initially, Monty begged off, but he didn’t want to disappoint his friend. “He only had a couple of glasses of wine [at dinner], but he took a sleeping pill. He figured it would kick in by the time he got home, but he had a terrible accident on the way down,” Casillo adds.
Elizabeth and her guests arrived on the scene of Monty’s crash before the ambulance. She was able to clear Monty’s airway when he began choking on blood and teeth, saving his life. “She cradled his bleeding head in her arms,” Casillo reveals. “After he recovered, Monty actually gave her one of the teeth he lost that night.”
By the 1960s, Elizabeth’s star had risen higher, while Monty’s career was on the decline. The crash had marred his handsome face, and he spent more time in New York doing theater and drinking too much. “They never lost touch,” says Casillo. “It was a mutual thing. They would always, always make time for each other.”
Elizabeth worried about Monty’s drinking and helped him find work. “She got him cast in a film called Reflections in a Golden Eye,” says Casillo. “No film company would give Monty insurance because he was so unpredictable and his health was in decline. But Elizabeth put up her salary as insurance for him.”
Unfortunately, Monty never got to be in that film. He died from a heart attack on July 22, 1966 — sending Elizabeth, on the set of Taming of the Shrew, with Richard Burton, into a whirlwind of grief. “His loss affected her for the rest of her life,” Casillo shares.