Author Charles Casillo on the Untold Story Between Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday August 1, 2021
Originally published on July 27, 2021

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in a promotional photo for "A Place in the Sun" (1951)
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in a promotional photo for "A Place in the Sun" (1951)  

"He was the most gorgeous thing I'd ever seen," Elizabeth Taylor was quoted as saying when she first met actor Montgomery Clift. "I remember my heart stopped when I looked into those green eyes, and that smile, that roguish, boyish smile."

That quote came courtesy of biographer Charles Casillo, who has written a new book —  "Elizabeth And Monty: The Untold Story Of Their Intimate Friendship" — that follows the sad story of the stars' relationship from their meeting in the late 1940s to Clift's death in 1965 at the age of 45.

The two formed a tight emotional bond, though not a romantic one. Clift was a not-so-closeted actor who was one of the few men Taylor couldn't seduce during the waning days of the Hollywood studios. According to Casillo, it was the first time a man had "ignored her beauty and sensuality and paid attention to the person inside the gorgeous body ... and it had a profound effect on her."

Montgomery Clift in the early 1950s  

So much so that Casillo told the Daily Mail earlier this year that the relationship overshadowed her romantic relationships and marriages. Despite Clift's surprising openness (he was said to bring his boyfriends onto the set of "A Place in the Sun," the 1951 film that cast him with Taylor for the first time), Taylor was shocked at not being able to seduce him, which may have led to her first, disastrous marriage with hotel tycoon Nicky Hilton.

Despite the romantic spark, Taylor and Clift were unusually close. She played a pivotal role in a 1956 automobile accident near her home in which she is said to have saved his life. Later, when his career was on the rocks due to his alcoholism and erratic behavior, she helped him land roles, even putting her salary in 1965 as guarantee in order to get him cast in a film. Clift was to die before the film was made.

Casillo is the author of "The Marilyn Diaries," "Outlaw: The Lives & Careers of John Rechy," "Boys, Lost & Found," and "The Fame Game." As an entertainment journalist, he contributed to many publications including "The New York Times" and "New York Magazine." He continued his writing career in Los Angeles where he wrote celebrity interviews and personality profiles for The Los Angeles Times. But writing wasn't his first career — he started as a playwright and actor, having appeared in the films "Let Me Die Quietly" (2009), which he also wrote, and "Fetish," a 2010 short he made with the legendary Joan Collins.

EDGE spoke to Casillo about "Elizabeth And Monty: The Untold Story Of Their Intimate Friendship."

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in the early 1950s  

EDGE: How did you begin to research for writing "Elizabeth and Monty?"

Charles Casillo: Originally, I was going to write about Montgomery Clift back in 2002. I had finished a book on the gay writer, John Rechy, and the publishers were asking for a new book and I thought of Montgomery Clift. After I started researching him more, I found two really good books were already published about him. One in 1977 by Robert LaGuardia and one in 1978 by Patricia Bosworth. It would have been hard to do something better, particularly compared to the Bosworth book. So, I was really taking my time as I was looking for sources and then my publisher went bankrupt, so I shelved it. After I finished my Marilyn Monroe book, I thought about Montgomery Clift again. I knew the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor & Montgomery Clift was very timely. It was very universal, and it warranted a full book. I started to do some research again and that is the genesis of it.

EDGE: Were there things that you learned about both that you hadn't known?

Charles Casillo: One of the things that I really learned was how much their relationship affected and changed the direction of both of their lives. It truly was a life-changing friendship. I believe if they hadn't met because of a movie they probably wouldn't have gelled the way they did it. It was like it was fate that brought them together, and it really changed their lives individually.

One of the things I learned during my research of Montgomery, and one of the things that differ from Patricia Bosworth and Robert LaGuardia books, is that there's been a belief that Monty was self-destructive and tortured because he was gay. I don't think that it was that cut and dry or simple. I think that he wasn't tortured about being gay, per se, but what really tortured him was that he had to hide it, and he couldn't be open. He had to make believe that he was something he wasn't. He had to try to answer questions in a way that wouldn't destroy his career.

As for Elizabeth, we think of her as a woman who was married a lot, liked jewelry, had a big appetite for life, and a passion for living. What I didn't really know was how big her heart was. When I started doing my research for Marilyn's book, I found out she had reached out to Marilyn in the reminding years of her life. Once you were Elizabeth's friend, she was completely loyal to you. She would do anything she could to help you or comfort you. She had considerable power in Hollywood, and she always used it to help her friends. She was just a really kind person.

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in "Raintree County" (1957)  

EDGE: I love that you keep the story real and didn't shy away from all the sex, pill-popping, alcoholism, affairs, breakdowns, suicide attempts and multiple brushes with death.

Charles Casillo: Thanks! It's funny because I take criticism for that. I read some of the reviews on Amazon and Good Reads, and some have said it's very gossipy. What I am thinking, is how can you write a book about Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift and not talk about those things? It was a part of their life. So, if you don't want to read about the drinking, the pill popping, and the sex, then don't read about people's real lives. Because he was gay, Monty found some solace in his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor because she was so accepting. I believe that is one of the reasons why their friendship blossomed and lasted so long. Monty had to live in a very straight world and most likely didn't come out to any of his friends or family. I believe Elizabeth was one of the first heterosexual people that he came out to. That had to be a big step for him. I mean if he couldn't have a sexual relationship with Elizabeth Taylor then it wasn't going to happen with anybody.

EDGE: Do you have a favorite Elizabeth and Montgomery Clift film?

Charles Casillo: For Monty, I have to say "The Misfits" only because I do love the cast. I'm not a fan of the movie, but I love to see Marilyn and Clark Gable and Montgomery, the three of my favorites together. My favorite movie with him is definitely "From Here to Eternity." Elizabeth is harder because she's so many films. Elizabeth transcends any role she has. No matter if it's a great script, bad script, or a mediocre one. The movie is better because of her presence in it. She's very watchable. "Butterfield 8" is fun to watch. Her outfits are great, and she looks amazing. Plus, the story is tawdry. I'm never really sure what she does in that movie. Is she a call girl or a model?

Montgomery Clift in the early 1950s  

EDGE: If Montgomery Clift had lived beyond 1966, what do you imagine his life may have been like?

Charles Casillo: I am not sure. He was so physically wrecked by then I don't believe that he would have had a very productive life. He was really in such physical decline. Even if he had lived with Elizabeth, I'm not sure he would have thrived. I know he would have certainly given it his all. He hadn't completely lost his gift by then and I don't think that he had the physical stamina to have the kind of career he would have wanted. He was only 45, but he looked like 60 years old. So, in all reality, I think that his career would have been limited. Also, he would really have had to clean himself up. He was abusing prescription drugs and having alcoholic binges. His last partner, Lorenzo James, was really good for him and was really trying to keep Monte on the straight narrow path of health. But whether that would have happened is all speculation.

EDGE: When writing about celebrities do you ever have to gauge the right level of creative risk to take?

Charles Casillo: I think so, but I think that if you do a lot of research, you don't really have to. If you hear more than one person say the same thing about a person or their characters, I believe you can feel secure in the fact that that's probably true, especially if the sources didn't know each other. You can then filter that through the way that it fits into the story or your perception, along with all the other interviews and research that you did.

Writing a biography is like walking a tight rope, you can never really get into the mind of a person. There was probably a lot of close friends of Montgomery Clift who didn't really know him totally and I had to take creative license when describing him or thinking about the person that he was. Elizabeth was a little more knowable. She had her cards more out on the table. Monty and Marilyn Monroe were so much alike. They lived in so many different compartments with people. They're like mosaics, you have to take little pieces of what people tell you and put them together like a puzzle.

Charles Casillo and Joan Collins in a promotional photo for "Fetish" (2010)  

EDGE: Is your writing process fluid enough to either end up with a novel or screenplay or do you need to be in a certain mindset?

Charles Casillo: I don't think of film, script, or novel when I write. I just write. I think that for each of those, I'm in a different mindset. The one thing that you always want to try to be is interesting, and if it's a biography, truthful. I always feel confident when I have done all the research, read everything about the person and when you've gotten to know the person and your understanding of your subject it will be easy to convey what you have learned. I don't think film script or novel when writing I just write to tell the story as interestingly as possible and keep it real.

EDGE: What was it about writing that caused you to put your acting career on hold?

Charles Casillo: Well, writing was successful, and acting wasn't. I really never considered myself a writer. I think that if you're a creative person and your creativity isn't being released in one area; it will find expression in another. That's what happened to me: I wasn't being fulfilled with acting. It's like you're on fire and when you are not being fulfilled creatively, you have to get out. I started to express myself through writing. The New York Times called me for my pieces that I was writing for a publication called the New York Native and that's when I considered myself a professional writer. Sometimes life calls a direction for you when you least expect it.

EDGE: I read that you are considered an expert historian on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Tell us about that.

Charles Casillo: Who doesn't love Marilyn Monroe, right? I first discovered Marilyn when I was a kid. I saw a photo of her in a magazine. I was aware of who she was but wasn't interested in her until that point. I remember it was my cousin's Cosmopolitan magazine. There was an article about Marilyn that was very unflattering and nasty. The piece was by a guy who had been her makeup artist in the last years of her life. The contrast between the photo where she seems so sweet and so beguiling and the nasty person that he was describing just fascinated me.

After that I just had to find out more about her. It was very unusual for a boy from the Queens to be interested in her. My family slowly started buying me stuff about her. The vast majority of people love Marilyn Monroe, but at the time I thought I was the only one. Then when the internet came along, I realized that my obsession and fascination with Marilyn was very common. Everyone loved her. People from all different walks of life, and not just gay guys! There's something about her, something that Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, and Ava Gardner had. For me, they had a mixture of physical beauty with a true, genuine vulnerability that spoke to me. I don't know if there's is some mysterious ingredient with Marilyn. I think it's the way that all her ingredients were mixed together. Physical beauty, wit, talent, charm, sex appeal, sensuality, and intelligence It all made her the perfect package.

EDGE: You co-starred with Joan Collins in a 2010 short film named "Fetish." What was it like working with her?

Charles Casillo: It was just magnificent from beginning to end. Joan is not the type of person that suffers fools. You've got like three minutes to make your impression on her. I think because I said and did the right things, she agreed to do the film. I couldn't believe I was working with Joan Collins. She's worked with all the great people that have been and in Hollywood and I couldn't believe she was doing my little short film. She approached the film like a pro. She was there to do a job (no matter how small) and she was willing to work really hard and long hours. She was just amazing!

For more on "Elizabeth And Monty: The Untold Story Of Their Intimate Friendship," follow this link.