Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
Montgomery Clift, once known as the most beautiful man in Hollywood, was one of the most compelling screen presences of the 1950s; but, as with his eccentric contemporary Marlon Brando, reading about the troubled actor’s life does little to elevate him in the view of this erstwhile admirer.
A disturbing feature of Clift’s fragmented personality was his increasing identification with Jews as his mental condition deteriorated. A tortured bisexual and societal outsider, the star of The Heiress (1949), A Place in the Sun (1951), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) was a natural proxy recruit for Jewish cultural engineering and politics.
Living with an army engineer unit in Switzerland while preparing for his role in Fred Zinnemann’s The Search (1948), Clift was invited to attend a screening of concentration camp footage purporting to document “masses of Jews being led to the gas chambers.” The actor was so affected by what he witnessed that he reportedly dashed out of the screening room and vomited1. From there, it was easy to get the emotional Clift behind the newly victorious occupation government in Palestine.
In 1948, as Arabs were still skirmishing with the occupiers in an unsuccessful attempt at reclaiming their country, Clift toured Israel with Zionist zealot Zinnemann, who would also direct him in the hit From Here to Eternity (1953). He lived on a desert kibbutz for a while, rode through Jerusalem in an armored car, and wrote home to his mother that “listening to the tales of the siege of Jerusalem is amazing.”2
Clift’s Zionism endeared him to Paramount Pictures president Barney Balaban, who ordinarily wanted nothing to do with “the talent”. He made an exception with Clift, however, socializing and appearing with him at a United Jewish Appeal fundraiser. “Daddy was profoundly impressed with Monty’s feelings about Israel,” Balaban’s daughter Judy recalls. “After that fundraiser they started meeting to talk about Israel and God knows what else.”3
An alcoholic and an experimenter with other drugs, Clift was referred by a doctor to a homosexual psychoanalyst named William Silverberg, who, unfortunately, appears to have been of paltry assistance to his patient:
Monty began seeing Silverberg every day. Dr. Richard Robertiello, who was first a patient, then a student of Silverberg’s, had the session after Monty in 1950 and 1951. “I remember Montgomery Clift walking slowly out into the waiting room. He had the most intensely tormented expression of anyone I’d ever seen.”4
The actor’s erratic and reckless behavior climaxed with a 1956 car wreck that mangled his face. “Montgomery Clift survived that night and lived for ten more years, but his real death occurred as he lay bleeding and half-conscious in Elizabeth Taylor’s arms,” writes biographer Patricia Bosworth. “Nothing would ever be the same for him after that.”5
Clift’s less handsome features and more brittle presence following his accident lent themselves to a series of odd Jewish or Judaically resonant roles Clift took during the later phase of his acting career. He played a bullied Jewish soldier in The Young Lions (1958); a simpleton who had been sterilized by the Nazis in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961); and he even essayed the title role in John Huston’s little-seen biopic Freud (1962). Even before the wreck, he had developed a fascination with the morbid, neurotic persona of Franz Kafka:
[Thornton] Wilder had recently abandoned work on a play called Alcestis for Garbo, and he was currently trying to write The Emporium, inspired by Kafka’s The Castle. He was writing the play expressly for Monty, and Monty, much moved, urged him to finish it. He would play it anywhere, any place, he said. As if to spur Wilder on, he began to read the entire works of Kafka, and he tried to discuss them all: The Castle, Metamorphosis, The Trial. Monty found the writing “baffling, exquisite, tortured.”
During his reading he came upon a photograph of Kafka taken in Prague the year of his death. His face is sharp, chiseled, skull-like, his ears stick out like a bat; his eyes are startled, full of fear and yet oddly contained. Monty kept the picture and ultimately tore it out of the book so he could study it more closely. He gazed at that picture almost every day. Years later he used it as the basis for his characterization of Noah in The Young Lions.6
“Monty’s [thirty-something] adolescent revolt culminated in one horrendous confrontation in the Clift apartment, as witnessed by Bill Le Massena who had been invited to dinner,” as Bosworth reveals:
During the meal Monty announced loudly that he was going to play “The Jew Noah Ackerman” in the movie The Young Lions. “I was picked because I look so Jewish,” he said. “Everybody thinks I’m Jewish,” he added, knowing this would infuriate his father, who was anti-Semitic.
While his father stared at him aghast, Monty repeated, “Everybody thinks I’m Jewish, Pa,” and then he began hooting with laughter until [his mother] Sunny interrupted gently, “Monty, dear, why are you doing this to me?” […]
Sunny continued lecturing. Finally Monty lay down on the floor and began rolling back and forth and crying, “Oh, Ma! You are such a cunt, such a cunt!”7
Increasingly cunt-averse, Clift would end his days as a psychologically ravaged has-been, binging on drugs and New York’s rough trade; but his sterling legacy of philo-Semitic activism and propaganda will stretch from here to eternity.