Excerpt from Patricia Bosworth’s Montgomery Clift: A Biography. Kevin McCarthy describes the tragic car accident that almost killed Montgomery Clift and ruined his face. McCarthy and Clift had been hanging out at Elizabeth Taylor’s home (which she shared with then husband Mike Wilding), and then, McCarthy and Clift got in their cars to drive down the long winding hill.
McCarthy gives a visceral glimpse of what went down that night, and an unforgettable image of Elizabeth Taylor.
Those who snicker at her weight gain and her tracheotomy and choking on chicken wings and her marriages will never understand. It’s too bad. They are limited in their capacity for understanding and flexibility. Not to mention compassion. They are unimaginative. They see life in two dimensions, not three, but that is their own limitation, not the limitations of those at whom they sneer. And I’m not even talking now about Elizabeth Taylor’s acting, and what passion and truth she brought to role after role. I’m talking about her character. Her character has been assaulted for decades. She handled it with grace and dignity.
Elizabeth Taylor inspired fierce loyalty from her friends. And here, in the anecdote below, you can see why.
Suddenly I looked in my rearview mirror and I saw that Monty’s car was coming much too close to my car. I got the idea he was going to play one of his practical jokes – he was going to give my car a little nudge. He never did bump my car, but I had the feeling he might, so I put my foot on the gas and went a little faster. Monty’s car seemed to be almost on top of me. I wondered if he was having a blackout. I got frightened and spurted ahead so he wouldn’t bump me. We both made the first turn but the next one was treacherous. We were careening now, swerving, and screeching through the darkness. Behind me I saw Monty’s carlights weave from one side of the road to the other and then I heard a terrible crash.
A cloud of dust appeared in my rearview mirror. I stopped and ran back. Monty’s car was crumpled like an accordion against a telephone pole. The motor was running like hell. I could smell gas. I managed to reach in the window and turn off the ignition, but it was so dark I couldn’t see inside the car. I didn’t know where Monty was. He seemed to have disappeared.
I ran and drove my car back and shone the headlights into Monty’s car. Then I saw him curled under the dahsboard. He’d been pushed there by the force of the crash. His face was torn away – a bloody pulp. I thought he was dead.
I drove back to Elizabeth’s shaking like a leaf and pounded on the door. “There’s been a terrible accident!” I yelled, “I don’t know whether Monty’s dead or alive – get an ambulance quick!” Mike Wilding and I both tried to keep Elizabeth from coming down to the car with us but she fought us off like a tiger. “No! No! I’m going to Monty!” she screamed, and she raced down the hill.
She was like Mother Courage. Monty’s car was so crushed you couldn’t open the front door, so Liz got through the back door and crawled over the seat. Then she crouched down and cradled Monty’s head in her lap. He gave a little moan. Then he started to choke. He pantomimed weakly to his neck. Some of his teeth had been knocked out and his two front teeth were lodged in his throat. I’ll never forget what Liz did. She stuck her fingers down his throat and she pulled those teeth. Otherwise he would have choked to death.
We all should be so lucky to have such a friend.