Along with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift typified the emergence of a new breed of Hollywood star: Prodigiously talented, intense, and defiantly non-conformist, he refused to play by the usual rules of celebrity, actively shunning the spotlight and working solely according to his own whims and desires. A handsome and gifted actor, he channeled the pain and torment so rampant in his private life into his screen and stage roles, delivering remarkably poignant and sensitive performances which influenced generations of actors to come. Born October 17, 1920, in Omaha, NE, Clift began performing in summer stock at the age of 14 in a production of Fly Away Home. Within seven months, the play was running on Broadway, and throughout the remainder of his teen years he remained a fixture on the New York stage. Next, in 1935, was Cole Porter's Jubilee. In 1940, Clift also appeared with the Lunts in There Shall Be No Night, and in 1942 performed in The Skin of Our Teeth. His work in the Lillian Hellman smash The Searching Wind brought any number of offers from Hollywood, but he rejected them to appear in The Foxhole in the Parlor; finally, after earning acclaim for Tennessee Williams' You Touched Me, Clift agreed to make his film debut in the classic 1948 Howard Hawks Western Red River.
From the outset, Clift refused to play the studio game: He did not sign any long-term contracts and chose to work only on projects which intrigued him, like Red River. However, the film was so long in post-production that screen audiences instead got their first glimpse of him in Fred Zinneman's The Search, where unanimous praise for his sensitive, unsentimental, and Oscar-nominated performance made Clift among the hottest commodities in the business. He agreed to appear in three films for Paramount (only completing two): The first was William Wyler's 1949 adaptation of Henry James' The Heiress, with Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard scheduled to follow. At the last minute, Clift backed out of the project, however, to star in 20th Century Fox's 1950 war drama The Big Lift. Upon returning to Paramount, he starred in George Stevens' classic A Place in the Sun, earning a second Academy Award nomination for his performance opposite Elizabeth Taylor, who became his real-life confidante. Clift then disappeared from view for two years, coaxed out of self-imposed exile by Alfred Hitchcock to star in the 1953 thriller I Confess.