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Posts Tagged ‘Beverly Hills’

Elizabeth Taylor with husband #2: Michael Wilding: Married 21 February 1952, Divorced 30 January 1957

On May 12, 1956, Anglo-American film actress Elizabeth Taylor and her second husband Michael Wilding threw a dinner party at their Beverly Hills home. It was a bad night for a party. For the first thing, it was foggy and the Wildings lived up a long and winding road in Benedict Canyon. For the second thing, the Wildings’ marriage was on the rocks. Elizabeth was having an affair and Michael’s out-of-control drinking had led to several indiscretions with other women. 

The guest of honor was to be Father George Long, a hip priest who ran with the Hollywood set. Rock Hudson and his new wife Phyllis Gates were invited. So was Kevin McCarthy, who was then making “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” 

Montgomery Clift was another actor on the guest list. That spring, he and Elizabeth were shooting the MGM Civil War melodrama, “Raintree County.” 

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

(Elizabeth had just finished filming “Giant” which would be released in October of that same year.) 

Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in "Giant" (1956)

Monty and Elizabeth had become best friends in 1951 during the filming of “A Place in the Sun.” Monty affectionately referred to Elizabeth as “Bessie Mae.” She was his confidante. Monty Clift was a rising star, known for his sensitive and brooding portrayals of troubled young men. He was very intense and deeply serious about acting. 

"A Place in the Sun" (1951) with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor

At first Monty declined the invitation at Liz’s. He was awkward being around the Wildings while their marriage was so bad. But he changed his mind and agreed to join the group for dinner, leasing a car and driving up the mountain road to the Wildings’ house. 

The party turned out to be a terrific bore. The guest of honor didn’t even show. Michael Wilding wasn’t feeling well and spent the evening lounging on the couch, saying virtually nothing to the company and acting aloof. That made Elizabeth nervous so she was unusually chatty. Monty grumbled about the way the MGM director Edward Dmytryk was shooting everything in “Raintree County” in giant close-ups. He was depressed and angry. He sensed the film would be a colossal disaster. 

The party broke up about midnight with Monty and Kevin bidding each other goodbye in the driveway and taking off down the road Elizabeth called a “cork twister.” Kevin was in the lead. Within minutes, Kevin was back at Elizabeth’s house, ringing the bell. Monty Clift had had a serious car accident. His car had struck a utility pole as he rounded one of the hairpin turns in the fog. Elizabeth shrieked and demanded that Kevin immediately take her to the scene. 

Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint in "Raintree County" (1957)

Since the 1950, many unflattering things have been written about Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor who is now a Dame of the British Empire, and much of it was justified. (She tended to steal people’s husbands.) But what was to happen next on that foggy stretch of midnight road below her house was to be Elizabeth’s finest hour. 

She and Kevin arrived at the wreck:

“Monty’s car was demolished, an ‘accordion-pleated mess,’ Elizabeth said. A 4,800 transformer, knocked off the pole by the impact, had narrowly missed hitting the car. McCarthy thought his friend was dead. ‘The doors were so jammed that we couldn’t get to him,’ he said.” (1)  

Broken glass was everywhere – but that didn’t faze Elizabeth. She climbed in the car through a back window.  

“‘Adrenaline does something to you,’ she remembered.” 

Elizabeth hauled herself over the bloody seat. Monty’s motionless body lay beneath the steering wheel. His face was barely recognizable. 

“‘It was like pulp,’ she remembered.” 

Elizabeth called out to Monty. He reacted to her voice and indicated to her that he was choking. Several of his teeth had broken off and had lodged in the back of his throat. Reaching inside his mouth, Elizabeth pulled the teeth out, one by one. Elizabeth saved his life. Monty could once again breathe.

It was nearly an hour before an ambulance arrived and, with it, a handful of frenzied photographers. Elizabeth positioned herself between the stretcher carrying Monty and the photographers’ cameras. “She was remarkable,” said McCarthy. She told the photographers that if they so much as snapped one photo of Monty’s bloodied face, she’d never allow her to take another photo of her. (That would never do. Elizabeth Taylor was one of Hollywood’s top actresses and would become one of the most photographed women in the world.) The photographers backed off.

The car accident left Elizabeth with persistent nightmares. She couldn’t get Monty’s bloody face out of her mind.

“It would come up like a balloon in front of me at night.” 

"The Misfits" (1961) stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift

Understandably, filming on “Raintree County” was put on hold as Monty underwent a long hospitalization and painful facial reconstruction. Despite these efforts, Monty never looked as beautiful as before. His face remained scarred and partially paralyzed. This was the beginning of Monty’s long and deadly slide into alcohol and drug addiction. He became a wrecked man.

Marilyn Monroe, who appeared alongside Monty in the 1961 film, “The Misfits,”  described him as 

“the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.” 

Monty’s post-accident career has been called “the longest suicide in Hollywood history.” In 1966, ten years after his car accident, Montgomery Clift died alone in his New York apartment while watching “The Misfits” on TV. He was only 45. 

(1) Mann, William J. How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers, 2009.

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L-R: Actor Robert Wagner, his wife Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981) and host Frank Sinatra (in eyepatch) pose together during a surprise 21st birthday party held for Wood at Romanoff's, Hollywood, California, July 20, 1959. (Photo by Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

It was New Year’s Eve, 1958, and Peter and Pat Kennedy Lawford were celebrating at a private party at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, a popular spot with Hollywood stars. The Lawfords sat at the most prestigious table in the room with Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, and Robert Wagner. Pat was dazzled by Sinatra’s charm and basked in his attention. Sinatra was thrilled to be in the presence of the sister of the fast-rising Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Host Frank Sinatra (L) wears an eyepatch, laughing with actor Peter Lawford and his wife Patricia Kennedy (1924 - 2006) during a surprise 21st birthday party held for actor Natalie Wood at Romanoff's, Hollywood, California, July 20, 1959. (Photo by Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

Pat had only known Sinatra since August, when she met him at a dinner party at the home of Gary and Rocky Cooper. Since then, Sinatra had swept the Lawfords up into his orbit.

“Sinatra suddenly stood at the center of Pat’s and Peter’s lives.” [1]

Sinatra had become such a fixture in Pat’s world that, by the time she gave  birth on November 4, she decided to give new baby Victoria the middle name of Francis, in honor of her newest and dearest friend, Francis Albert Sinatra. 

The Lawfords not only saw Frank at least twice during the week, but, on many weekends – at Frank’s insistence – they made the 120-mile drive from their Santa Monica home to his Palm Springs estate. The Lawfords always kept the same bedroom at Sinatra’s Rancho Mirage compound. Frank made the Lawfords so at ease that they left some of their casual clothing in the bedroom closet.

Back at Romanoff’s, the new year was blowing in chilly and Pat was wearing a low-cut gown. As the night worn on, she and Natalie grew weary. But Sinatra didn’t want the night to end. He suggested they move the party to his place – two-and-half hours away at Rancho Mirage! Pat gasped at the dread thought. It was only a fifteen minute drive from Romanoff’s to her home!

Peter Lawford recalls the evening:

T

Teen idol Frank Sinatra, caricature by Al Hirschfeld

When [Sinatra] went to the gents’ room, the girls said that it was too chilly to go that night. They preferred driving in the morning, but then we said, ‘Who’s going to tell him?’ Knowing his temper, Pat out and out refused to say anything, and Natalie didn’t even want to be in the same room when he was told. Finally, R.J. [Robert Wagner] insisted that I be the one to do it, so when Frank got back to the table, I explained as gracefully as I could that we’d prefer joining him in the morning.

Well, he went absolutely nuts. ‘If that’s the way you want it, fine,’ he said, slamming his drink on the floor and storming out of the restaurant.

I rang him up the next morning and his valet…answered and whispered hello. He said that Frank was still asleep because he hadn’t gotten to bed until five a.m. Then he said, ‘Oh, Mr. Lawford. What happened last night? I better tell you that he’s pissed. Really pissed off. He went to your closet and took out all the clothes that you and your wife keep here and ripped them into shreds and then threw them into the swimming pool.’ That gives you an idea of Frank’s temper….” (2)

Evidently, Frank first tried to make a bonfire of the Lawford’s clothes.  But the fire wouldn’t get going, so, frustrated,  he tossed everything in the pool. (1)

Peter was distraught at the loss of his favorite aged blue jeans. Pat consoled him. “We’ll age another pair. Just make sure you don’t take them down to Frank’s.” (1)

 

(1) Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1994.

(2) Kelley, Kitty. His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

Readers, for more on Frank Sinatra on Lisa’s History Room, check out: “Sinatra: From Donkey to Elephant”

Readers, for more on Natalie Wood on Lisa’s History room, click here

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