The Most Beautiful Man in Film
BY Jeremy Kinser
July 13 2010 12:00 AM ET
A recent article in Newsweek suggests audiences can’t accept gay actors as romantic leading men when we know the truth about their real-life sexuality and uses Rock Hudson as an example. How do you think this applies to Clift, who had such intense chemistry on-screen with Elizabeth Taylor and other actresses?
When audiences think they know something about an actor’s personal sexuality it becomes available as a touchstone to spectators watching a performance but is never mandatory. People judging a performance often appreciate it most the more it varies from what we think we know about the performer — casting against type, nice people playing psychos, beautiful actresses playing ugly. If we think of Clift as an actor, then his persuasiveness as a romantic lead opposite Taylor, Olivia de Havilland, or Jennifer Jones increases our appreciation of his skill as he seems to become inseparable from the role.
Another issue is history itself. As new generations are introduced to Clift and Hudson, they often react to the performers without knowing any biographical information about them. They are also less invested in “the truth” than those who experienced a change in their perception through revelations and the exposure of secrets. The freer sexuality of Brando or Dean, for instance, has not come to dominate their images.
How do you think Clift’s career would have progressed if he hadn’t been in the auto accident in 1956?
Although the accident had a major effect on him psychologically and physically as well as having an effect on audiences and their reading of his performances in relation to the accident, I believe his alcoholism would have continued and that his career would have been much the same. His drinking affected his work on the set of From Here to Eternity, which was shot in 1953, well before the accident. In the three-year break he took after that film his face began to show the puffiness and aging effects of alcohol abuse. When he returned to film for Raintree County in 1957, people would have been surprised by how he had aged if they hadn’t had the accident to blame it on.