A shadow of death hangs over the 1961 film, The Misfits. Within five years of its release, the three lead actors were gone. Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift were all giants in Hollywood—but as famous as they all were, this particular production marked the beginning of the end.
Her Last Film
In the blistering heat of the northern Nevada desert, Marilyn Monroe’s life went up in flames. Throughout filming, her marriage to the writer of the film, Arthur Miller, teetered on the brink of failure. She disagreed with parts of his script, feeling utterly betrayed by the way her beloved husband had written her character. Still, that wasn’t the worst part.
With her depression spiraling out of control, the actress drank deeply after work and popped prescription pills to cope. Soon, Monroe’s professionalism flew right out the window. Monroe consistently arrived on set an hour late, but some days she never showed face at all. In fact, on one occasion, her fragile mental state shut down production for two weeks.
In August 1960, it all became too much for Monroe and she went to stay in a hospital for two weeks to detox and relax. When she returned, many of her close-ups were shot in soft focus, no doubt masking her exhaustion. Even the director John Huston worried about the troubled actress.
He later confessed that while working with Monroe he felt “absolutely certain that she was doomed”.
Marilyn Monroe’s working relationship with Clark Gable was a little peculiar. When she was a young girl living in foster homes, she’d slept with the actor’s picture beneath her pillow. Weirder still? She’d even fantasized that Gable was her father, whom she’d never met. She never believed that she’d actually get a chance to work with him in the future.
Monroe was absolutely petrified at the thought of acting alongside Gable—but her fear only led her to a terrible decision. Too anxious to sleep on the night before their first scene together, she took an extra dose of Nembutal. This caused her to show up two hours late.
However, when she apologized to Gable, he simply said, “You’re not late, honey”. As filming wore on, he never complained about her increasing tardiness.
A Worrisome Decline
Clark Gable was not the picture of health on the set of The Misfits. In fact, before filming even started he started a crash diet so that he could lose 35 pounds as quickly as possible. But that wasn’t his only hurdle to overcome.
In order to get insurance for the film, Gable had to pass a physical test—but failed badly. Ordered to stay in bed for a week, he followed instructions and gave up smoking and drinking. It seemed to do the trick. However, when he finally passed the test, he celebrated his success with a generous bottle of booze and a hefty cigar.
Unfortunately, this carefree joke was no laughing matter.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Perhaps the most shocking tragedy of The Misfits was the loss of Clark Gable. On the final day of shooting, the actor said something prophetic. Referring to Monroe, he said, “Christ, I’m glad this picture’s finished. She damn near gave me a heart attack”.
Unfortunately, Gable’s words were right on the money. The very next day, he did suffer a heart attack, and 10 days later, he passed. Monroe took the news hard, blaming herself for the loss of the Hollywood heartthrob. Of course, by the time Gable starred in The Misfits, his health was already in dire straits.
The actor had been lighting up and drinking for most of his life, complaining of chest pains on multiple occasions. His decline became evident to audiences upon the film’s release. Gable’s gravelly voice startled them, leading viewers to wonder whether he’d had lung cancer. However, despite this, he was not the one with a doctor on call.
Marilyn Monroe had doctors at her beck and call, but then again, so did Montgomery Clift. Five years earlier, a horrific car accident had changed Clift’s life forever, and from then on, he struggled with addiction. He self-medicated with drink and medication to ease his pain, but it left him as an echo of the man he used to be.
In a 1961 interview, Monroe said that Clift was “the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am”.
Still, Clift managed to outlive both of his co-stars…but not by much. A year and a half after The Misfits hit theatres, Marilyn Monroe succumbed to a barbiturate overdose. It was only a matter of time before the grim reaper came for Clift as well.
His Final Words
Five years after starring alongside Monroe and Gable, Montgomery Clift’s traumatic past caught up with him. He was a sick man, but on his final day, his film The Misfits reared its head in a chilling way.
On a fateful night in July 1966, Clift’s personal secretary asked him if he wanted to watch The Misfits, which just happened to be on television. The actor responded, “Absolutely not!” Apparently, these were his last words. The very next morning, his private nurse found him deceased in his room.
His numerous health problems had contributed to his heart disease, resulting in a final heart attack.
A Movie To Remember
The Misfits was messy in more ways than one. From its tormented actors to the divisive script, it foreshadowed even greater tragedies to come. Although he was the first to go, Clark Gable considered his performance one of his best, telling the producer Frank Taylor, “I now have two things to be proud of in my career: Gone with the Wind and this”.
Unsurprisingly, Monroe did not share the same sentiments, and apparently despised the film, her character, and her performance—and well, audiences seemed to agree with her.
The Misfits tanked at the box office, earning itself the reputation of “the box office disaster” of its day. Luckily, as time passed, its disastrous maiden voyage found calm waters. No matter its infamous history, today, the film is considered a cult classic.