The filming took place in the blazing Nevada desert where temperatures regularly topped 100. The director was often hung over and had to borrow money from the producers to cover his gambling losses. The leading lady, just months away from her own mysterious death, was strung out on pills and booze, and was in the midst of a breakup with her husband, who just happened to be the film’s writer. Another star was dealing with his own addictions and couldn’t remember his lines, and the leading man – a Hollywood icon – would suffer a heart attack two days after filming concluded and be dead within a week.
The Misfits is a depressing tale about a divorcee, played by Marilyn Monroe, who becomes romantically involved with Clark Gable, who plays an aging cowboy. Gable’s character rounds up wild horses for a living to sell to a dog food company. Montgomery Clift costars as a rodeo rider. The film was directed by John Huston, and written by Arthur Miller, who was Monroe’s husband at the time.
With this list of principles, it would be tempting to assume that The Misfits is a Hollywood classic. While technically a good film, showcasing what is arguably Monroe’s finest screen performance, it’s a tough watch, especially with its very PETA-unfriendly subject matter. The film is only remembered today as the final screen appearance for Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, who would both be dead within months.
Despite all of their personal peccadilloes, Huston was still able to get solid performances out of all of the actors. But the real drama took place off screen.
This “cursed” production seems more a victim of when they cast their leads rather than of who they cast in the roles. Monroe’s life was unraveling in front of everyone’s eyes at the time. She was usually late to the set, when she decided to show up at all, and Huston once had to shut the production down to send her to a rehab hospital. Montgomery Clift, who never fully recovered from the trauma of an automobile accident in 1956, was in a serious decline. He was described by Monroe as, “The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.” The stress of dealing with Monroe’s unprofessionalism and being overtaxed by performing his own stunts was too much for Gable’s heart. He suffered a massive heart attack on November 6 and was dead only a few days later at the age of 59.
The film also featured the final screen appearance of 1930s Western star Rex Bell, who was the Lt. Governor of the state of Nevada at the time, as well as the husband of former “It” girl Clara Bow. He would also die a few months later – on July 4, 1962 – which is memorable to me personally since it just happens to be the day I was born.
This “war of attrition” claimed its final victim in 1966 when Montgomery Clift was asked by his personal secretary if he wanted to watch The Misfits on television that evening. “Absolutely not!” was his reply, which turned out to be the last words he ever spoke to anyone. He died of a heart attack later that night.