skip navigation
share:
Remind Me

Behind the Camera on THE MISFITS

The Misfits shot on location in Nevada. The bar at which the cowboys hung out was the Styx in Reno, where Miller had met the cowboys who inspired the original story. The rodeo scenes were shot in nearby Dayton, a ghost town, and the horse-roping scenes were shot on a dry lake bed in the desert.

The first problem to affect the film was a postponement of the start date from March to July because Marilyn Monroe's earlier film, Let's Make Love (1960), had been delayed by a Screen Actor's Guild strike. This meant the film would be shot in Arizona during the height of summer heat.

Montgomery Clift arrived on location before filming was to begin so he could research his role. While working a rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho, he was bruised on the bridge of his nose. It was exactly the type of injury his character was supposed to have in the film.

Because of Monroe's reputation for lateness, director John Huston had her daily call set for 10 a.m. instead of the customary 9 a.m. but often she was even later.

Contributing to Monroe's lateness was Miller's habit of handing her often complicated re-writes the night or morning before a scene was to be shot. The changes threw her into a panic, making it even harder for the actress to sleep.

Monroe wasn't the only production member who had trouble showing up on time. Huston was often late after spending all night gambling. Clark Gable took it all in stride. He was ready when called and simply waited with his script open to the page being shot that day. When someone asked if the lateness upset him, he said, "No, it doesn't drive me mad. Of course it would be better if we did start. But I'm being paid for it, very handsomely."

To his personal friends, Gable confessed that the production delays bothered him a great deal. "It's stealing," he told screenwriter John Lee Mahin. "It's stealing the banks money and United Artists' money."

Monroe was terrified at the thought of working with Clark Gable. As a child growing up in foster homes and with her single mother, she had slept with Gable's picture under her pillow and fantasized that he was her father. The night before their first scene together, she couldn't sleep without a large dose of Nembutal. As a result, she was two hours late getting to the set. When she apologized to Gable, he simply said, "You're not late, honey," and led her aside to talk. Throughout the filming, he treated her with the same courtesy.

Gable was equally solicitous of Montgomery Clift and so impressed with his talents that he showed up to watch him work even when he himself wasn't called for the day.

The one cast member Gable never warmed to was Eli Wallach. They were so uncomfortable with each other that at first they had trouble remembering lines in their scenes together. Eventually, they developed a grudging respect, though each kidded the other relentlessly. Wallach would jokingly ask, "Hey, King, can you lower my taxes?", while Gable once quipped that they were having boiled ham for lunch in Wallach's honor.

When Gable learned that the film's publicist was ready to quit because Monroe kept skipping or showing up late for on-set interviews, he offered to meet with the press while the publicist got her to the interviews. He not only kept the press happy, but his presence made it easier for Monroe to face the reporters.

While the other actors in The Misfits competed to win director John Huston's approval, Gable saw him more as a rival. Both were known for their masculine escapades -- drinking, hunting, womanizing. The older Gable, settled into his fifth marriage, was at times baffled and annoyed at the director's carousing during filming, particularly his habit of losing large sums of money at the gambling tables and bragging about it.

During filming, Monroe's marriage to Arthur Miller fell apart, partly because of disagreements over the script and her feelings of betrayal over how he had written her character. She also felt he had turned Huston against her, leading him to treat her like an idiot. Within a few weeks of the production's start, they were staying in separate suites. They had stopped speaking by August, with Monroe's acting coach, Paula Strasberg, serving as intercessor. In addition, Miller had begun seeing photographer Inge Morath, who was documenting the production and would become his third wife.

Monroe's sole romantic comfort during the first weeks of filming was her affair with Yves Montand, her co-star in Let's Make Love. Whenever she had a weekend break in filming, she would fly to Los Angeles to see her doctors and Montand. When Hedda Hopper printed a column in which he stated that the romance was just his way of guaranteeing the success of their love scenes in the film, Monroe grew more upset. She knew he was just trying to keep the affair from hurting his wife, actress Simone Signoret, but the words still hurt.

As shooting progressed, Monroe became increasingly dependent upon pills. She had prescriptions flown in every other day by her Los Angeles doctors and received additional medication from local doctors. She was taking three times the normal dosage of the sleeping aid Nembutal. The pills left her disoriented, unsteady on her feet and incoherent. They also led to wild mood swings and rashes.

Like Monroe, Clift had a problem with medication as well, having become dependent upon painkillers and other pills after his automobile accident. Many on the film were concerned about his ability to perform the role, particularly since the first scene he was scheduled to shoot was a long telephone scene in which he calls his mother on a pay phone as the other characters --played by Monroe, Gable, Wallach and Thelma Ritter -- watch in the background. Clift described the shot as an "audition in front of the gods and goddesses of the performing arts," but he pulled it off in one take. That was the moment that won Gable over to his side.

The only problem Gable had with Clift occurred while filming a scene driving to the rodeo. In his excitement, Clift hammered on Gable's back, and the King asked him not to do it again, as he had back problems. Even when Gable showed Clift the black and blue marks his blows were causing, it didn't seem to matter. The next time Clift hit him on the back, Gable yelled, "I'm going to hang one on you, you little bastard, if you do that again!" Clift burst into tears.

Huston insisted on using real wild horses for the rodeo scene. The horse Clift had to ride was too wild for the actor, but Huston insisted that he sit on it in the bullpen chute for a close-up. When the horse lost control it threw Clift against the side of the chute, ripping his shirt. That was the take Huston used in the film.

One of the most difficult scenes in The Misfits was a five minute exchange between Monroe and Clift that Huston wanted to shoot in one long take - the longest single take in his entire career. Nobody believed the two actors, notorious for their problems remembering lines, could pull it off. Monroe requested that all strangers be removed from the set beforehand and asked that nobody stand in her line of sight. Each actor was so concerned for the other, however, that they pulled it off in just six tries, giving Huston two perfect takes.

One of Gable's few on-the-set blow-ups occurred during the filming of the horse-roping scenes. When Huston insisted on another take after Gable's stunt double had been injured, the actor walked off the set in disgust.

Gable could have refused to do any of the stunts for The Misfits, but insisted on doing all but the most dangerous shots. He even allowed himself to be dragged behind a truck for 400 feet over the desert floor and chased the truck for repeated takes.

The horse-roping scenes were equally hard for Clift. When the crew forgot to have him put on gloves during the first takes, he had to hold the ropes with his bare hands for the rest of the shoot, leaving his hands raw and bloody.

The Misfits production was shut down in late August when the film exceeded its budget. It took two weeks of meetings with United Artists executives and Los Angeles and New York to get things back on track. Part of the problem was that Huston had exceeded his gambling allowance, so to cover his tracks, he convinced Monroe's doctors to have her hospitalized for her drug problems, even though the production had contributed to them. At least the film's insurance company paid for her treatment.

Location shooting for The Misfits ended in October 1960, after which the crew moved to the Paramount Studios for re-takes.

During the Los Angeles filming, director Henry Hathaway, who had worked with Monroe on Niagara (1953), saw her sobbing outside one of the sound stages. Upset at how the film was turning out, she said, "I just couldn't face having to do another scene with Marilyn Monroe."

On the last day of filming, Miller arrived with five pages of re-writes for an early scene. Gable refused to approve the changes and insisted on a screening of the film the next morning. After The Misfits was finished, he thanked producer Frank Taylor, "I now have two things to be proud of in my career: Gone with the Wind [1939] and this." But he still refused to shoot the new scene.

The Misfits completed filming on November 4, 1960, with a brief re-take of the film's final scene, with Gable and Monroe. The next day, Gable had a heart attack. Eleven days later, he died. Although many felt the physical strain of his role in The Misfits was responsible, Gable's heavy smoking, drinking and grief over the recent death of his friend Ward Bond probably contributed to his early passing as well.

by Frank Miller

Sources:
Donald Spotto, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography
Lee Server, Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care
Lyn Tournabene, Long Live the King: A Biography of Clark Gable

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY