Cooking with the Stars — Montgomery Clift’s Crabmeat Rarebit
If you’ve read my Cooking with the Stars column in the past, you may know that I usually choose the actors and recipes that I review for a reason. Most of the time it’s because I want to honor a legendary star on his or her birthday or celebrate a particular time of year, but this time around I’ll be changing things up a bit. For June I’ll be celebrating a birthday that means more to me than all the rest, but it isn’t because of a classic film star.
June 19th marks the birthday of my biggest supporter and my best friend: my sister, Diana. She adores classic cinema nearly as much as I do, and the time that she spends giving me feedback and editing my posts makes much of what I do possible. For those reasons and many more, I’ve known for quite a while that I’d use this month to pay tribute to her, but at first, my idea was to write about one of the many stars who shares a birthday with her like Pier Angeli, Louis Jourdan, or Gena Rowlands. However, the more I thought about doing this, the more I realized that she isn’t as big of a fan of these stars as she is of some others. Above all else, I wanted to write about someone whose work makes her the happiest, so ultimately, I decided to honor my sister by examining the legacy and testing out a recipe of an actor who means the world to both of us: Montgomery Clift.
Edward Montgomery Clift was born on October 17, 1920, in Omaha, Nebraska to William Clift, the vice-president of the Omaha National Trust Company, and his wife, Ethel. Monty had two siblings, a twin sister named after their mother (though she went by Sunny) and an older brother named after their father. Clift’s mother, who was adopted, believed that she was descended from northern American aristocracy. She devoted a great deal of time, as well as the family’s money, to search for the truth about her heritage and raise her children in a life of luxury. Monty and his siblings spent their childhood traveling through Europe, becoming fluent in three languages and receiving the best private education that money could buy.
As the stock market crashed in 1929, however, so did the privileged life of the Clift family. They were forced to move to New York while William slowly but surely recuperated his losses, and by the time Monty reached young adulthood, the family could afford to send his brother to Harvard and his sister to Bryn Mawr. College life wasn’t as fit for Monty, who joined a summer stage production instead of continuing his education; this was successful enough to result in his debut on Broadway in 1935. In the following years, Clift developed a prolific career on the stage in roles written by true visionaries such as Tennessee Williams, Moss Hart, and Thornton Wilder, opposite talents like Alla Nazimova, Fredric March, and Tallulah Bankhead. In 1939, Clift participated in one of the United States’ very first television broadcasts as part of the cast of Noël Coward‘s Hay Fever and later followed up that success with an appearance in 1941’s There Shall Be No Night, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Clift suffered from dysentery the following year, which rendered him ineligible for service in World War II. This exception gave him the opportunity to travel to Hollywood, where he snagged his first role opposite John Wayne in the seminal western Red River (1948). Clift displayed a gifted and uninhibited persona that would change the way that actors would perform for generations to come from the first moment he appeared onscreen, popularizing a unique acting style that would eventually be known as the Method. Next, he made The Search (1948), one of my personal favorite films of Clift’s where he portrays a soldier who rescues a child who has survived a concentration camp. The feature was made after Red River (1948) but released first, which technically made Clift one of only six men to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his debut performance. He lost the Oscar to Laurence Olivier‘s portrayal of Hamlet (1948), but it was only the beginning of his incredible career in pictures. His next few characters were morally ambiguous, even teetering on the precipice of villainy in films such as The Heiress (1949) and one of his most critically acclaimed movies, A Place in the Sun (1951). He portrays George Eastman in the latter film, an opportunistic drifter who attempts to murder his pregnant girlfriend, played by Shelley Winters, in favor of an alluring heiress played by Clift’s dearest offscreen friend, Elizabeth Taylor. Monty was nominated once again for an Academy Award, and this time he was the fan favorite to finally win. Charlie Chaplin called A Place in the Sun (1951) “the greatest movie made about America”, and Clift even received a vote from his rival Marlon Brando, but it was Marlon who would ultimately take home the gold for his iconic role in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).
Montgomery Clift kept himself busy throughout 1953 with three highly successful pictures: Alfred Hitchcock‘s I Confess (1953), Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953), and what’s perhaps known as his masterwork, From Here to Eternity (1953). While most people involved with the project believed that Clift was wrong for the latter part of Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a soldier who faces prejudice from his superiors after refusing to participate in their regiment’s boxing team, his performance would earn him yet another Oscar nomination. Monty took a break from acting after that, which led to a grand build-up for Raintree County (1957), his first Technicolor film and his second on-screen pairing with Elizabeth Taylor. However, production came to a halt on the evening of May 12, 1956, as Clift was involved in a near-deadly car accident on his way home from a dinner party hosted by Taylor after falling asleep at the wheel of his car and crashing into a telephone pole. Close friend and fellow actor Kevin McCarthy witnessed the accident and drove back to call Taylor, her husband Michael Wilding, and Rock Hudson for help. As soon as they arrived on the scene, Taylor entered the car and crawled into the front seat, removing two of Clift’s front teeth from his throat and saving him from choking. Hudson then pulled him out of the car and the group shielded him from the press until an ambulance arrived.
After over two months of recovery and plastic surgery, Monty returned to finish Raintree County (1957), but he had become heavily dependent on alcohol and painkillers. Clift continued to work in Hollywood after his accident, still excelling as an actor despite his off-screen complications in films like The Young Lions (1958), which he considered his favorite performance. He stated, “Noah, from The Young Lions (1958), was the best performance of my life. I couldn’t have given more of myself. I’ll never be able to do it again. Never.” Some of his other later successes include Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), The Misfits (1961), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1962), for which Clift received his final Academy Award nomination. His final film was The Defector (1966), a Cold War thriller which gave Monty some favorable reviews. Despite his poor health due to substance abuse combined with his previous conditions, Elizabeth Taylor specifically chose him to star opposite her in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). However, on July 23, 1966, before filming began, Montgomery Clift passed away from cardiac arrest in his home at the age of forty-five. His funeral lasted only fifteen minutes and was attended by a hundred and fifty guests, including the likes of Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall. He was laid to rest by his mother in Friends Quaker Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
Montgomery Clift’s Crabmeat Rarebit
From what I can tell, this recipe is dated around 1949 to 1950, shortly after the release of The Heiress (1949) as it gives the film a mention: “The Heiress (1949) has just about made a major star out of Monty, but he still prefers to live in his walk-up Manhattan flat and do all of his own cooking in a small, room-for-one kitchen. His Italian coffee is out of this world, but he calls Crabmeat Rarebit his favorite recipe because ‘I like seafood, and this is an unusual seafood dish.'”
- 2 – cups top milk or cream
- 3 – tablespoons flour
- 3 – tablespoons butter
- ½ – teaspoon salt
- ¼ – teaspoon pepper
- 1½ – cups crabmeat, fresh or canned
- 1 – tablespoon celery, diced fine
- Buttered toast (I used four slices total)
- 3 – tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
- Parsley, to taste
- Combine top milk or cream, flour, butter, and seasoning in a saucepan. Cook until thick, stirring frequently.
- Stir in cooked crabmeat and celery and continue cooking until mixture is piping hot.
- Pour over toast slices, top with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and parsley.
This recipe doesn’t specify what kind of toast to use, but I would definitely recommend using a type of bread with some weight to it. Instead of picking a regular loaf of sliced white bread off of the grocery store shelf as I would normally do when making toast, I headed over to the bakery and grabbed some ciabatta rolls for this recipe, which I cut in half and toasted. I’m so glad that I made that call because this dish ended up being absolute heaven!
The sauce is really luscious and thick and the bread that I chose didn’t get soggy like a normal white bread would or disintegrate under the weight of the crabmeat. The celery and parsley add that bit of freshness that this dish really needs and keeps it from being too rich, and altogether I think it’s perfectly balanced. Part of the reason why I adore writing these articles is that I love trying food that’s out of my comfort zone. I’ve probably eaten crab less than five times in my whole life and I’ve never had rarebit. I didn’t think that hot crabmeat would be something that I would enjoy, but Montgomery’s recipe really surprised me. It was out of this world, and it’s moments like those that make this column worth every bit of effort.
The combination of toast with the buttery sauce and the soft texture of the crab actually made me think of breakfast and brunch, and as strange as that might seem when you look at the ingredients, I think this is really a perfect meal for any time of day. I would definitely give this recipe four out of five Vincents, because as incredible as the taste of Clift’s rarebit is, it’s really not something that I can see appealing to the masses. I have enough crab left over to make this again and I probably will, but crab is a pretty pricey ingredient that I can’t see myself eating often, and I wouldn’t say that it’s worth buying just to make this casual dish on any sort of regular basis. At the end of the day, I would absolutely recommend trying this outstanding meal, but you probably won’t want to make it and eat it over and over again.
Cooking with the Stars Recipe Rating – 4 out of 5 Vincents:
–Samantha Ellis for Classic Movie Hub
Samantha resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the author of Musings of a Classic Film Addict, a blog that sheds light on Hollywood films and filmmakers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her favorite column that she pens for her blog is Cooking with the Stars, for which she tests and reviews the personal recipes of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Samantha also lends her voice and classic film knowledge as cohost of the Ticklish Business podcast alongside Kristen Lopez and Drea Clark, and proudly serves as President of TCM Backlot’s Philadelphia Chapter. You can catch up with her work by following her @classicfilmgeek on Twitter.