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John Derek

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John Derek
Derek in 1949
Derek Delevan Harris

(1926-08-12)August 12, 1926
DiedMay 22, 1998(1998-05-22) (aged 71)
  • Actor
  • filmmaker
  • photographer
Years active1943–1990
  • (m. 1948; div. 1956)
  • (m. 1957; div. 1966)
  • (m. 1968; div. 1974)
  • (m. 1976)
Children2 including Sean Catherine Derek

John Derek (born Derek Delevan Harris; August 12, 1926 – May 22, 1998) was an American actor, filmmaker and photographer.[1] He appeared in such films as Knock on Any Door, All the King's Men (both 1949), Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), and The Ten Commandments (1956). He was also known for launching the career of his fourth wife, Bo Derek.

Early life


John Derek was born Derek Delevan Harris in Hollywood, California, on August 12, 1926. His parents were actor/director Lawson Harris and actress Dolores Johnson.[2]

Film career


His good looks were soon noticed, and he was groomed for a movie career by both his agent Henry Willson (who gave him the temporary stage name of Dare Harris) and David O. Selznick with small roles in the Selznick pictures Since You Went Away (1944) and I'll Be Seeing You (1944).[3]: 10 

He was drafted in 1944 into the U.S. Army and saw service in the Philippines during the last days of World War II.[4]

Columbia Pictures

John Derek by Phil Stern in 1955

After the war, Derek had a small role in A Double Life (1947) when he was approached by Humphrey Bogart, who renamed him John Derek and cast him as Nick "Pretty Boy" Romano, an unrepentant killer, in Knock on Any Door (1949), a socially conscious melodrama directed by Nicholas Ray.[5] Derek was recognized as a talented newcomer, "plainly an idol for the girls", as Bosley Crowther wrote in a review for The New York Times.[6] The Los Angeles Times called him "a handsome hot-eyed newcomer who makes the case for this product of the city's slums—'live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse'—all too fascinating for everybody's comfort."[7]

The film was made for Bogart's Santana company and released through Columbia Pictures, who signed Derek to a seven-year contract in April 1948.[8] Derek followed it with a supporting role as the son of Broderick Crawford in All the King's Men (1949), the Best Picture Oscar winner for its year.[9] In September 1950, he had his name formally changed to John Derek.[10]

Columbia promoted him to lead roles, as the son of the deceased Robin Hood in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950) with Alan Hale Sr.; the Los Angeles Times called him a "slim and beautiful youth".[11] He was meant to follow it with The Gainesville Circus,[12] but it was never made.

Instead, Columbia put him in another swashbuckler, Mask of the Avenger (1951), then gave him a good dramatic role in a prestige film, Saturday's Hero (1951), as a college football player.[13] The novel was bought specifically as a vehicle for Derek.[14] He was in a crime noir, The Family Secret (1951), then reunited with Crawford in Scandal Sheet (1952).

Derek was borrowed by Republic Pictures for a war film, Thunderbirds (1952). He went back to Columbia for Prince of Pirates (1953), a swashbuckler for Sam Katzman; two Westerns, Ambush at Tomahawk Gap (1953), with John Hodiak and The Last Posse (1953) with Crawford. He was back with Hodiak for Mission Over Korea (1953), a Korean War film, then was again borrowed by Republic for Sea of Lost Ships (1953). He left Columbia in July 1953.[15]

Freelance actor


Derek made another film for Republic, The Outcast (1954), a Western.[6] Walter Wanger used him for The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954) released by 20th Century Fox, a surprise hit.[16]

He had a showy role as John Wilkes Booth in Prince of Players (1955) at Fox, then was in the drama An Annapolis Story (1955) at Allied Artists.[17]



In March 1954, Derek signed a long-term contract with Paramount.[18] His first films for the studio were Run for Cover (1955), a Western with James Cagney and Nicholas Ray; and The Leather Saint (1956), a boxing film. He also appeared as Joshua in The Ten Commandments (1956). He wanted to make a film about Joaquin Murrieta but it was never made.[19]

Derek travelled to Italy to appear in Pirate of the Half Moon (1957). He made a Western, Fury at Showdown (1957), and a movie in Britain, The Flesh Is Weak (1957). He supported Cornel Wilde in Omar Khayyam (1957), and starred in High Hell (1958). In Europe he was in Prisoner of the Volga (1959) and he played an Arab in Exodus (1960). He was in a TV series, Frontier Circus.[20]



Derek disliked acting. He later said he "was never into it. If they'd given me the greatest role in the world it wouldn't have helped. I used to go to the directors of my films and say: 'I'm not an actor but I'll turn up on time and know my words.' In the 13 films I made I only ever did one take per scene. Directors never went for a second because they knew it'd be no different from the first. I never liked acting. Or my films. Maybe one, a cheap little Western called The Outcast. I liked that because I love horses. One of the troubles was I had a monotone voice which went even flatter when I tried to act. When I saw my first film Knock On Any Door in Italy I only liked it because my voice was dubbed by an Italian actor who had a lot of fire in his voice."[21]

Derek appeared with his second wife, Ursula Andress, in Nightmare in the Sun (1965), which he co-produced. He turned to directing with a war film, Once Before I Die (1966), also with Andress.

He eventually quit acting. "In this town people think you must be nuts to do something like that. They can't believe you just didn't enjoy it."[21]

He directed A Boy... a Girl (1969) with Dean Paul Martin, and Childish Things (1969) with his third wife, Linda Evans.

In 1973 he directed Bo Derek in Fantasies, which was not released until 1981. He made Love You (1979), a hardcore pornographic film which Bo produced. When the feature film 10 (1979) made Bo a star, Derek was able to find backing for Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), which received mostly negative reviews; Roger Ebert called it "completely ridiculous" but added that it had a "certain disarming charm."[22]

The Dereks intended to follow it with Eve and That Damned Apple; but when Universal delayed financing, they decided to make Bolero (1984) for Cannon, which was an unhappy experience for the Dereks.[23] John's last film as director was Ghosts Can't Do It (1990).[3]: 120 

An accomplished photographer, Derek photographed the last three of his four wives (at different times) for nude spreads in Playboy magazine.[3]: 94, 106, 183 

Derek directed the music videos for Shania Twain's "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" and "Any Man of Mine".[3]: 173 

Personal life

Derek and his first wife Pati

Derek married Turkish-born prima ballerina Pati Behrs Eristoff in 1948.[24] They had a son, Russell Andre (1950–1999), who became paralyzed from the chest down in a 1969 motorcycle accident,[25] and a daughter, Sean Catherine (born 1953), who later wrote a memoir titled Cast of Characters (1982) about her parents' dysfunctional relationship.[26][27] Derek abandoned his wife and family in late summer 1955 after meeting 19-year-old aspiring Swiss actress Ursula Andress,[27][28] who spoke almost no English when they met.[29][30] He and Behrs were divorced in 1956.[31]

In 1957, Derek married Andress in a quick Las Vegas ceremony.[32] Five years later, her role in the James Bond film Dr. No launched her career. Derek ejected Andress from his California home in 1964 over rumors that she had been seeing actor Ron Ely.[25] Andress returned to Europe, engaging in public affairs with costars John Richardson and Marcello Mastroianni before officially leaving Derek for Jean-Paul Belmondo in 1965.[25] The pair divorced in 1966.

In September 1965, Derek became involved with American actress Linda Evans, who at the time was starring in television's The Big Valley.[33] Several years into their relationship, Evans reduced her appearances on the show to spend more time with Derek, and financed his alimony and child support payments to Behrs, as he had quit acting to pursue photography and directing.[25] They eloped in Mexico in 1968, with his daughter Sean as a witness.[33]

John and Bo Derek with Chandran Rutnam

In 1973 Derek, Evans, and 16-year-old high school dropout Mary Cathleen Collins (who would later be known as Bo Derek) traveled to the Greek island of Mykonos to make the film And Once Upon a Time[27] (unreleased[29] until 1981, under the title Fantasies). During filming, Derek and Collins began an affair.[27] Evans returned to the United States and filed for divorce in 1974, but Derek and Collins stayed in Europe until she turned 18 in November of that year so that Derek could avoid statutory rape charges.[25][34]

Collins became known to the public as Bo Derek following their marriage on June 10, 1976, and achieved international fame in 1979 with her role in the Blake Edwards film 10. They remained together until John died in 1998.[5][35]

Derek suffered a heart attack in 1986, but completely recovered.[36]

Derek had one granddaughter, Alyce Derek (born 1969), from his son Russell's marriage to Lynette Berry. He became a great-grandfather in 1996.[citation needed]

Bo Derek wrote in her autobiography that "there was an ongoing contest between John Derek and George Hamilton as to who had the most [sun]tan!"[37]



John Derek died on May 22, 1998, of cardiovascular disease in Santa Maria, California at the age of 71.[38] His remains were cremated.[39]


John Derek rehearsing a scene with Debra Paget in The Ten Commandments (1956)

As actor



Short Subjects:

  • The Nest (1943) as Boy Friend
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Awards (1951) as Himself
  • Screen Snapshots: Meet Mr. Rhythm, Frankie Laine (1952) as Himself
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Mr. Movies (1952) as Himself
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Stars to Remember (1954) as Himself

As filmmaker

Year Film Director Writer Cinematographer Notes
1965 Nightmare in the Sun Uncredited No No Uncredited co-director with Marc Lawrence

Also co-producer

1966 Once Before I Die Yes No No Also producer
1969 A Boy... a Girl Yes Yes Yes
Childish Things Yes No Yes Co-directed with David Nelson and also camera operator
1979 Love You Yes No Yes Pornographic film;

Also uncredited camera operator

1981 Fantasies Yes Yes Yes Shot in 1973
Tarzan, the Ape Man Yes No Yes
1984 Bolero Yes Yes Yes
1989 Ghosts Can't Do It Yes Yes Yes Also editor and camera operator;

Final film




  1. ^ "John Derek." Archived September 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine The New York Times. Retrieved: August 12, 2011.
  2. ^ "Person Details for Derek Delevan Harris, California Birth Index, 1905–1995". FamilySearch.
  3. ^ a b c d Capua, Michelangelo (April 3, 2020). John Derek: Actor, Director, Photographer. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-7588-6.
  4. ^ JOHN DEREK, BIOGRAPHY Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 1, 2023.
  5. ^ a b "John Derek, 71, Actor Known As Wife's Svengali, Is Dead". The New York Times. May 24, 1998. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Maltin 1994, p. 224.
  7. ^ Scheuer, P.K. (March 9, 1949). "Bogart yields spotlight to 'find,' John Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165922225.
  8. ^ Brady, Thomas (April 2, 1948). "Wallis to Do Film of 'Maurice Guest". The New York Times. ProQuest 108402723.
  9. ^ Brady, Thomas (November 11, 1948). "Lynn, Scott Stars of New RKO Drama". The New York Times. ProQuest 108216849.
  10. ^ "John Derek Asks Court Approve Name Change". Los Angeles Times. September 15, 1950. ProQuest 166169609.
  11. ^ Scheuer, P.K. (July 14, 1950). "Robin Hood's Mantle Falls on John Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166101154.
  12. ^ Brady, Thomas (August 23, 1949). "Columbia to Film 'Big Top' Feature". The New York Times. ProQuest 105668552.
  13. ^ Daugherty, Frank (August 4, 1950). "John Derek and Donna Reed to star in football story". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 508255370.
  14. ^ Schallert, E (November 23, 1948). "Adler to-produce 'hero' with Derek starred; Ross to rival Lassie". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165902550.
  15. ^ "Actor John Derek Leaves Columbia". Los Angeles Times. July 8, 1953. ProQuest 166524189.
  16. ^ R.N. (October 21, 1954). "John Derek in title role of 'Hajji Baba' at Keith's". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 509064072.
  17. ^ R.N. (June 17, 1955). "John Derek and Diana Lynn Star in Color Production". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 509274278.
  18. ^ Hopper, H. (March 6, 1954). "Looking at Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. ProQuest 178659475.
  19. ^ Schallert, E. (August 5, 1955). "John Derek Planning Murrieta Role; Carey Develops British Deal". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166832130.
  20. ^ Tritten, L. (March 16, 1980). "The Flip Side of Bo Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 162675243.
  21. ^ a b Mann, R. (November 5, 1978). "Comeback for John Derek? 'Thanks But No Thanks'". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 158746457.
  22. ^ "Tarzan, The Ape Man". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  23. ^ Silverman, J. (August 26, 1984). "Movies". Chicago Tribune. ProQuest 176110629.
  24. ^ "Actor John Derek Weds Pati Behrs". Los Angeles Times. October 11, 1948. p. 2.
  25. ^ a b c d e Derek, Sean Catherine (1982). Cast of Characters. Tower & Leisure Sales Co. ISBN 0-8439-1126-3.
  26. ^ Mann, R. (December 6, 1979). "John Derek by Sean Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 162673215.
  27. ^ a b c d Lavin, Cheryl (October 29, 1982). "Derek's daughter details unhappy life with father". Ottawa Citizen.
  28. ^ "Why John Derek Dumped His Family". Inside (Vol. 2, Iss. 3). August 1956.
  29. ^ a b Sheff, David (February 11, 1980). "A Hollywood 10". People.
  30. ^ "Wife of John Derek Seeks Child Custody". Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1955. ProQuest 166851930.
  31. ^ "John Derek, Actor, Divorced". The New York Times. April 5, 1956. ProQuest 113503170.
  32. ^ "Actor John Derek to Wed Swiss Girl". Spokane Daily Chronicle. January 26, 1957.
  33. ^ a b Evans, Linda (2016). Recipes for Life: My Memories. Post Hill Press. ISBN 978-1-61868-693-0.
  34. ^ Video on YouTube
  35. ^ Silverman, J/ (November 18, 1979). "John Derek Created a '9' in His Own Image and Called Her Bo". Chicago Tribune. ProQuest 170048375.
  36. ^ "John Derek Has Heart Attack". Los Angeles Times. June 3, 1986. ProQuest 154770760.
  37. ^ Derek, Bo (with Mark Seal) (2002), Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned from Horses, ReganBooks HarperCollins, ISBN 0060394374, p.212
  38. ^ Donnelley 2005, p. 177.
  39. ^ Smith, Kyle (June 8, 1998). "Beau Derek". People. Retrieved June 14, 2018..


  • Donnelley, Paul. Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. London: Omnibus Press, 2005. ISBN 1-84449-430-6.
  • Maltin, Leonard. "John Derek". Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
  • Capua, Michelangelo. John Derek. Actor, Director, Photographer.Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2020.