John Derek


Actor
John Derek

About

Also Known As
Derek Delevan Harris, Dare Harris
Birth Place
Hollywood, California, USA
Born
August 12, 1926
Died
May 22, 1998
Cause of Death
Heart Failure

Biography

A minor young lead in Hollywood films of the late 1940s and early 1950s, John Derek achieved greater fame as a photographer and director of cheesecake and softcore films featuring his famous wives, who included actresses Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek. His darkly handsome features earned him a contract with Columbia, but after substantial roles in "Knock On Any Door" (1948) and...

Photos & Videos

Knock on Any Door - Publicity Stills
Knock on Any Door - Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Family & Companions

Pati Behrs
Wife
Actor. French; married in 1948; divorced.
Ursula Andress
Wife
Actor. Married in 1957; divorced in 1966; starred with Derek in his first feature as a director "Once Before I Die" (1965).
Linda Evans
Wife
Actor. Separated in 1973; divorced in 1975.
Bo Derek
Wife
Actor. Born on November 20, 1956; met while Derek was filming "Once Upon a Time" (1973) in Greece; married in 1974; appeared in several films he directed; survived him.

Biography

A minor young lead in Hollywood films of the late 1940s and early 1950s, John Derek achieved greater fame as a photographer and director of cheesecake and softcore films featuring his famous wives, who included actresses Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek. His darkly handsome features earned him a contract with Columbia, but after substantial roles in "Knock On Any Door" (1948) and "All the King's Men" (1950), he faded into costume adventures. He shifted to still photography and direction in the late 1960s, helming salacious efforts with Andress and Evans before striking pay dirt with the younger, less experienced Derek. He directed her in a string of softcore films, including "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1981) and "Bolero" (1984), most of which were hits, despite being savaged by critics. After his death in 1998, Derek's penchant for exploiting the physical charms of his wives overshadowed his photography and early performances.

The son of silent movie actor-turned-director Lawson Harris, and his wife, bit player Dolores Johnson, he was born Derek Delevan Harris in Hollywood on Aug. 12, 1926. A handsome, athletic young man, he was discovered by David O. Selznick, who put him under contract at 20th Century Fox while he was still a teen. Billed as Dare Harris, he made his screen debut as an extra in the wartime weepie, "Since You Went Away" (1944), then vaulted to juvenile support as Shirley Temple's soldier boyfriend in "I'll Be Seeing You." Military service in World War II interrupted his film career, and after his return to civilian life, he signed with Columbia Pictures in 1948. Derek's first film for the studio was "Knock on Any Door" (1948), a crime thriller starring and produced by Humphrey Bogart and directed by Nicholas Ray. He made an immediate impression with audiences and critics as a poor street youth facing the death sentence for the murder of a police officer. His line of dialogue from the film - "Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse" - found an enduring place in the pop culture lexicon.

The popularity of the film led to Derek being cast as corrupt politico Broderick Crawford's adopted son in Robert Rossen's "All the King's Men" (1950). Derek's Tom Stark suffered mightily for his father's ambitions; he nearly destroyed his father's reputation after accidentally killing a woman in a drunken car accident, and then became paralyzed in a football game to help promote his family's fading wholesomeness. Though the film won three Academy Awards, it essentially served as the apex of Derek's Hollywood career. Despite such promise, Columbia made the ill-informed decision to mold the hunky actor into a swashbuckler in costume epics like "Rogues of Sherwood Forest" (1950) and "Mask of the Avenger" (1951).

Derek soon became disillusioned with the direction of his career, so he left Columbia in 1953 to freelance for various studios. He became a staple of B-grade Westerns and war films, none of which gave him much to do. A rare exception was Phil Karlson's "Scandal Sheet" (1952), a terrifically gritty drama penned by Samuel Fuller about a caddish reporter (Derek) who discovers that his editor (Broderick Crawford) is really a killer. His final efforts of note were that of Joshua, dashing brother to Moses (Charlton Heston) in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" (1956) and Paul Newman's Arab friend, Taha, who died for his association with the Israeli settlers in "Exodus" (1960). Beyond that, there were roles on television, including a brief stint as a series regular on "Frontier Circus" (CBS, 1961-62), an offbeat mix of big top stunts and Western thrills, with Derek as the co-owner of a traveling carnival with Chill Wills. The show would be his last effort for a producer other than himself.

By the mid-1960s, Derek's interest had shifted behind the camera; first as a still photographer and later as a feature producer. His first effort in this regard, a racy potboiler called "Nightmare in the Sun" (1965), starred his second wife, Swiss-German actress Ursula Andress, as a femme fatale who plots with Derek's hitchhiker to murder her elderly husband (Arthur O'Connell). Co-starring such disparate talents as Robert Duvall, Aldo Ray and Sammy Davis, Jr. and co-directed by character actor Marc Lawrence, the film was supposed to feature Andress in a nude scene, but reportedly, Derek balked at the last minute. However, Derek shot a layout with Andress for an issue of Playboy the same year of the film's release, a tradition he would repeat with each successive, blonde bombshell spouse.

Derek made his debut as a solo director with "Once Before I Die" (1966), a ham-fisted war drama about a young soldier, played by ersatz pop star Rod Lauren, who attempts to lose his virginity with the fiancée (Andress) of a superior officer (Derek). It was met with limited interest, and Derek's marriage to Andress ended soon after. In 1968, he met and married actress Linda Evans, then a star of the popular TV Western "The Big Valley" (ABC, 1965-69), who became the star of his fourth film as director, "Childish Things" (1969), a bizarre parable about an alcoholic vet (Don Murray, who also wrote the script) who experiences a religious conversion after serving as a debt collector for the Mob. A flop upon its release, the film was reissued several times, once under the salacious title "Tale of the Cock" to generate interest from the grindhouse crowd. In 1971, Derek photographed Evans for Playboy.

In 1972, Derek met and fell in love with Mary Catherine Collins, a 16-year-old actress from California who was top-billed in his next film, a coming-of-age film called "Fantasies." So smitten with this younger version of Evans was Derek, he divorced his wife and relocated to Germany, where he married Collins - redubbed Bo Derek - on her 18th birthday to avoid charges of statutory rape. Derek became his new wife's manager, guiding her through a variety of ornamental roles in films like "Orca" (1979) before overseeing her transition to pop culture icon/lust object in Blake Edwards' comedy classic, "10" (1979). He also provided Edwards with several adult films stars for the film's comic orgy sequence, including Annette Haven, whom he directed in a pornographic film, "Love You" (1980). The following year, "Fantasies" saw an official release to capitalize on Bo Derek's skyrocketing popularity as the corn-rowed beach goddess of "10."

Never one to waste an opportunity to cash in on his wives, Derek returned to directing with "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1981), a lushly photographed but abysmally acted and written adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure, with wife Bo as a frequently unclad Jane and a seemingly unhinged Richard Harris as her explorer father. Met with near-universal derision, Bo Derek's physical charms helped to make the picture a success, but the same could not be said for their follow-up, "Bolero" (1984). An expensive historical piece with Bo as a virginal young woman pursuing carnal pleasure across the globe, it was carpet-bombed by critics, and audiences reacted to its countless softcore couplings with laughter rather than lust. Their final screen collaboration, "Ghosts Can't Do It" (1990), was a mind-bending comedy with Bo as a young widow whose deceased husband (Anthony Quinn) attempted to direct her to happiness. It was barely released to theaters and effectively ended Derek's career in feature filmmaking and Bo's streak as an in-demand sex object.

In subsequent years, Derek led a reclusive life on his ranch in central California, emerging only occasionally to oversee a photo shoot of Bo for Playboy. Despite appearing to trade-up younger versions of each consecutive wife, Derek remained committed to Bo for over 20 years. In 1995, he co-directed two suggestive music videos for country artist Shania Twain; one of the promo pieces for the 1995 single "Any Man of Mine" appeared to undergo some birthing pains, as its release was pushed back several times before its April release. On May 22, 1998, Derek succumbed to cardiovascular disease in Santa Maria, CA at the age of 71.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Ghosts Can't Do It (1990)
Director
Bolero (1984)
Director
Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)
Director
Fantasies (1973)
Director
Childish Things (1969)
Director
A Boy ... A Girl (1969)
Director
Once Before I Die (1966)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Once Before I Die (1966)
Major Bailey
Nightmare in the Sun (1964)
The Hitchhiker
Exodus (1960)
Taha
I Battellieri del Volga (1959)
High Hell (1958)
Craig [Rhodes]
Omar Khayyam (1957)
Prince Malik
Fury at Showdown (1957)
Brock Mitchell
The Leather Saint (1956)
Father Gil Allen, also known as "Kid Sunday"
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Joshua
An Annapolis Story (1955)
Tony [Scott]
Prince of Players (1955)
John Wilkes Booth
Run for Cover (1955)
Davey Bishop
Sea of Lost Ships (1954)
Grad Matthews
The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954)
Hajji Baba
The Outcast (1954)
Jet Cosgrave
Mission over Korea (1953)
Lt. Pete Barker
Ambush at Tomahawk Gap (1953)
Kid
Prince of Pirates (1953)
Prince Roland
The Last Posse (1953)
Jed Clayton
Thunderbirds (1952)
Gil Hackett
Scandal Sheet (1952)
Steve McCleary
Mask of the Avenger (1951)
Captain Renato Dimorna
The Family Secret (1951)
David Clark
Saturday's Hero (1951)
Steve Novak
Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)
Robin, Earl of Huntington
All the King's Men (1950)
Tom Stark
Knock on Any Door (1949)
Nick Romano
A Double Life (1948)
Police stenographer
Since You Went Away (1944)
I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
Lt. Bruce

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Ghosts Can't Do It (1990)
Cinematographer
Bolero (1984)
Cinematographer
Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)
Director Of Photography
Fantasies (1973)
Cinematographer
A Boy ... A Girl (1969)
Director of Photography
Childish Things (1969)
Director of Photography

Writer (Feature Film)

Ghosts Can't Do It (1990)
Screenwriter
Bolero (1984)
Screenplay
Fantasies (1973)
Screenwriter
A Boy ... A Girl (1969)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

Ghosts Can't Do It (1990)
Producer
Once Before I Die (1966)
Producer
Nightmare in the Sun (1964)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

A Boy ... A Girl (1969)
Lyrics

Costume-Wardrobe (Feature Film)

A Boy ... A Girl (1969)
Costume Design

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Ghosts Can't Do It (1990)
Dp/Cinematographer
Bolero (1984)
Other
Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)
Dp/Cinematographer

Cast (Special)

What Is This Thing Called Love? (1993)

Life Events

1944

First screen appearance (as extra), "Since You Went Away"

1945

Screen acting debut in "I'll Be Seeing You"

1949

First major acting role in "Knock on Any Door"

1956

Appeared in "The Ten Commandments"

1960

Co-starred in "Exodux"

1965

First film as producer, "Nightmare in the Sun"

1965

Feature directing debut, "Once Before I Die"; also acted and produced

1966

First film as director of photography and director "Childish Things/Tale of the Cock" (released in 1969, re-released in 1972 as "Confessions of Tom Harris")

1969

Screenwriting debut, "A Boy... A Girl"; also directed and served as cinematographer

1973

First directed Bo Derek, "Fantasies"

1984

Directed wife in "Bolero"

1990

Final film, "Ghosts Can't Do It"

Photo Collections

Knock on Any Door - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of stills taken to publicize Columbia Pictures' Knock on Any Door (1949), starring Humphrey Bogart and John Derek. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Knock on Any Door - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Columbia Pictures' Knock on Any Door (1949), starring John Derek and directed by Nicholas Ray.

Videos

Movie Clip

Knock On Any Door (1949) - Open, Nick Romano Director Nicholas Ray's 1949 version of a gritty crime scene, opening Knock On Any Door, starring Humphrey Bogart and John Derek, and the first venture by Bogart's "Santana Pictures."
Knock On Any Door (1949) - Mea Culpa Inside a flashback, lawyer Morton (Humphrey Bogart) meets the mother (Argentina Brunetti) of Nick Romano (John Derek) at a key moment, in Nicholas Ray's Knock On Any Door, 1949.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Open, Blood All Over! Cracking opening to director Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952, in which unscrupulous reporter McCleary (John Derek) gets gory details from a witness who thinks he's a cop.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Thinking People Like It Too At their newspaper's "Lonely Hearts Ball," writer Julie (Donna Reed) sees boyfriend Steve (John Derek), photographer Biddle (Henry Morgan) and editor Chapman (Broderick Crawford) in Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Stop The Presses! Audience knows but reporter McCleary (John Derek) doesn't, that editor Chapman (Broderick Crawford) is the killer in the murder story he's pitching in Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952, from a Samuel Fuller novel.
Exodus (1960) - It's Good To Have Parties From the arrival of the first Jewish refugee kids from Cyprus, we meet Zionist leader Barak Ben Canaan (Lee J. Cobb, father of the hero, Paul Newman), at his kibbutz in Palestine, also John Derek as friendly Arab neighbor Taha, in Otto Preminger’s film from Leon Uris’ novel, Exodus, 1960.
Mask Of The Avenger (1951) - It Will Go No Further Anthony Quinn, military governor in a 19th century Italian state, honest so far as we know, reveals himself, with Count Dimorna (Wilton Graff), then with aide Colardi (Arnold Moss) before the count's son, leading man John Derek, is introduced, in Columbia's Mask Of The Avenger, 1951.
Mask Of The Avenger (1951) - I'm A Traitor's Son Italy, 1851, loyal Maria (Jody Lawrance) visits the bent governor (Anthony Quinn), who is gently holding shrewd young captain Renato (John Derek), whose nobleman father he framed and killed, and who is faking his own injury, in Columbia's quasi-historical costumer Mask Of The Avenger, 1951.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Chocolate Syrup Newsroom antics as feature writer Julie (Donna Reed) observes editor Chapman (Broderick Crawford), who gets schmoozed by her hard-news reporter boyfriend McCleary (John Derek) in Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952.
All The King's Men (1950) - Afraid Of The Truth Big city reporter Jack (John Ireland) gets his first look at backwoods populist candidate Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), getting muzzled by local authorities, young John Derek as his son, early in Robert Rossen's All The King's Men, 1950.

Trailer

Family

Lawson Harris
Father
Screenwriter, director.
Dolores Johnson
Mother
Actor.
Russell Andre Derek
Son
Born in April 1950; mother, Pati Behrs; survived him.
Sean Catherine Derek
Daughter
Born in October 1953; mother, Pati Behrs; survived him.

Companions

Pati Behrs
Wife
Actor. French; married in 1948; divorced.
Ursula Andress
Wife
Actor. Married in 1957; divorced in 1966; starred with Derek in his first feature as a director "Once Before I Die" (1965).
Linda Evans
Wife
Actor. Separated in 1973; divorced in 1975.
Bo Derek
Wife
Actor. Born on November 20, 1956; met while Derek was filming "Once Upon a Time" (1973) in Greece; married in 1974; appeared in several films he directed; survived him.

Bibliography