John Derek

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

John Derek
Derek in 1949
Derek Delevan Harris

(1926-08-12)August 12, 1926
DiedMay 22, 1998(1998-05-22) (aged 71)
OccupationActor, director, photographer
Years active1943–1990
Pati Behrs
(m. 1948; div. 1955)

Ursula Andress
(m. 1957; div. 1966)

Linda Evans
(m. 1968; div. 1974)

Bo Derek (m. 1976)


Early life

Derek was born Derek Delevan Harris[2] in Hollywood, California, the son of actor/director Lawson Harris and actress Dolores Johnson.

Film career

His good looks were soon noticed, and he was being 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).

He was drafted in 1944 into the United States Army, and saw service in the Philippines during the last days of World War II.

Columbia Pictures

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.[3] Derek was recognized as a talented newcomer, "plainly an idol for the girls", as Bosley Crowther expressed it in a review for The New York Times.[4] 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."[5]

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.[6]

Derek followed that picture 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, starring Broderick Crawford.[7] In September 1950, the actor had his name formally changed to John Derek.[8]

Columbia promoted him to lead roles, as Robin Hood in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950) with Alan Hale; the Los Angeles Times called him a "slim and beautiful youth".[9] He was meant to follow it with The Gainesville Circus[10] but the film was never made.

Instead Columbia put him in another swashbuckler, Mask of the Avenger (1951), then they gave him a good dramatic role in a prestige film, Saturday's Hero (1951), as a college football player.[11] The novel had been bought specifically as a vehicle for Derek.[12] 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). In July 1953, Derek left Columbia.[13]

Freelance actor

Derek made another film for Republic, The Outcast (1954), a Western.[4] Walter Wanger used him for The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954) released by 20th Century Fox, a surprise hit.[14]

He had a showy role as John Wilkes Booth in Prince of Players (1955) at Fox then was in a drama An Annapolis Story (1955) at Allied Artists.[15]


In March 1954 Derek signed a long-term contract with Paramount.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]


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."[19]

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

Derek eventually quit acting. "In this town people think you must be nuts to do something like that," he said. "They can't believe you just didn't enjoy it."[19]

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 wasn't released until 1981. He made Love You (1979), a hardcore pornographic film which Bo produced. The film 10 (1979) made his wife Bo a star with the result that Derek was able to raise the finance for Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), which received mostly negative reviews. In his review for the film, Roger Ebert called it "completely ridiculous," but added that it had a "certain disarming charm."[20]

The couple 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.[21] His last film as director was Ghosts Can't Do It (1990).

An accomplished photographer, Derek photographed the last three of his four wives (at different times) for nude spreads in Playboy magazine.

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

Personal life

Derek married Turkish-born prima ballerina Pati Behrs Eristoff in 1948.[22]

They had a son, Russell Andre (1950–1999), who was paralyzed in a 1969 motorcycle accident,[23] and a daughter, Sean Catherine (born 1953), who later wrote a memoir titled Cast of Characters, published in 1982, about their dysfunctional relationship.[24][25] Derek walked out on his wife and family in August 1955 after meeting 19-year-old aspiring Swiss actress Ursula Andress,[25] who spoke almost no English when they met.[26][27] He and Behrs were divorced in 1956.[28]

In 1957, after finalizing his divorce from Behrs,[29] he married Andress in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony, but she left him in 1965 for French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.[23]

Derek subsequently became involved with American actress Linda Evans, at the time starring in television's The Big Valley, who reduced her appearances on the show to spend more time with him, and financed his alimony and child support payments to Behrs,[23] as he had quit acting by then to pursue photography and directing. They married in Mexico in 1968,[23] with Sean as a witness.[30]

Derek, Evans and 16-year-old high school dropout Mary Cathleen Collins traveled to the Greek island of Mykonos in 1973 to make the film And Once Upon a Time[25] (unreleased[26] until 1981, under the title Fantasies). During filming, Derek and Collins began an affair.[25] 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, in order that he would avoid statutory rape charges.[23][31]

Collins became known to the public as Bo Derek following their marriage on June 10, 1976, in Las Vegas, and achieved international fame in 1979 with her role in the Blake Edwards film 10. The couple remained together until John died in 1998.[3][32]

Derek suffered a heart attack in 1986, but completely recovered.[33]

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


John Derek died on May 22, 1998, from cardiovascular disease in Santa Maria, California at the age of 71.[34] His remains were cremated.[35]


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 director



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  2. "Person Details for Derek Delevan Harris, California Birth Index, 1905-1995". FamilySearch.
  3. "John Derek, 71, Actor Known As Wife's Svengali, Is Dead". The New York Times. May 24, 1998. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  4. Maltin 1994, p. 224.
  5. Scheuer, P.K. (March 9, 1949). "Bogart yields spotlight to 'find,' John Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165922225.
  6. Brady, Thomas (April 2, 1948). "Wallis to Do Film of 'Maurice Guest". The New York Times. ProQuest 108402723.
  7. Brady, Thomas (November 11, 1948). "Lynn, Scott Stars of New RKO Drama". The New York Times. ProQuest 108216849.
  8. "John Derek Asks Court Approve Name Change". Los Angeles Times. September 15, 1950. ProQuest 166169609.
  9. Scheuer, P.K. (July 14, 1950). "Robin Hood's Mantle Falls on John Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166101154.
  10. Brady, Thomas (August 23, 1949). "Columbia to Film 'Big Top' Feature". New York Times. ProQuest 105668552.
  11. Daugherty, Frank (August 4, 1950). "John Derek and Donna Reed to star in football story". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 508255370.
  12. Schallert, E (November 23, 1948). "Adler to-produce 'hero' with Derek starred; Ross to rival Lassie". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165902550.
  13. "Actor John Derek Leaves Columbia". Los Angeles Times. July 8, 1953. ProQuest 166524189.
  14. R.N. (October 21, 1954). "John Derek in title role of 'Hajji Baba' at Keith's". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 509064072.
  15. R.N. (June 17, 1955). "John Derek and Diana Lynn Star in Color Production". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 509274278.
  16. Hopper, H. (March 6, 1954). "Looking at Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. ProQuest 178659475.
  17. Schallert, E. (August 5, 1955). "John Derek Planning Murrieta Role; Carey Develops British Deal". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166832130.
  18. Tritten, L. (March 16, 1980). "The Flip Side of Bo Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 162675243.
  19. Mann, R. (November 5, 1978). "Comeback for John Derek? 'Thanks But No Thanks'". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 158746457.
  20. "Tarzan, The Ape Man". Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  21. Silverman, J. (August 26, 1984). "Movies". Chicago Tribune. ProQuest 176110629.
  22. Graham, Sheila (December 30, 1948). "Record Number of New Faces Figure in the Hollywood Picture". The Milwaukee Journal..
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  24. Mann, R. (December 6, 1979). "John Derek by Sean Derek". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 162673215.
  25. Lavin, Cheryl (October 29, 1982). "Derek's daughter details unhappy life with father". Ottawa Citizen.
  26. Sheff, David (February 11, 1980). "A Hollywood 10". People.
  27. "Wife of John Derek Seeks Child Custody". Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1955. ProQuest 166851930.
  28. "John Derek, Actor, Divorced". The New York Times. April 5, 1956. ProQuest 113503170.
  29. "Actor John Derek to Wed Swiss Girl". Spokane Daily Chronicle. January 26, 1957.
  30. Evans, Linda (2016). Recipes for Life: My Memories. Post Hill Press. ISBN 978-1618686930.
  31. Video on YouTube
  32. Silverman, J/ (November 18, 1979). "John Derek Created a '9' in His Own Image and Called Her Bo". Chicago Tribune. ProQuest 170048375.
  33. "John Derek Has Heart Attack". Los Angeles Times. June 3, 1986. ProQuest 154770760.
  34. Donnelley 2005, p. 177.
  35. 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.
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