John Derek

For other people named John Derek, see John Derek (disambiguation).
John Derek
Born Derek Delevan Harris
(1926-11-12)November 12, 1926
Hollywood, California, US
Died May 22, 1998(1998-05-22) (aged 71)
Santa Maria, California, US
Cause of death Cardiovascular disease
Occupation Actor, director, cinematographer, screenwriter, editor, producer
Years active 1943–1990
Spouse(s) Pati Behrs
(1948-1955; divorced)
Ursula Andress
(1957-1966; divorced)
Linda Evans
(1968-1974; divorced)
Bo Derek
(1976-1998; his death)
Children 2 with Behrs, including Sean Catherine Derek
Parent(s) Lawson Harris (father)

John Derek (born Derek Delevan Harris; November 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, and Rogues of Sherwood Forest. He was also known for launching the career of his fourth wife, Bo Derek.

Early life

Derek was born Derek Delevan Harris[2] in Hollywood, California, the son of actor/director Lawson Harris and actress Dolores Johnson. His striking good looks were noticed, and he was being groomed for a movie career by both David O. Selznick and his agent Henry Willson (who gave him the temporary stage name of Dare Harris) when he was drafted in 1944 into the United States Army, and saw service in the Philippines during the last days of World War II.

Film career

After the war, Derek approached Humphrey Bogart, who renamed him John Derek and cast him as Nick (Pretty Boy) Romano, an unregenerate killer, in Knock on Any Door (1949), a socially conscious 1949 melodrama.[3] Derek was recognized as a talented newcomer, "plainly an idol for the girls," as Bosley Crowther put it in a review for The New York Times.[4]

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. He played leads in Fury at Showdown, and as Robin Hood in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950) with Alan Hale. He also appeared as Joshua in The Ten Commandments (1956). But he found himself featured increasingly as a hero or villain in a string of unimpressive B-movies—crime melodramas, westerns, pirate pictures and costume dramas.[4]

Unsatisfied with his career as an actor, Derek turned to film directing. He directed his second wife Ursula Andress in two films, and third wife Linda Evans in one. He also worked as a director of four films with fourth wife, Bo Derek including Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and Bolero (1984). Ghosts Can't Do It (1990) was his last in the director's chair.[5] 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 and Bo with Chandran Rutnam

Derek married Turkish-born prima ballerina Pati Behrs Eristoff in 1948.[6] They had a son, Russell Andre (1950–1999), who was paralyzed in a 1969 motorcycle accident,[7] and a daughter, Sean Catherine (born 1953), who later wrote a memoir titled Cast of Characters, published in 1982, about their dysfunctional relationship.[8] Derek walked out on his wife and family in 1955 after meeting 19-year-old aspiring Swiss actress Ursula Andress,[8] who spoke almost no English when they met.[9] In 1957, after finalizing his divorce from Behrs,[10] he married Andress in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony, but she left him in 1965 for French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.[7] 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,[7] as he had quit acting by then to pursue photography and directing. They married in Mexico in 1968,[7] with Sean as a witness.[11] In 1973 Derek, Evans and 16-year-old high school dropout Mary Cathleen Collins traveled to the Greek island of Mykonos to make the film And Once Upon a Time[8] (unreleased[9] until 1981, under the title Fantasies). During filming, Derek and Collins began an affair.[8] Evans returned to the 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 to avoid statutory rape charges.[7][12] 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]


John Derek died on May 22, 1998, from cardiovascular disease in Santa Maria, California at the age of 71.[13] His remains were cremated.[14]


As actor


Short Subjects:

As director



  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. 1 2 "John Derek, 71, Actor Known As Wife's Svengali, Is Dead." The New York Times. Retrieved: August 12, 2015.
  4. 1 2 Maltin 1994, p. 224.
  5. "John Derek: Director." IMDb. Retrieved: May 18, 2013.
  6. Sheila Graham (December 30, 1948). Record Number of New Faces Figure in the Hollywood Picture. The Milwaukee Journal.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Derek, Sean Catherine (1982). Cast of Characters. Tower & Leisure Sales Co. ISBN 0843911263.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Cheryl Lavin (October 29, 1982). Derek's daughter details unhappy life with father. Ottawa Citizen.
  9. 1 2 David Sheff (February 11, 1980). A Hollywood 10. People magazine.
  10. Hollywood (January 26, 1957). Actor John Derek to Wed Swiss Girl. Spokane Daily Chronicle.
  11. Evans, Linda (2016). Recipes for Life: My Memories. Post Hill Press. ISBN 1618686933.
  12. Video on YouTube
  13. Donnelley 2005, p. 177.
  14. "Beau Derek." People magazine. Retrieved: November 17, 2008.


  • 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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