Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beau Derek

Today's featured actor is not without controversy. In fact, depending on one's point of view, he was quite out of line on occasion. We'll get to that, but all in good time. We celebrate him mostly for his earlier life and work anyway so let's begin there.

Born under the sign of Leo on August 12th, 1926 to former silent movie director Lawson Harris and silent movie actress Dolores Johnson, little Derek Develan Harris was a pretty baby who would grow up into a pretty man. I say pretty because he really did have large liquid eyes and chiseled, yet delicate, features that rendered him beautiful rather than ruggedly handsome. In time, he would bulk up a little bit more and weather his soft features, becoming quite a virile-looking specimen, but in those very early days, he retained an unmistakably tender and youthful quality.

Raised in Hollywood and looking the way he did, it was probably inevitable that he would turn to acting as a profession. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he had the primary role in a short film by outre independent director Kenneth Anger (later to be the author of those Hollywood Babylon books.) He also caught the eye of predatory talent agent Henry Willson, who grabbed him for use in David O. Selznick's 1944 wartime film Since You Went Away. Willson, in a practice was practically mandatory at the time for his clients, renamed him Dare Harris. As Dare Harris, he also played the soldier boyfriend of Shirley Temple in I'll Be Seeing You, also in 1944.

By now, he was of age to be drafted into the military for WWII and off he went just as he was beginning to make inroads with his acting career. When he was free of that service, he came back to Hollywood and landed a small role in George Cukor's film A Double Life (1947.) Next, he secured a contract with Columbia Pictures and began to use a (less gimmicky) screen name that would stick with him for the rest of his life, John Derek. (Was Derek Harris all that hideous to begin with?!)

Now things really began to look up as he was twenty-three years of age. His career on film began in earnest (with an “Introducing” credit) in 1949's Knock on Any Door. The ostensible star of the film was Humphrey Bogart, but the primary role was Derek's. He played a career criminal called “Pretty Boy” Romano, who is accused of viciously murdering a policeman. Bogart portrayed his defense attorney, who feels to blame for the way Derek has turned out. He'd been Derek's father's lawyer and lazily allowed the man to become convicted, his death coming not long after. Thus, Derek was thrust into being the provider for his family and turned to a life of crime in order to do so.

This was the first, but certainly not the last, time that the handsome young Derek would be effectively placed opposite an older, far more mature star. Bogart said to Derek one day, “You look great, but kid, that's not enough.” It was a prophetic statement, though Derek still had several years of work before the cameras in front of him. Also in this film was Mickey Knox, an actor six years Derek's senior who would remain a friend of his and later be put to use in some of his 1980's films.

Knock on Any Door was the first film directed by Nicholas Ray, who would later go on to helm Rebel Without a Cause and many others. Derek's character, a good boy turned rebel by the unjust circumstances around him, utters a line of dialogue that would remain an oft-quoted credo of brash young men, including the ill-fated James Dean: “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”

Derek's next film was even more prestigious and successful than Knock, though his role was not quite as significant. All the King's Men concerned the rise (and eventual corruption) of a rural politician who rises to the position of governor of the state. (The role and story were inspired by real-life Louisiana governor Huey Long.) Broderick Crawford starred as the politician and Derek played his son, a reckless boy who becomes involved in a deadly drunk-driving accident and pays a hefty price for it.

The film was voted Best Picture at the Oscars that year and also took home statuettes for Crawford and for supporting actress Mercedes McCambridge. Derek is seen in this photo with Anne Seymour, who played his mother, and Crawford and costar John Ireland (who was also Oscar-nominated, losing to Dean Jagger in Twelve O'Clock High.)

Next, in 1950, the studio exploited his exuberant energy and striking looks by placing him in a Robin Hood retread called Rogues of Sherwood Forest. It was the first time fans got to see him in color (vibrant Technicolor, natch!) He played the son of Robin Hood, this time going up against craggy George Macready as King John and with a love interest named Marianne (only slightly augmented from Maid Marian of the original) played by Diana Lynn. Interestingly, Alan Hale, who had played Little John in Errol Flynn's sparkling 1936 rendition The Adventures of Robin Hood, was back again as Little John here, fourteen years hence!

Derek, by now a matinee idol and beloved by teen girls (as well as more than a few boys, probably!) everywhere, had a big year in 1951. Not only did he have three films released in which he was the star of each, but he married for the first time.

His first film of that year was Mask of the Avenger, a colorful, but minor, swashbuckler in the style of Zorro. Set in Italy, it had the villainous Anthony Quinn killing Derek's father and imprisoning him under house arrest. Derek dons a mask in order to secretly right the wrongs of his captor, with both of the men vying for the attentions of countess Jody Lawrence, seen here with Derek and Quinn. Later, Quinn would emerge as a major movie star, far eclipsing Derek.

Saturday's Hero was the story of a great high school football player (Derek) who becomes embroiled in all the roller coaster aspects of college level athletics. He grapples with trying to earn an education while keeping up the performance expected of him on the field, with politics and a sinister benefactor always hovering as well. His love interest here was played by Miss Donna Reed. Also appearing as a fellow football player, in his screen debut, was Aldo Ray, who would later work for Derek when he became a director. Unfortunately, there was a notable lack of scenes in the movie like this one in which a shirtless Derek suits up in the locker room!

His third film of the year was called The Family Secret. God knows I wish that the secret could be something other than what it was! As it is, Derek plays another troubled young man who is accused of murdering his best friend. He claims it was self defense because the friend was drunk and attacking him while out of control. Lee J. Cobb played Derek's attorney father while Jody Lawrence was back, again playing a sort of love interest for him (but with competition. He is depicted as having a swarm of girls after him.)

The real life swarms of girls who had his picture pinned to their bedroom wall were about to be dealt a blow. Derek married Pati Behrs in 1951. Behrs, about four years his senior, was a ballerina of royal Russian descent (her father was a prince and her great uncle was Leo Tolstoy!) The family left Russia when her father refused to take part in pogroms. She had lived in Paris during Nazi occupation, dancing in nightclubs to earn income while secretly aiding as many Russian Jews as she could. After the war, she was offered a 20th Century Fox contract, which is what brought her to Hollywood. She had small parts in movies like The Razor's Edge, Forever Amber and Come to the Stable, but retired from the screen after beginning her relationship with Derek.

Familiar costars Broderick Crawford and Donna Reed were featured in Derek's next film, 1952's Scandal Sheet. Tellingly, both had billing over him. In this one, Broderick played the editor of a tabloid rag who kills his secret wife in anger. He then has to watch as eager reporter Derek investigates and reports on the story until coming closer and closer to finding out who her killer is! The picture was directed by the gutsy Samuel Fuller, who came to specialize in gritty war films.

He was back in the starring spot (on a loan out) with that same year's Thunderbirds, a drama about young flyers called into action at the start of WWII. John Drew Barrymore and Mona Freeman costarred. The Republic Pictures film has been scarcely seen in recent years, having seemingly slipped out of most viewers' consciousness.

1953 brought five films starring Derek, so he was busy if not taking part in sterling examples of moviemaking. Prince of Pirates had him paired with Barbara Rush as a prince in The Netherlands at odds with his brother the king over loyalties with Spain versus France. After a stretch of imprisonment, Derek escapes and stages a revolt against his sibling.

A western, Ambush at Tomahawk Gap, came next. It concerned four escaped prisoners in a search for the money they'd stolen beforehand. John Hodiak was the lead (playing a man who'd accidentally been arrested in error to start with, but who now feels entitled to the money after serving time!) Derek played a character called “Kid” who is injured soon after the escape and begins to grow up as the story proceeds. Another western, The Last Posse, followed with him once again playing in support to Broderick Crawford.

He reunited with John Hodiak for Mission Over Korea, a wartime actioner that also starred Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane of Tarzan fame), Audrey Totter, Harvey Lembeck and Rex Reason (himself reason enough to seek it out I should think!) Finally for 1953 came Sea of Lost Ships, in which he was the son of a deceased coast guard hero who is raised by fellow officer Walter Brennan alongside Brennan's son Richard Jaeckel. Both young men enter the coast guard themselves, but one is ousted in disgrace only to later redeem himself.
At this point, Derek was distressed at the way his career was going and was about to leave Columbia Pictures in order to freelance. As far as his home life was concerned, he was still married to Pati and they now had two children, a son Russell and a daughter Sean. Their seemingly idyllic home life was the subject of several magazine layouts and feature stories. He made his television debut in 1953 on Ford Television Theatre and then appeared on Lux Video Theatre, playing the Montgomery Clift part in a rendition of A Place in the Sun. Ann Blyth took on Elizabeth Taylor's part while Raymond Burr recreated his fiery prosecuting attorney role from the original film.

In what is almost another retelling of the Robin Hood legend, albeit in western drag, he went to work on The Outcast, playing a young man returning to his family's ranch after an eight-year absence in order to wrest it from his uncle Jim Davis (later Jock Ewing of Dallas.) He even has a band of men in tow to help him.

Next came The Adventures of Hajji Baba, a colorful (and cardboard) Arabian adventure which is more notable for having Amanda “Miss Kitty” Blake as an audacious and exotic Amazon warrior on horseback, than for displaying him in turban and cloaks.

His 1955 film Prince of Players is probably representative of the type of roles and movies he was seeking when he left Columbia in that it was a chance to play a real life assassin and notorious historical figure. Richard Burton was the star of the 20th Century Fox production, playing actor Edwin Booth, a noted 19th century stage actor. Derek plays his younger brother, also an actor, named John Wilkes Booth. That name would eventually go down in history as that of the man who shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. The men's father was played by Raymond Massey.

That same year he played in An Annapolis Story, a more routine affair that had him enrolled at the famous naval academy alongside his brother (Kevin McCarthy) with both of them setting their eyes on Diana Lynn. I can't imagine what sort of gene pool would produce siblings such as Derek and McCarthy! (By the way, one hooty moment has the boxing coach hollering at the warring brothers, “Go cool off in the showers, both of you!” If only we'd gotten to see that...)

In what might be the last of his young-man-under-the-tutelage-of-a-mentor roles, he went back to work for his Knock on Any Door director Nicholas Ray in Run For Cover. He costarred with James Cagney as they played two drifters mistaken for outlaws who are shot at, with Derek seriously injured. He's cared for by farmer Jean Hersholt and his daughter Viveca Lindfors, who nurses Derek and falls in love with him in the process. In time, Cagney is elevated to town sheriff with Derek as his deputy, but they are tested by bank robbers and Derek doesn't hold up as well as Cagney had hoped.

1956 marked the year that Derek's wife to Pati ended. It also signaled a bit of an upswing in the activity of his career, providing him with, perhaps, his signature role, though it was clearly a supporting part. First, though, was a bit of an oddity. The Leather Saint had Derek portraying an Episcopal minister who works out at the gym of an old friend. He boxes as he once did in college and is good. However, he declines offers to do it professionally. When he discovers that his community needs money for an iron lung and a swimming pool, though, he takes on a bout while concealing his true identity.
He konks out his opponent handily with just one punch and thus is catapulted to fame! He wants to abandon the sport, but the down payment on the iron lung has been made and more dough is needed. Thus, he becomes a pastoral pugilist, punching his way forward for his congregation's benefit. The upswing is that he is frequently shown shirtless in boxing trunks. There's also a love interest in his old costar Jody Lawrence, who plays an alcoholic ex-singer whose prior boyfriend died in the ring. Paul Douglas is his manager and Cesar Romero appears as well.

Another revealing role that same year came when Cecil B. DeMille cast Derek in his colossal epic The Ten Commandments. At the time The Ten Commandments was shot, only six films in history had ever MADE what it was COSTING. It was a gargantuan undertaking (and lives on as an enduring masterpiece of eye-popping, colorful camp even now while somehow retaining an undercurrent of real feeling, at least in its first half.) Already featuring the combined, bare-chested manliness of Charlton Heston (as Moses) and a regal Yul Brynner (as Rameses), further hunk appeal came in the form of Derek.
He played the earnest, passionate stone-cutter Joshua who loves fellow slave Debra Paget. When slavemaster Vincent Price takes Paget for himself, Derek tries to do something about it, resulting in him being tied spread-eagled to posts and whipped by a practically salivating Price. DeMille made all of the blue-eyed supporting actors wear brown contacts in order to aid with authenticity (though Yvonne De Carlo begged for and was granted permission not to do this.) Thus, both Derek and Paget were outfitted with the then-unusual devices which caused them difficulty seeing. It's a wonder the half-blind couple could even focus on each other in their scenes together! (He isn't wearing his in this publicity photo of the two, but she is.)

Rarely in the cinema (or anywhere else!) has there been an actor as darkly tan as Derek is in this film. Though his skin tone is augmented by makeup, he was still very dark to begin with. Rigged out in a raggedy little calfskin skirt, he hardly ever seems to have a shirt on in the movie. Devoted to Heston and determined to save his beloved maiden, even after she's been despoiled by Robinson, he gives a memorably heroic performance and it is probably his best known.

He's shown here with Heston practicing his archery skills (and perfecting that tan in the meantime!) prior to the start of filming. Though his acting career would continue on for another decade, this is perhaps the last part of any true significance that he would deliver (a part he only received because Cornel Wilde turned it down.)

Derek had met a young Swiss actress who'd been brought to the States to work at Columbia Pictures, though nothing came of it. She'd been previously involved with Marlon Brando and also dated James Dean (she was slated to be in his car the day he died, but wasn't because Dean realized she'd fallen for Derek!) The actress was Ursula Andress and she and Derek married in Las Vegas in 1957 during an awkwardly impromptu ceremony with a cab driver as best man. Like Pati before her, her career went on hold (but not forever.)

Also in 1957, he made another western Fury at Showdown, playing the fiery, ex-prisoner, older brother of Nick Adams (how many times did Derek play men who were imprisoned?!) He and John Smith have a lengthy barroom brawl in the film. (Adams is to Derek's left with Smith behind Adams in this shot.) The low-budget western, which enjoys a pretty healthy reputation despite being all but forgotten by much of the world, was filmed in an amazing five days.

He went to England to film what was a real change of pace, a movie all about a pimp who coerces young ladies into prostitution! The Flesh is Weak, despite reasonably tasteful handling of its subject matter, could never have been made in the U.S. at the time. Next it was back to turbans and swords as he took a supporting role in Omar Khayyam, loosely based on the life of the great Persian poet. Cornel Wilde was the star of this one, which meant that Derek was working with the same actor who'd first been offered the role of Joshua in Commandments. Furthering the Commandments connection was the casting of Debra Paget as Wilde's love interest. Derek's previous costar Raymond Massey (shown at left) played the Shah, Michael Rennie was the villain of the piece and cult exotic vocalist Yma Sumac, in one of her rare acting appearances, was on hand as well.
In 1959, he made two films in Europe, Pirate of the Half Moon and Prisoner of the Volga, with wife Andress in tow. It's possible that his proximity to the filming locations of Israel and Cyprus made his next role in Otto Preminger's epic Exodus a more likely prospect. There, he played an Arab leader and childhood friend of the film's star Paul Newman, who assists him in his efforts to found the state of Israel. He does this at the risk of severe personal consequences.

Back in Hollywood, Derek sought to create a steady home life and took on a regular role in the TV series Frontier Circus. The unusual (and now quite obscure) show centered on a traveling one-ring circus troupe headed by Chill Wills and including Derek and Richard Jaeckel among its crew. The traveling attraction came up on all sorts of old west incidents and obstacles during the one-season run of 26 episodes. The little-known series has been released on DVD, however, allowing a new generation of viewers to see it.

Upon Frontier Circus' cancellation in 1962, Andress began to reignite her own acting career. First up was her mind-blowing appearance as Honey Ryder in the very first James Bond feature Dr. No. As the curvaceous beauty emerging from the surf in a white bikini, she set the standard high for all subsequent Bond girls (though her lines were all dubbed in order to obscure her thick accent.) Next, she worked with Elvis Presley in Fun in Acapulco and with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 4 for Texas. This new resurgence in her career was likely due to the influence Derek had commanded over her. When they met, she barely spoke English and he proceeded to change her hair, her eyebrows and her weight, refashioning her into his ideal, which happened to also be the ideal of many moviegoers.
Derek longed to leave the acting profession behind. He recognized his own limitations as an actor and, now nearing forty, he decided to turn his attention to directing and to still photography. His first directorial effort was a co-effort between himself and fellow actor Marc Lawrence, who'd directed some television. The 1965 film Nightmare in the Sun starred Derek as a drifter who becomes involved with a sexy woman (Andress) who is married to a much-older man (Arthur O'Connell.) The very interesting cast included Aldo Ray, Sammy Davis Jr, Keenan Wynn, Lurene Tuttle and, apparently playing homosexual bikers, Richard Jaeckel and Robert Duvall!
He directed Andress and himself again the next year in Once Before I Die. The setting was a very familiar one for this era, The Philippines during WWII, but the story did have a different bent to it. The hook is that while Derek, Andress, Ron Ely, Richard Jaeckel and young Rod Lauren are struggling to make it to Manila, Lauren confesses to Andress that he is a virgin and would like to be with a woman just “once before I die!” How convenient that the only woman handy is the dazzlingly beautiful and curvaceous Andress. Not every young man can get that lucky the first time he gets lucky!

Though still very handsome, Derek would never again act to any degree in front of the cameras again. He instead began to work as a photographer and director. For him, the canvas of Andress' body was the perfect subject matter to explore with his camera and he shot a Playboy spread of her that was eagerly accepted by the magazine. For her part, Andress reportedly responded to the question, “Why did you appear nude in Playboy magazine?” with the delightfully blunt response, “Because I am beautiful.”

Trouble was, not only Derek found Andress beautiful and she had trouble fending off admirers. She began to give in to some of the men who pursued her and eventually became embroiled in an affair with Jean Paul Belmondo. By 1966, Derek and Andress were divorced.

Derek swiftly found another object of affection in pretty, blonde TV actress Linda Evans, who was then costarring on The Big Valley and had been one of the little girls of the '50s who had his photo taped to her bedroom wall. Again, though he liked what he saw, he began to shape and mold her into his ideal. Her clothes were overhauled and she became slimmer, more blonde and had her nose tweaked. To watch Evans from the first season of The Big Valley in 1965 through its final episodes of 1969 is to see a work in progress, with each passing year demonstrating Evans' transformation into virtually a living, breathing Barbie doll. He also didn't want her working all the time on the show and encouraged her to quit the series. (A compromise was reached in which her character Audra was off visiting friends or relatives in several episodes per season.) It must be said that this Svengali-like attention was not resisted by Andress, Evans or his later wife Kathleen “Bo” Collins.

Evans described her life with John as utterly idyllic, with herself the center of his universe. She said he made her feel as if she were the only woman in the world (and truly, despite his own good looks and deep interest in sensuality, he was reputed to be faithful to his wives during the primary breadth of their unions.) It was a sort of worship. As with Andress, he reveled in photographing Evans and again shot this wife for a layout in Playboy magazine.

In 1969, he had two films in (limited) release. First came A Boy... A Girl, which starred Dean Paul Martin and also featured Kerwin Matthews and Peggy Lipton. The second was Childish Things, co-directed by David Nelson. Written by Don Murray, who also starred, it concerned a ne'er do well alcoholic who forces himself on a young girl (Evans) and is involved in various crimes before undergoing a transformation in which he starts to help others. The movie was redubbed “Confessions of Tom Harris” at one time and then, ludicrously, “Tale of the Cock” for another release. Derek's friend from Once Before I Die Rod Lauren also appeared in the film.

Tragedy struck in 1969 when Derek's son Russell was severely injured in a motorcycle crash. The young man would be paralyzed from the chest down for the rest of his life. Otherwise, things between Derek and Evans went on swimmingly until he was filming his next opus in 1973 and came upon Kathleen Collins, a mere sixteen year-old who resembled Evans more than a little and whose face, body and persona enraptured him beyond all reason. She was the daughter of a boat company executive and hairdresser (who counted Ann-Margret among her clients) who had dropped out of high school to pursue a career in films.

Derek placed her in the starring role of a Greek Island-set film called Fantasies that was complete in 1973, but didn't see release until years later. To Evans' near total devastation, Derek found that he could not live without this young girl and divorced her. Due to the fact that Collins was underage, she and Derek moved to Germany to avoid statutory rape charges and in 1976, a bit shy of her eighteenth birthday, they were married. She would henceforth be known as Bo Derek. Side-by-side comparisons of certain photos show the basic resemblance between Derek's last two wives.

After filming a smallish role in the killer whale film Orca, she landed a part that would send her shooting into the celebrity stratosphere. With her blonde hair woven into cornrows, she jogged down the beach in a wet, tan swimsuit to the strains of Henry Mancini's music and boggled Dudley Moore's mind (and the world's) in 10. Upon the release of 10, Bo Derek attained the very highest heights of sex symbol status. Again, John Derek's ideal was the world's and he photographed her for Playboy (this time on several occasions.)

Her follow up film A Change of Seasons with Anthony Hopkins and Shirley MacLaine was being filmed when 10 hit screens and the makers decided to capitalize on her notoriety by adding extra love scenes to the plot. John, always a presence in Bo's career, clashed with the director Noel Black and Black was fired, replaced by Richard Lang. In the wake of the ugliness involved with this production, Bo would not work for any other director than John for years, thus hamstringing her burgeoning film career.

It wasn't completely trashed yet, however. First, in 1981 John would direct and photograph a film in which Bo would star called Tarzan, the Ape Man. Bo was not just putty in John's hands, however. She was the producer of the MGM film. As such, she wielded even more control than her husband. She started by hiring her mother to do the hairstyles, then fired the 6'5” boxer-turned-actor (Lee Canalito) who had been cast as the title vine-swinger for not being in good enough shape! His replacement, newcomer Miles O'Keeffe, had no such concerns, emerging as quite possibly the most muscularly defined Tarzan ever seen to that point.

The production (which costarred Richard Harris as Bo's father) was troubled to say the least, with fifteen of the twenty-three crew members on location in Sri Lanka either being fired or otherwise sent home by Bo as it went along. The finished film, dotted with topless scenes of her, was absolutely leveled by critics. Nevertheless, audiences attended, desperate to see more of their favorite new sex goddess. (Despite the title, the movie was really all about her, with Tarzan not even appearing until halfway into it. Her picture, swinging on a vine, was on the movie's poster, with O'Keeffe nowhere to be found.) The Edgar Rice Burroughs estate sued the Dereks over the content of the movie.

Hot on the heels of Tarzan, Fantasies (by now eight years old!) was finally put into release. John's life was put under close scrutiny when his now-grown daughter Sean Derek wrote a tell-all book entitled Cast of Characters in 1982. With Andress a famous star, Evans now a huge success in her own right with Dynasty and Bo a worldwide sensation, the story of Derek and his triad of famous blonde wives proved to be a hot seller. This book would lead to estrangement between John and his daughter which was eventually healed.

Derek continued to create films that starred Bo, each one seemingly worse than the one before. Bolero (whose title was derived from the Ravel music she'd made love with Dudley Moore to in 10), all about Bo's character searching for the right man with which to lose her virginity (!) and Ghosts Can't Do It, about her dead husband trying to find the right host body to use in order to again service his wife, had little to no impact on the world. That last one featured John's long ago costars Anthony Quinn and Don Murray amongst its cast. (Miss Julie Newmar is in it, too!) They always seemed to be about showing off Bo Derek's nude body rather than making any attempt to develop her acting. On Bolero, rumors spread that one of her sex scenes wasn't simulated (and, in fact John did direct a full-on porno movie – albeit an artsy one – called Love You in 1980.) Sticking to what he felt worked, he had Bo sporting a hat similar to the one Evans had worn in her Big Valley days. In between films (and after that last one), he and Bo spent time on their sprawling, 46-acre California ranch.

In 1998, the always-fit Derek, who took care to work out regularly in his home gym, collapsed with a heart issue (an aneurysm or something similar) and was rushed to the hospital where doctors fought to save him, but couldn't. A crestfallen Bo, who had been married to him for two decades and was about to begin filming a new TV series called Wind on the Water, was at his side, as was Sean. He was seventy-one.

John Derek had emerged as a confrontational, controlling personality in interviews and was known to be quite uncompromising. Despite his obsessive attention to the women in his life, he was sometimes perceived as misogynistic. His personal magnetism, however, was such that both Ursula Andress and Linda Evans remained friends with him long after their divorces and even befriended Bo, forming a bizarre sort of sisterhood. Each of them had nothing but good to say about life with him. When he turned fifty-three in 1979, all four of his wives were in attendance, wearing t-shirts with his picture on the back! So unique was his appeal to them that they remained a significant part of his life even when they went on with their own (and Andress and Evans convened with Bo and lent support after John's death.) Certainly, based on the way several actors were eager to come and work for him several times over, he engendered loyal friendships as well. Derek is beloved in The Underworld for his handsome looks and his mostly unsung body of acting work, notably his Joshua in The Ten Commandments, but for other films as well.

4 comments:

Michael O'Sullivan said...

I was too young for Beau Derek - by the time I was movie-going in the mid-50s it was all about the death of James Dean and re-issues of his films, and Sal Mineo, then Tab Hunter (shirtless in The Burning Hills, with Natalie Wood) - they made another one I missed: The Girl He Left Behind, when Nat had her new cropped haircut - then of course it was on to Troy and Sandra (with a detour to John Saxon), and then Fabian in his tight jeans ... and of course The Elvis - while Ricky Nelson also looked nice out west in Rio Bravo!
John though certainly looked the part in The 10 Commandments.

NotFelixUnger said...

Thanks for this great post. As a film buff, I'm afraid I've never paid attention to John Derek's, err, body of work. I must confess, this post has made me interested in examining his career (and body) a bit more. Prior to now, I only thought of him as a Svengali like presence in the lives of his wives. I will now go look at www.amazon.com and find some well priced copies of some of these films!

Poseidon3 said...

I was the same way, NotFelix. I happened upon Run For Cover on TCM one time and he caught my eye for obvious reasons! Thanks for commenting.

Michael Austin said...

I first saw John Derek in Rogues of Sherwood forest. I was 7 years old and instantly bewitched by this handsome charmer. My precocious sexual response to him never flagged. Sixty-four years later I think any man who can age as well as he did is an inspiration