With an actor father and an artist mother, it might be presumed that fame was in the cards for pinup sensation cum respectable actor and best-selling author Dirk Bogarde. Though a colorful background and a remarkable talent elevated Bogarde to the status of one of Britian's most prolific actors, his phenomenally successful career is ultimately a testament to being in the right place at the right time.
Born Derek van den Bogarde in Hampton, England, in 1921, Bogarde and brother Gareth spent much of their childhood in Sussex being raised by thier older sister Elizabeth and their beloved nanny Lally. Receiving his early education at Allen Glen's School in Glascow before attending University College in London, Bogarde went on to study commercial art at Chelsea Polytechnic before nurturing his inherited affection for acting. Though he initially met with some degree of disappointment, leading to his questioning a career as a thespian, Bogarde made his stage debut with the Amersham Repertory Company in 1939 at the age of 19, the same year he made his screen debut in a bit role in Come on George. The next year Bogarde began his career in the Queens Royal Regiment.
Popular among his peers in the military, Bogarde (affectionately nicknamed "Pip") quickly rose through the ranks with his position in the Air Photographic Intelligence Unit and soon earned the rank of major. Serving in the war and stationed in the Far East, Bogarde foreshadowed his later success as a writer when a poem he had written titled Steel Cathedrals was published in 1943. Returning from the war as a successful veteran with seven medals, Bogarde would soon move from the nightmares of war to his childhood dreams of becoming a successful actor.
Finding out the literal meaning of the phrase "timing is everything," Bogarde walked into the wrong room on his way to a BBC audition, a mistake that quickly landed him in the successful stage role that fueled the flames of his impending stardom. It was with Dancing With Crime (1947) that Bogarde began gaining consistent roles in film, two years before fatefully taking the lead in Wessex Films' Ester Waters after star Stewart Granger dropped the project. His successful turn in Waters prompted Wessex to offer Bogarde a lucrative 14-year contract during which Bogarde would appear in such memorable films as The Blue Lamp before his role as Doctor Simon Sparrow in Doctor in the House (1953) launched him to pin-up status among the hordes of nubile young women who flocked to the film and its numerous sequels.
Though thankful for his status and grateful to the fans that had elevated him to the status of heartthrob, Bogarde felt he had outgrown the image that he had fallen into and began to seek more challenging roles in films that dealt with more sensitive subjects. Shattering England's taboos associated with its anti-sodomy laws and the stigma of homosexuality with his risky, typecast-shattering performance in Victim (1961), Bogarde's bold turn resulted in a maturing image for the actor. In 1963, Bogarde expanded his new image and began a successful working relationship with director Joseph Losey in the cutting study of the British class system, The Servant (1963) (a role that won him the British Academy's Best Actor award). Bogarde's roles in such Losey films as King and Country (1964) and Accident (1967), along with his role in John Schlesinger's Darling (1965) and later, 1974's The Night Porter, brought him the critical acclaim that cemented his status as one of Britian's most prolific and respected stars. In the late '60s Bogarde moved to Europe, opting for a career path outside of the English and American system before purchasing a farmhouse in Southern France in the 1970s.
Pursuing childhood dreams of farming and writing for the next two decades, Bogarde chose his films roles carefully and infrequently in favor of a turn as a successful novelist. With seven best sellers and a seven-volume autobiography, Bogarde recalled his life and experiences in such works as Snakes and Ladders, and injected real-life experience into such vividly written novels as A Gentle Occupation. It was in France that Bogarde lived in a 15th century farmhouse with longtime friend and manager Tony Forwood, returning to London only after Forwood became stricken with cancer. Bogarde nursed him until his death in 1988 (a period Bogarde would sentimentally recall in his book A Short Walk From Harrods). A fervent supporter of rights regarding Euthanasia, Bogarde became vice-president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society before making his final film appearance in 1990's Daddy Nostalgia. Suffering a severe stroke in 1996, Bogarde was partially paralyzed, spending the final years of his life in seclusion and requiring 24-hour nursing up to his death from a heart attack in 1999.