John Derek

Active - 1943 - 2004  |   Born - Aug 12, 1926   |   Died - May 22, 1998   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Action

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Biography by Hal Erickson

John Derek was the son of writer/director Lawson Harris and bit-actress Dolores Johnson. Signed by David O. Selznick in 1943, Derek made his film debut as an extra in Since You Went Away, playing a soldier--which indeed he was at the time. His first starring role was as a death-row juvenile delinquent in Columbia's Knock on Any Door (1949), in which he was given more screen time than nominal star Humphrey Bogart. Most of Derek's subsequent Columbia assignments were in workaday "B" costume pictures and westerns; he enjoyed his best role in years, that of John Wilkes Booth, in 20th Century-Fox's Prince of Players (1954). By 1961, Derek's film career was seriously flagging, obliging him to sign on as one of the stars of the 26-week TV series Frontier Circus. Unhappy with his progress (or lack of it) as an actor, Derek turned director for the 1966 wartime flick Once Before I Die. Derek used many of his directorial efforts as showcases for his various "protege" wives: Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek. When not playing "Svengali" (an appellation he fully accepted with high good humor, as did his lovely "Trilbys"), John Derek kept busy as a director and cinematographer on such quasi-erotic films as Bolero (1984) and Ghosts Can't Do It (1990). Derek had suffered from heart trouble for many years; on May 20, 1998, the 71-year-old director was found unconscious in his Santa Ynez Valley home. Despite doctor's efforts, the damage to his heart muscle proved too great and on May 22, he passed away.

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