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May 24, 1998


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John Derek, the actor-director who appeared in dozens of films from the 1940s to the 60s but was better known for marrying glamorous starlets and for launching the meteoric career of his last wife, Bo Derek, died on Friday at the Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria, Calif. He was 71.

He collapsed on Wednesday at his home in Santa Ynez, underwent surgery and died of heart failure, said Stephanie Grogan, a medical center spokeswoman.

Born Derek Harris in Hollywood in 1926, the son of Lawson Harris, a writer-director, and Dolores Johnson, who appeared in Hal Roach and Cecil B. DeMille pictures, the strikingly handsome youth was being groomed for a movie career by David O. Selznick when he was drafted in 1944 and saw service in the Philippines during the last days of World War II.

After the war, he approached Humphrey Bogart, who renamed him John Derek and cast him as Nick (Pretty Boy) Romano, an unregenerate killer in Knock on Any Door, a pretentious, socially conscious 1948 melodrama based on the Willard Motley novel. The notices were negative, but Bogart had been the films star and Mr. 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.

Although he later had major roles in some notable films -- All the Kings Men (1949), The Ten Commandments (1956) and Exodus (1960), Mr. Derek appeared increasingly as a hero or villain in a string of B-movies -- crime melodramas, westerns, pirate pictures and costume dramas like The Adventures of Hajji Baba.

As his acting career faded, he turned to still photography and the direction and production of films. He also made headlines with his marriages -- in 1948 to the French starlet Pati Behrs, with whom he had two children, and later to the actresses Ursula Andress and Linda Evans.

In 1974, he met Mary Cathleen Collins, a 17-year-old high school dropout from Long Beach, Calif., who was working under the stage name Bo Shane. He cast her in a film he was directing, And Once Upon a Time, shot on the Greek island of Mykonos. Later that year, he married her after divorcing Ms. Evans.

In 1979, Ms. Derek was catapulted to fame as the object of Dudley Moores sexual fantasies in the Blake Edwards film 10. She became a sex symbol, her cornrow hairstyle briefly became a national fad, and the sexist notion of rating women on a 1-to-10 scale, as in Olympic gymnastic performances, took root in the language.

For engineering her role in 10 and for promoting his wifes career through careful marketing, Mr. Derek gained a reputation as a Svengali. She appeared in a succession of poorly scripted films that Mr. Derek directed and photographed himself, but there was no repetition of her early success.

Vincent Canby, in The Times, ridiculed Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) as a vehicle to present Mrs. Derek in as many different poses, nude and seminude, as there are days in the year. Another collaboration, Bolero (1984), contained lovemaking scenes that provoked audiences into fits of laughter.

Besides his wife, Mr. Derek is survived his son, Russell, and daughter, Sean.

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