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Bo Derek: "10" Into One

On her own two years after her husband's death, Bo Derek, the original "10," is forging a new path.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

Saddling her horse for a morning ride through Southern California's Santa Ynez Valley, one fact is apparent: at 43, Bo Derek is luminous. She is one of those rare women who resonate beauty from the inside out. No longer the ingenue, she is still the reluctant celebrity, named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in an April issue of People magazine. Alone for the first time in her adult life, she is soft-spoken and in many ways still the enigmatic fantasy figure that captured men's hearts decades ago. Who would have thought that her brief appearance in 10, Blake Edwards's 1979 farce of male mid-life crisis, would coin a phrase that still applies to her today?

Certainly not Bo Derek. "The film opened and there was this sensation," she says. "There was a buzz. Not from the industry, just from the public. Usually, when a girl comes on the scene in a sensational way, you've [already] known her. She's modeled. She's done commercials. She's done television. She's acted somewhere before. But to come just out of the blue like that is unusual. And journalists didn't know who I was. They had heard I was married to John Derek so they went back into those old files. That's where the label, 'He's Svengali, I'm Trilby,' came from. The press just sort of created me. I didn't know what was coming, but John knew because he'd seen it so many times before."

The couple met in 1973 on the set of And Once Upon a Love (released in 1981 as Fantasies). John Derek directed the film; Bo was an aspiring 16-year-old actress and model from Southern California named Mary Cathleen Collins, the oldest of four children of Paul and Norma Collins. Though there was a 30-year age difference between Bo and John and he had already been married three times (his ex-wives include actresses Ursula Andress and Linda Evans), the couple fell in love and wed in 1976.

Hollywood and the press reviled their union. Yet Bo claims John was her soul mate, her partner in every sense. "John always believed, and it made sense to me, that you stay with someone as long as you're in love with them and you want to be with them. You don't do it out of habit, a sense of duty or things like that. And we didn't have children to complicate matters. So every day we stayed together, it was because we wanted to be with each other and in each other's company. Twenty-five years proved that it was meant to be." She pauses for a minute and giggles. "Either it was true love or John was the most incredible Svengali [with] incredible powers."

Twenty-one when she filmed 10, Bo had never taken the movie business seriously. Becoming the "It Girl" and the object of every man's fantasies overnight was a dizzying experience, one that didn't endear her to many women, particularly feminists, who made her a target.

"Women had to do what they had to do," Bo says. "I wasn't so easy for them. So I wouldn't want to criticize what they've done. My problem with the women's movement is that it's kind of a moot point if [all women] would just vote. Women are the majority, but they don't bother voting. Certainly we don't have to get together and decide we are going to vote this way or that way, but I think as women we would vote similarly. It's hard to understand why we're the majority and we're not in control. It's really quite simple: just vote."

Being a Republican makes Bo a bit of an anomaly in her industry, yet she is pro-choice and pro-gay rights. The fact that Bo Derek has political views at all may come as a surprise to those who only recall the girl who drove Dudley Moore's character to distraction.

"She has conservative views, which are unusual in Hollywood," says Chris Matthews, the host of CNBC's political talk show "Hardball," who recently had Bo as a guest on his show. "She's very eloquent and makes a real presentation. I didn't have a preconception [of what she would be like]. The idea of '10' forces out other estimates. You only get one chance at a reputation in life--when you get a reputation for being a 'perfect 10', a beauty beyond imagination, it's hard for people to say, 'What else?'. But in the case of our program [with her] they can say, 'What else?' pretty quickly. She was a treasure of a guest."

Many critics saw John Derek as the master manipulator behind the whole "Bo Phenomenon," and Bo's decision to retain the creative control of her career, as opposed to putting it in the hands of the movie studios, only fanned the flames. Thumbing their noses at the Hollywood establishment, the couple in 1980 created their own film production company, naming it Svengali, Inc.

"It was [John's] suggestion that I produce my own films so that I was responsible for whatever happened in my career from that day forward," Bo says. "He was aware of people who had sensational beginnings and when it didn't continue, they put bitterness and blame on other people. He was very convincing that if I was going to exploit this sensation, this Bo Derek, whoever she is, that I be responsible for it so that I had no regrets or blames or bitterness, whichever way it turned out. If I should succeed I could be proud of what I'd done. And if I should fail, it was my own doing."

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