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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

(continued from page 1)

The films the duo produced, which John wrote and directed as star vehicles for his wife--Tarzan, The Ape Man; Bolero; and Ghosts Can't Do It--will never be defined as film classics. The 1984 film Bolero was considered by some cineastes to be the worst movie ever made, and film critic Leonard Maltin dubbed 1990's Ghosts Can't Do It a "standard Derek atrocity." However, the films did earn big money in their time. Tarzan, for example, made more than $10 million in its first three days of release in 1981.

With the difference in their ages and their decision to remain Hollywood outsiders, the Svengali moniker stuck. Bo's decision to pose nude in Playboy (with the photography done by her husband) surely galvanized it. "John was the greatest photographer, especially for women," Bo says. "We had done our first Playboy layout before 10 ever came out. John did the famous one with Ursula, then with Linda. He was friends with Hef, and Playboy was a place that appreciated his photography and really showed off the photos. They had the best format, the best compositions, the best page layouts." The 1980 issue featuring her pictorial sold more than those of Andress and Evans combined.

There was another aspect to the choice--the Dereks could use Playboy as a forum. "Whenever we really had a gripe or we had really been attacked, it was a place where we could always call and say, 'Can we answer this? Can we set the record straight?' So Playboy was always a very friendly place."

The Dereks' experience with Life magazine was a different story. "Life had put the word out that they were looking for a girl to discover as their new superstar," Bo recalls. "I got a call from Orion [Pictures] and they were very excited that I'd been chosen. I said 'Fine, that's nice.' I didn't expect anything to come from 10; it wasn't my film. I went, I had a good time, there was no buzz about me. I had no agent at that point. I still wasn't serious about the business at all. And they [Life and Orion] wanted me to come in for the cover shot. 'Well,' they said, 'these are the musts. On the cover shot, we want you coming out of a burlap sack, like you're a gift, nude with packaging material, as our gift to America.' Or the world. Whatever they said. And I said, 'No, I don't think so.' And then they wanted to film me in the Marilyn [lying on] red satin pose or the Rita Hayworth lingerie pose and I said, 'No. I don't think so.'

"My life at that point was windsurfing and producing tiny little films with John. That's what I enjoyed doing. So I said 'No, I'd rather not.' And then the threatening calls started coming in [from both Life and Orion]. I remember I was in a windsurfing shop in Marina Del Rey and I was tying up their phones for an hour as they're threatening that I'll never work again. They're going to sue me for $10 million. Well, who am I? I'm trying to argue with them and they don't understand that I really don't care. They assume they can threaten me, then try to cajole me, offer me a million dollars for my next picture and I keep saying, 'No, thank you.' It was kind of exciting. I liked it; I had fun. And then of course," she adds with a smile, "when the film opened I got lots of nice jewelry from Orion Pictures."

While conservatives have attacked Bo for appearing nude in Playboy and in her films, she softly, firmly and unapologetically replies, "America is so funny that way. They have a big problem with nudity--not vulgarity and violence and cheapness, just simple nudity. I always marvel at how really uptight people are. You can have these really heavy-duty sex scenes with half-clothed actors doing really vulgar things up on a kitchen table or in a bathroom on an airplane; really heavy-duty scenes like that are OK. But take your clothes off and suddenly it's a big problem. It's a funny, prudish side we have. And it is so silly. We spend so much of our time nude. We're born nude and it just seems like the most natural thing."

To those that felt John Derek was exploiting his young wife's beauty, Bo says, "Most husband-and-wife combinations [in the industry] get that kind of criticism, they really do. It just bothers the heck out of people and I'm not sure why. It's all right for me to go off and do a nude scene and a love scene with another director and a strange actor. But if my husband was directing, where it's more up front, more honest to our relationship, that was the 'Big No.' It just bugged them. There is this impression that somehow your husband is prostituting you in some way. He was called a pimp! It was just terrible and I never understood why it's alright for me to go do that with a strange director and a strange actor, but not in the comfort of my own marriage."

Bo has a realistic view of the choices she made, and she accepts full responsibility for her decisions and their consequences. "Sure, if every once in a while I made a major motion picture, a mainstream film, it probably would have been the intelligent thing to do for my career. But my career was never the most important thing for me. I was really enjoying my life. If I had jumped into the business, who knows what would have happened? I was too young. I know I was too young. I was much better off doing it for myself. I felt good about my decisions and my life with John. I was completely content. And it's romantic. You know, '[John] and me against the world.' It was fun."

If living well truly is the best revenge, Bo certainly has had it. The quiet life that she and her husband built together in the Santa Ynez Valley sustained her more than the illusion of fame and stardom ever could. Yet two years after his death from heart failure, she doesn't sugarcoat their union. "No, he wasn't easy. But that was what was exciting and stimulating. He was so true to himself and to his beliefs and he was very courageous. It takes a lot of courage to live by your beliefs. And I find that I was attracted to him. It's so easy to conform and to follow. It's very difficult to be rebellious and live by what you believe is right. And to make decisions and to take the consequences. Very few people do."

Bo was happy with her life, with their life. "Our life was 24 hours a day together. We didn't have separate hobbies, separate anything. We were together all of the time. And we were always involved in some huge battle or project or something. There was never a dull moment to the very end." He was her mentor and partner and his life experience was always beneficial for the young actress. "He would never tell me not to work. But he did say that I didn't have to want it just because everybody does and it's supposed to be the best thing in the world."

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