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Biography: Richard Derr

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Richard Derr was born in Norristown, PA, on June 15 1918. According to author Williams, he made "headline news" five hours later, when his father bought a Liberty Bond in his name. His father also taught Richard, by the age of five, how to make martinis. His were "the best in town." Derr also had a brother, Redmond, seven years older.

Derr had a precocious intellect, and entered Lincoln Grammar School at the age of four. As he grew older he started acting in school pageants.

His father died when Derr was eight years old. Derr's mother and older brother were left to support the household.

According to Williams, Richard and his brother made a pact. Richard would go to work after school to earn money to help send Redmond to college. Once Redmond was established, he would return the favor. After graduating, though, Redmond got married, and "forgot" the agreement to help his brother out.

When he attended Stewart Junior High, Derr was 6 ft 3, "his voice deepened and awkward lankiness gave way to square-jawed, blond good looks."

Derr proved to be popular in school. He auditioned for leading roles in plays and was awarded them, edited the school newspaper, was Vice President of his Senior Class, President of the Honor Society, and "Mayor" of the school. He graduated two years early, at the age of 16.

Derr went to work as a bank clerk, while continuing to act in amateur productions - produced by himself and his friends as The Dramateurs.

Pursuing his goal to be a professional actor, Derr became a student of Jaspar Deeter - the director/educator of the Hedgerow Theater in Pennsylvania, and honed his craft there for three years (in the evenings. Daytimes, he still worked at the bank.)

Richard Derr was appearing in the six-hour version of George Bernard Shaw's Man And Superman when he was seen by the New York agent Maynard Morris. (Morris had "discovered" Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne and Gregory Peck.)

Morris got parts for Derr in various plays, and finally he got his "big break." He'd gone to the 20th Century Fox studios in New York to "feed cues" to an actress - it was her screen test. But when Daryl Zanuck saw this screen test in Hollywood - it was Derr whom he liked.

Derr signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox. He boarded a train for Hollywood on Thanksgiving Day. He was met at the train station in Pasadena by studio personnel, and taken to an apartment in Westwood, near the studio. Derr soon bought a car, a new yellow Plymouth convertible, for $450, which he paid off in three months with his new salary. He was 24. It was 1942.

Derr's first movie was a Charlie Chan, Castle in the Desert, starring Sydney Toler. Also in the cast were Douglass Dumbrille and Henry Daniell.


Sydney Toler as Charlie Chan, with Richard Derr

Derr played a German spy in Man at Large, which starred George Reeves, as well as a dozen other movies. He so disliked Tonight We Raid Calais (with Lee J. Cobb, Beaulah Bondi and John Sutton) that he broke his contract with 20th Century Fox.

During World War II, Derr enrolled in the US Army Air Corps, and flew as a navigator on flights between South America and Africa, for the Air Transport Command.

Returning to Hollywood, Derr began to appear in "A" pictures - such as Secret Heart, The Bride Goes Wild, Luxury Liner, and Ingrid Bergman's Joan of Arc.

Derr also started accepting stage roles, making his New York debut in The Traitor, by Hermsan Wouk - it starred Walter Hampden and Lee Tracy. Other theater roles followed.

Derr alternsated his time between movies and the stage in the late 40s and early 50s...and then starred in When Worlds Collide in 1951.

When Worlds Collide
Richard Derr, staying at the Gorham Hotel in New York while he was appearing on stage on Broadway, was sent the script for When Worlds Collide, by his agent Maynard Morris. Derr was not a fan of science fiction, he equated it with "Flash Gordon, little green men from Mars, ray guns, and flying saucers." But he liked the script and decided to take the role.

It would take only four weeks to shoot the movie, and he was back in New York to continue his stage career by January - and soon was starring in Dial M For Murder, which ran for a year and half.

Derr spent the next several decades working on stage and in television. As far as science fiction is concerned, he had cameo roles in Star Trek in two different episodes, "The Alternative Factor," as Commodore Barstow and "The Mark of Gideon," as Admiral Fitzgerald.

In 1983, however, Derr retired and made a new career in the real estate business, in the lucrative Beverly Hills market, although he occasionally accepted a TV role.

His last television role was a guest shot in the TV series Automan (which starred Robert Lansing, as well as Desi Arnaz Jr. and Chuck Wagner.)

Derr succumbed to pancreatic cancer on May 8, 1992, at the age of 73.

Bibliography
Filmfax magazine, #30, 1992
Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki

Return to When Worlds Collide Index

Magazine articles
  • Spacemen 1, July 1961, article: Collision Course

  • Filmfax published an article about Richard Derr in their Dec/Jan 1992 issue, #30, entitled: "Behind-the-Scenes with Richard Derr: The actor whose life on stage and screen could have been titled "When Worlds Collide," and written by Wade Williams.
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