Their father died around 1926. Derr's mother and 7 years older brother Rodman were left to support the household. Richard and his brother made a pact. Richard would go to work after school to earn money to help send Rodman to college. Once Rodman was established, he would return the favor. After graduating, though, Rodman got married, and "forgot" the agreement to help his brother out. (Williams)
When he attended Stewart Junior High, "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. "I was always playing George Washington in some pageant or other but before I undertook the part of George I served my apprenticeship as Robin Washington, George's half brother, until my nose got big enough to handle the leading role." He graduated two years early, at the age of 16.
After graduating from Norristown High School (Pennsylvania)
in 1933, he held a banking position of clerk at a Norristown bank. He
studied with the American Institute of Banking, completing a 4 year course in 3
years. For three years he kept on acting with
"The Dramateurs," a Norristown amateur little theatre group, doing
standard "little theatre" plays of the period.
Pursuing his goal to be a professional actor, Derr became a student of
Jaspar Deeter - the director/educator of the Hedgerow Theater,
a repertory theatre in nearby Moylan, Pennsylvania.
and honed his craft there for three years (1938-40, in the evenings. Daytimes, he still
worked at the bank.)
During World War II, Derr enrolled in the US Army Air Corps, and flew three years as a navigator on flights between between Miami, Brazil and Africa, for the Air Transport Command. Out of uniform and back in Hollywood he took up the threads of romance with Anne Baxter where they left off. When he departed for the Air Corps Anne accompanied him as far as Arizona. John Hodiak, was the second suitor who eventually married Baxter in 1946.
Returning to Hollywood, Derr began to appear in "A" pictures - such as
Heart (1946), The Bride Goes Wild
(1948), Luxury Liner (1948), and Ingrid Bergman's
Joan of Arc (1948).
In 1948, Derr played John in a touring production of John
Loves Mary (Apr 1948). He made his Broadway debut as Lt. Henderson in The Traitor,
by Herman Wouk, receiving a Theatre World Award in
1948/49 for this performance. Subsequently he played Dr. Harriman in
The Closing Door (Empire, Dec. 12, 1949);
Tegeus-Chromis in A Phoenix Too Frequent (Fulton, Apr.
26, 1950); and Clark Redfield in a tour of Dream Girl
Below right: Richard and Barbara Rush in a promotional photo for When Worlds
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." He liked the script and, in the end, practical considerations took over and he committed to the role. The pay was good, the shooting schedule was a short one (four weeks), and he could be back in New York by the third week in January. "He wouldn't miss anything really important". It was a good decision. When Worlds Collide made Richard Derr a star, albeit a shooting one - and soon he was starring in the play Dial M For Murder, (1952-54) which ran for a year and half.
In the 50s he had numerous TV roles (The Silver Theatre, Ford Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One, Playhouse 90 and U.S. Steel Hour) and once played Ellery Queen in the TV episode "Confidential Agent" (8-27-52) of The Adventures of Ellery Queen as a replacement for the lead, Lee Bowman who was on vacation...
In theatre he played Dan King in Plain and Fancy (Mark Hellinger Th.,
Jan. 27, 1955), which he repeated for his London debut (Drury
Lane, Jan. 25, 1956) after closing there, he traveled
throughout the Philippines and the Hawaiian Islands with the road company of
In 1958 another TV pilot was filmed for The Shadow. Several episodes were filmed but again the show didn’t go to series. Republic, known for squeezing every last penny out of their productions, released this to movie theaters as a 60-minute feature titled Invisible Avenger, and again in 1962 re-titled Bourbon Street Shadows. This one had higher production values, and wasn’t bound to a stage set. It opened with the voice of The Shadow much like the radio series. Instead of organ music, though, viewers hear a gong being struck repeatedly in the background. Lamont Cranston was played by Richard Derr, who was a strange choice to play Cranston, because of his light hair. In all other incarnations of The Shadow, Cranston was dark haired. (John Olsen)
Richard Derr was signed as host of the NBC-TV Tuesday night
series, Fanfare, a film anthology which started July 7. 1959. The
series was previously announced as Summertime '59.
Above left: Richard Derr opposite Richard Gere in American
(4) Richard Derr Papers with special thanks to Katherine Krzys, Curator,
Rare Books and Manuscripts
(5) "When Worlds Collide" by Wade Williams in Filmfax Dec/Jan 1992
Additional video & audio sources
(1) When Worlds Collide - 1951 trailer
(2) Invisible Avenger - 1958 as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow
(3) Bourbon Street Shadows - 1962 trailer (= Invisible Avenger revamped)
(4) Tales of Tomorrow - episode "The Miraculous Serum" - 1952
(5) The Phil Silvers Show (Sgt Bilko) S3E37 Joan's Big Romance (27 June 1958)
This actor profile is a part of
Ellery Queen a website on deduction.
The actor above played Ellery Queen in
an Ellery Queen TV series.
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Many of the profiles on this site have been compiled after very careful research of various sources. Please quote and cite ethically!
At Arizona State University the Richard Derr papers are held. They confirm his year of birth as 1917. In contradiction to the more widely spread "1918".
Page first published on Feb 28. 2019
Last updated April 15. 2022
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