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. He then appeared at the Hedgerow Theatre, a repertory theatre in nearby Moylan, Pennsylvania.
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.)
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 .
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. 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.
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 and once played Ellery Queen in the TV-episode "Confidential Agent" (8-27-52) of The Adventures of Ellery Queen as replacement for the lead, Lee Bowman who was on vacation...
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.
(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 issue, #30
Additional video & audio sources
(1) When Worlds Collide - 1951 trailer
(2) Bourbon Street Shadows - 1962 trailer
(3) Tales of Tomorrow - episode "The Miraculous Storm" - 1952
This actor profile is a part of the
Ellery Queen a website on deduction.
The actor above played Ellery Queen in
an Ellery Queen TV series.
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 Apr 6. 2019
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