What if… Bo Derek had been the first big-screen Marvel superhero? There’s a timeline in the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse where that might have become a reality. In a recent chat with Yahoo Entertainment, the actress and international sex symbol revealed that she was approached by Marvel Comics in the early ’80s with an offer to bring their disco-dancing superhero, Dazzler, to the multiplex.
At the time, Derek had just made a splash in Blake Edwards’s 1979 hit, 10, and representatives from Marvel flew to Paris during a promotional tour to get her to sign on the dotted line. “We had this big meeting in this gorgeous apartment,” the actress, now 64, recalls. “It was a little overwhelming for me, a beach girl from California!” (Watch our video interview above.)
In her original form, Dazzler was intended to be a promotional stunt shared by Marvel and Casablanca Records designed to capitalize on the success of disco. (In fact, the character was originally called “The Disco Queen.”) After the planned partnership fell apart, Dazzler made her comic book debut in a 1980 issue of The Uncanny X-Men, and the company was eager to unleash her sound-and-light powers in movies as well.
Two years earlier, Richard Donner’s pioneering Superman: The Movie had proven that comic book adaptations could fly on the big screen, and Marvel was eager to make a similar leap after investing in a series of TV movies starring characters like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Captain America. (Marvel’s only other film prior to that point was a long-forgotten Captain America serial from the 1940s.) Gary Goddard was commissioned to write a screenplay that would have been specifically tailored to Derek.
From the beginning, though, the actress had her doubts about suiting up as Dazzler. “I was being offered everything,” she remembers. “I had a huge offer for a ton of money to play a female wrestler. You can see that I’m not really the type! Playing Dazzler — this incredible rock performer — would have taken a lot of training, so I wasn’t anxious to do all that.”
With Derek out, Marvel went back to the drawing board on its movie dreams. It wasn’t until 1986 that the company saw one of its characters grace the big screen in the notorious bomb, Howard the Duck, executive produced by George Lucas. But the tide turned in Marvel’s favor after 1998’s Blade knocked out audiences, kicking off a series of hits that included Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man that culminated in the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s Iron Man. Dazzler, meanwhile, finally made a brief on-screen appearance in 2019’s Dark Phoenix where she was played by Halston Sage.
As for Derek, she ended up collaborating with Goddard on another movie that had a background in comics: 1981’s Tarzan, the Ape Man, which she produced and starred in as the King of the Jungle’s better half, Jane Porter. “It’s a comic strip, right?” she says of that movie, which was one of the biggest hits of that year despite largely negative reviews.
Years after her near-brush with superhero-dom, Derek shared the screen with a person some have compared to a supervillain: former president Donald Trump. The businessman-turned-politician has a small role in Derek’s 1989 film, Ghosts Can’t Do It — her final collaboration with her first husband, John Derek, who died in 1998. (Derek recently married her long-time boyfriend, John Corbett, during the coronavirus pandemic.)
In the movie, Derek plays the widow of a recently deceased man (Anthony Quinn) whose spirit seeks out a younger body to possess so they can continue their romance. Trump appears as a businessman who flirts with Derek during an extended scene in a boardroom. “We got a call from a mutual friend saying, ‘Donald is looking to be in movies,'” she remembers about how the cameo came about. “We were going to be in New York anyway, so we wrote a little scene and he was in the movie.”
According to Derek, Trump didn’t require a lot of rehearsal for his scene. “He was great, and we wrote it to get in and out of his offices very quickly. He’d been a friend for quite a while.” And looking back on the experience now, she believes that “mutual friend” may have been Trump himself. “There was that time where I believe he was pretending to be his own press agent and calling newspapers and magazines to get his named dropped in the social scene,” she says, referring to Trump’s well-documented alter ego, John Barron. “During that time where he was campaigning, I think I put that together.”
Ghosts Can’t Do It is currently streaming on Prime Video with a Fandor subscription.