December 24, 1979 12:00 PM

After spending a summer shuddering at ghosts (The Amityville Horror) and worse (Prophecy), moviegoers obviously wanted something that neither creeps nor crawls to raise their goose bumps. What they got was Bo Derek. Rising languidly and lusciously out of the Pacific in the Blake Edwards movie that rated her a perfect “10,” Bo made flesh out of Dudley Moore’s middle-aged fantasies and gave America its first ’80s sex symbol. At 23, Bo has triumphed where TV-bred symbols like Farrah fizzled: She is putting sex back where it belongs, in the movies.

The Bo Derek poster is now the hottest in the land, a credit both to Bo’s ability to fill a wet shirt and the photography of her husband-Svengali, John Derek, 53. He had already made a mini-career of photographing his second and third wives, actresses Ursula Andress and Linda Evans, in the nude even before Bo fell into his rangefinder. “I have an awkward image,” he admits, “peddling my wife for profit.” So while “10” earned Bo only $35,000, her asking price has since shot to $1 million. “Every time the phone rings,” she exults, “it’s someone with a bigger part and more money.”

All this is happening to plain Mary Cathleen Collins, born in Long Beach, Calif., the oldest of four children of a motorbike dealer father and a mother who worked as Ann-Margret’s hairdresser. At 16 Bo accompanied her mother to see Ann-Margret in Vegas. A thunderstruck agent sent her to Derek, a sometime actor (Knock on Any Door) and director. He whisked her off to Mykonos, where he was shooting a film. “John was married to Linda Evans at the time,” Bo says. “But I knew I was falling in love with him. He talked to me as though I were an adult.”

After explaining things to an understanding Evans—”She’s the sweetest, most gorgeous person in the world,” says Bo—Derek and Bo split for Germany until she was 18, partially to avoid a minors rap pressed by Bo’s aced-out agent. Derek is continuing to play her Professor Higgins. “John makes me do exercises and diet so I keep my body tuned,” says Bo. He is also making sure she’s prepared as an actress. Previously, John notes, “All Bo had to do was look gorgeous, and she didn’t do anything to earn that. God gave her that.”

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