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Dirk Bogarde Biography

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Birth Name: Dirk Bogarde
Born: 03/28/1921
Birth Place: Hampstead, England, GB
Death Place: London, England, GB
Died: 05/08/1999

Of Flemish, Dutch and Scottish descent, Dirk Bogarde was born Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde in West Hampton, London on March 28, 1921. Raised for the better part of his childhood in East Sussex, Bogarde and his sister were encouraged to play-act by their mother, a former actress whose own childhood had been spent traveling the provinces with her father, Scottish actor-artist Forrest Niven. While still a boy, Bogarde was introduced to family friend Lionel Cox, founder of the Newick Amateur Dramatic Society, with whom Bogarde made his stage debut in a production of R.C. Sherriff's World War I drama "Journey's End." Educated at University College School in Hampstead and Allan Glen's School in Glasgow, Bogarde attended London's Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, but acting remained his passion. Though he auditioned successfully for the drama school of the esteemed Royal Victoria Hall Foundation, the outbreak of the Second World War prompted the Old Vic's temporary shuttering. Bogarde made his West End debut in 1939, as Derek Bogarde, in J. B. Priestley's "Cornelius," but his career was put on hold when was called up for wartime service.

Joining the Queen's Royal Regiment in 1943, Bogarde eventually reached the rank of captain while serving as an intelligence officer in both the European and Pacific theaters. He performed in a number of plays during the war, among them Patrick Hamilton's "Rope" (later the source of the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film) and wrote and directed at least one musical revue in Java to lift the morale of British soldiers freed from Japanese captivity. Upon his demobilization, Bogarde sought work as a journalist but found a more welcome reception from the Reunion Theatre Association, a charitable concern rehabilitating British theatre actors in peacetime England. Billed as Dirk Bogarde for the first time, the 26-year-old actor was appearing in a production of "Power without Glory" that had the good fortune to be moved from the downmarket New Lindsey Theatre Club to the West End's Fortune Theatre, where his performance was praised by no less than playwright Noël Coward. Bogarde was also invited to make a screen test for Gainsborough Pictures and soon found himself in possession of a contract with the J. Arthur Rank Organization. After recreating his performances in "Power without Glory" and "Rope" for British television, Bogarde made his feature film debut as a policeman in the quota quickie "Dancing with Crime" (1947), starring Richard Attenborough as a crime smashing cabbie.

Next, Bogarde replaced a Hollywood-bound Stewart Granger in "Sin of Esther Waters" (1948), playing a caddish Victorian footman who compromises the reputation of servant Kathleen Ryan. Enjoying his first prominent billing, Bogarde would never again have to settle for less. Though Coward had counseled him not to forsake the theatre for the hollow promise of films, Bogarde did just that, and swiftly racked up a string of charismatic performances, from the cop killer of "The Blue Lamp" (1950), to Jean Simmons' hero in "So Long at the Fair" (1950), to calamity-prone medical student Simon Sparrow in "Doctor in the House" (1954), "Doctor at Sea" (1955), and "Doctor at Large" (1957). Bogarde turned his hand again to dastardy as a fortune hunter not averse to murder in "Cast a Dark Shadow" (1955) and was the conflicted Sidney Carlton in "A Tale of Two Cities" (1958), performances that solidified his standing as a major star of postwar British film.

A shot at Hollywood stardom playing composer Franz Liszt in Charles Vidor's musical biopic "Song Without End" (1960) was short-circuited by the film's failure at the box office, though Bogarde made a lifelong friend in co-star Capucine. Also poorly received was his jaw-dropping turn as a leather-clad gaucho in Roy Ward Baker's "The Singer Not the Song" (1961), whose homoerotic overtones fueled rumors about the committed bachelor's sexual orientation. Given the gossip about his private life, Bogarde risked his status as a reliable romantic lead by playing a closeted gay barrister in Basil Dearden's "Victim" (1961), whose bid to bring down a blackmailer of homosexuals exposes his own secret inclinations. The actor played for laughs again as an older, wiser Simon Sparrow in "Doctor in Distress" (1963) and as an amateur spy up to his neck in intrigue in "Agent 8 ¾" (1964), a spoof of espionage thrillers. A deceptively gifted comedian, Bogarde's stock-in-trade remained nervy dramas, the best of which included Lewis Gilbert's maritime adventure "Damn the Defiant!" (1962), Dearden's science-based thriller "The Mind Benders" (1963), and Joseph Losey's "The Servant" (1963), in which Bogarde played a shady valet who undermines insecure employer James Fox.

A bleach-blonde Bogarde breezed his way through Losey's swank spy satire "Modesty Blaise" (1966) without breaking a sweat, but was required to work harder in Losey's quietly discomfiting "Accident" (1967) and in Jack Clayton's "Our Mother's House" (1967), in which he played the untrustworthy absentee father of orphans attempting to make a go of family life following the death of their invalid mother. Bogarde traveled abroad to work with Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti, playing conflicted, flawed aristocrats in "The Damned" (1969) and "Death in Venice" (1971), again courting rumors in the latter by playing a titled composer who falls in love with a teenage boy. Long a talented writer, Bogarde also turned his hand to fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and several volumes of memoirs, resulting in fewer film appearances. Bogarde drew on his wartime experiences for Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter" (1974), as a former SS officer who enjoys a torrid, tortured affair with a female concentration camp survivor, and Richard Attenborough's sprawling, all-star WWII reenactment "A Bridge Too Far" (1977), as Lieutenant General Frederick "Boy" Browning.

In 1988, Bogarde suffered the loss of his longtime companion and manager Anthony Forwood, the former husband of actress Glynis Johns. Having suffered a minor stroke in 1987, the newly-knighted actor was felled by a massive stroke in 1996, after undergoing an angioplasty. His last film role - as the title character in Bertrand Tavernier's "Daddy Nostalgia" (1990) - long behind him, an incapacitated Sir Dirk Bogarde devoted himself to finishing a final volume of his memoirs. He died of a heart attack on May 8, 1999, at the age of 78. In compliance with his final wishes, Bogarde was cremated and his ashes scattered over the grounds of the estate he had shared with Forwood in the south of France.

By Richard Harland Smith