When you picture Bo Derek, which of the following comes to mind: cornrows or canine care? The answer could be both. Best remembered as the blonde bombshell in the 1979 Blake Edwards film, 10, Derek is now gaining fame as the founder of Bless the Beasts, a line of pet care products.
Derek herself once foresaw a career in animal care as more likely than a spot on the silver screen. A life-long animal lover and extreme-sportsman, she never imagined she would go into acting and still takes her fame for her role in 10 with a grain of salt. “In my first film I could have been a serial killer, and that would have been what I was associated with all the time,” she jokes. However, the image of Derek as a beach beauty is not far from the truth. Having grown up in the suburbs of Los Angeles where she spent her childhood surfing, sailing, and riding motorcycles, Derek was no stranger to sand and surf. “I certainly never dreamed of going into films. My main interest was the beach, and I assumed I’d end up working in a surf shop,” she says of her early career goals. “Life took me in a very different direction.”
Just as the beautiful Los Angeles native practically fell into acting as a teenager, Bless the Beasts came in a similarly serendipitous fashion years later when Derek was working with chemists on a line of skin creams and cosmetics in 1996. “That’s when I had my twenty-six horses and nine dogs, and the nine dogs lived in the house. It was just impossible,” recalls the now seasoned actress, who at the time owned a breeding ranch for Spanish and Portuguese bullfight horses. “I said to the chemists, ‘You know what I really need, I need you to make me some products for my own use: something where the application is easy, it’s fast, and it makes them [the dogs] smell good because they’re all living in the house with me.’ So we started working on these formulations, and they turned out to be amazing—and so much better than anything I’d ever used. And I’ve tried everything,” she adds.
That was when Derek knew she should be marketing pet products, not cosmetics, and Bless the Beasts was born. “I thought, ‘This is what I’m really passionate about, what I love, and I can’t say I was really ever coming up with anything unique in skin care or cosmetics,” she admits. With a house full of dogs and a nation of pet owners in the same situation, Derek knew that her product would find a niche in the market place.
Good for the karma as well as the canine coat, Bless the Beasts donates a portion of its profits to Canines for Independence, a group that trains dogs for the physically disabled. “I try to be very careful of what I will lend my name to and what I will get involved with,” Derek says of her chosen charity. “I like to think that I live in the real world. Unfortunately, animals aren’t a big priority in our world, but I try to get involved with things that I think have quick results and are very pragmatic.”
Her faith in her new product made the transition between actress and sales woman fairly easy for Derek, who claims that producing her own films taught her “how to get things done.”
“I’ve been asked in the last twenty years to sell everything, but I’ve never been a salesman – I’ve never wanted to be a salesman,” she says. “This is something I really believe in. A portion of the profits is going to animal causes that I believe in, so it just seemed natural.”
Among the pet (and people) pleasing products are shampoos, conditioners, pomades, and sprays that neutralize odor and add shine to canine coats using natural ingredients like meadow foam oil, aloe vera, and oatmeal. One shampoo features an innovative no-tears formula, while another not only cleans but also highlights dingy fur. Candles and sprays can also freshen a room where pets have been, leaving it with a clean, light scent.
“Fragrance is a big part of all my products,” says Derek. Explaining the dilemma of keeping her dogs happy and her house clean, the softhearted actress asks, “How could I leave three out or just bring one in?” In addition to delighting customers, Bo’s new shampoo has brought her closer to her two dogs Cifi and Iwa, who now smell good enough to cuddle up on their mistress’ bed at night.
Although life with nine dogs and twenty-six horses was trying enough to inspire a new line of pet products, Derek was really in her element on the ranch. “It was a beautiful time,” she recalls. “There was nothing like going out and living with the mares, helping to midwife a foal, and watching them grow up.” Because Derek now lives with her sister Kerry and is often away on travel, she has since pared down her pet posse to four horses, two dogs, one donkey, and a parrot named Angus. “I’ve always been animal crazy, horse crazy, and I’ve always found them to be something honest and real and solid in my life,” she says. These pets have not only been her constant companions, but have also gotten her through some tough times, including the death of her husband John in 1998. “They’ve always helped me,” she says of the animals that shared her grief. “They were my solace, they really were. And they still are.”
With the support of family members and the companionship of her pets, Bo branched out on her own after working closely with her husband for nearly twenty years. Shortly after his death, she accepted a role in Wind on Water as the widowed mother of two Hawaiian surfer-ranchers. Although the part seemed perfectly suited to the California native, John objected to the role before his death. “Playing a mother of two adults was not his idea of the woman he was in love with,” she told the Orlando Sentinel. “This was my own decision.”
Perhaps it was this strength of mind that made Cosmopolitan Magazine name her one of the year’s most ‘Fun and Fearless Females’. “I don’t know that I’m fearless,” Derek demurs, but admits, “it’s been a year of taking on a lot of challenges and projects that I never would have done before. I wouldn’t say ‘fearless’ because ‘fearless’ means it wasn’t scary for you.”
Among the ambitious projects she has undertaken in the past year are television appearances on ABC’s Two Guys and A Girl, the Paramount Television action-adventure series, Queen of Swords, and CBS’s Family Law. She also recently finished filming a courtroom thriller with Bruce Boxleitner and Stewart Bick called Life in the Balance, in which she plays a defense attorney recovering from a drug addiction. Her preparation for the role? “I’ve been sued a lot,” she laughs, “so I had a lot of research material already in my head.” Derek also has a book coming out called Everything I Know About Men I Learned From a Stallion, an aptly titled memoir of her life with animals.
Her most unusual undertaking in recent months, however, involved an off-camera role in the political arena, when she was asked to join the Bush campaign. “I had so much fun,” says Derek, who admired Bush’s political accomplishments in Texas. “I love this country, and getting involved in the campaign and meeting all those dedicated people was really a great experience for me. I’m just happy that he won.”
Thirty years ago, would Derek have seen herself involved in politics, acting, and animal care? “I just always assumed I would be living near the beach doing something beach related,” she says of childhood plans for the future. The drastic career change was not too disappointing, however. “Life has been good and I could choose pretty much where I would like to live,” she says of her success, “but I love living out in the country with my horses and my dogs.” Bo’s future plans are still unwritten, but one thing is certain—whether campaigning, acting, or marketing Bless the Beasts, animals will always hold a special place in her heart.