A beautiful fatherless child, Ursula Andress left the boredom of Bern, Switzerland to seek her fortune in 1952. One of seven children raised by her Swiss-born mother, the future sex symbol was just sixteen when she left home.
Her father, Rolf Andress, a German diplomat, was posted to the Swiss capital during World War 2 and disappeared, like the some of the characters in the James Bond spy movies she would later play in.
Winning bit parts in the same Italian B movie scene that was a springboard for Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, Ursula caught the eye of the jet set, and she found herself in Hollywood, contracted to a major studio.
While Marilyn Monroe proved that gentlemen preferred blondes at the box office, Andress hung out with the rebels without a cause like Marlon Brando and James Dean, who really walked on the wild side, leading lives that knew no sexual boundaries. She is reported to have been one of the last people to have spoken with Dean before the actor got into his Porsche and t-boned his way up to heaven.
She married into old line Hollywood in 1957, becoming the better half of hunk John Derek (real name Derek Harris), son of director Lawton Harris. With good looks, a pedigree and dodgy acting skills, Derek earned a major role as killer Nick Romano opposite Humphrey Bogart in Nicholas Ray’s courtroom classic Knock On Any Door. The courtroom drama that demonstrated Bogie’s soft spot for the underdog generated one of the lesser known Bogie lines, “You look great, but kid, that’s not enough.”
Her marriage to Derek kept Ursula in the fast lane but effectively warehoused her Hollywood career for five years. She broke big in 1962, the year of Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death, playing the sex siren in Dr. No, the first of the blockbuster James Bond films.
Some film critics and historians consider the shot capturing Andress emerging from the ocean in a white bikini one of the sexiest in the history of Hollywood.
Andress followed up with meat and potatoes, the 1963 Elvis Presley vehicle, Fun In Acapulco, and then the 1965 Peter Sellers frolic What’s New Pussycat?, with a star-studded cast and script by Woody Allen. She posed nude for aPlayboy spread that same year, and when asked why, she told pundits “It’s because I’m beautiful.”
There was a western with Rat Packers Sinatra and Martin and a love farce with Mastroianni that had more to do with showcasing her cleavage than her acting talents.
Her last major successes came in 1967 with another boffo Bond spectacular, Casino Royale, that resonated with some male Vietnam-era boomers. But her big box office days ended the party with Derek. After their divorce, the hunky hubby moved on to younger fare, the American actress, Linda Evans, and, after that marriage hit the rocks, his love icon, Bo Derek.
While men were drawn to the passion and sensuality of Brigitte Bardot packaged in a French wrapper, the lure of Andress was grounded in pure lust, a commodity that excited the male libido even faster. Bardot had a sexy French accent that turned men on. Andress had a low voice that could be alluring in English but sometimes needed overdubbing and, unlike Bardot, she couldn’t sing. With her attributes, however, she didn’t need to.
Andress continued playing in uneventful films and television productions after the turn of the century, looking a bit more preserved than her old rival, Bardot. She has even been doing some honorary diplomatic work promoting her native Switzerland. Unlike her father, nobody questioned whether she was playing for the right side.
By Eric Ehrmann