The Three Passions
A Warm Corner
Never Trouble Trouble
The W Plan
For the Love of Mike
Reserved for Ladies
Aren’t We All?
Men of Tomorrow
The Private Life of Don Juan
The Broken Melody
Folies Bergère de Paris
The Dark Angel
I, Claudius (unfinished)
The Divorce of Lady X
The Cowboy and the Lady
Over the Moon
The Lion Has Wings
Til We Meet Again
Forever and a Day
Stage Door Canteen
First Comes Courage
A Song to Remember
This Love of Ours
Night in Paradise
The Lady from Boston
Dans la vie tout s’arrange (a French version of The Lady from Boston)
24 Hours of a Woman’s Life
All Is Possible in Granada
Deep in My Heart
The Price of Fear
Of Love and Desire
Merle Oberon was nominated for one Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in The Dark Angel (1935).
Without security, it is difficult for a woman to look or feel beautiful. ~ Merle Oberon
Merle Oberon: Learn more about her, review her filmography and more
Merle Oberon (born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson, 19 February 1911 i n Bombay (now known as Mumbai), British India to a 12-year-old Indian girl named Charlotte and raised as her sister, for most of her lifetime Oberon concealed the truth about her parentage.
In 1914, Arthur Thompson joined the British Army and later died of pneumonia on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme. Merle, with Charlotte, led an impoverished existence in shabby flats in Bombay for a few years. Then, in 1917, they moved to better circumstances in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata). Oberon received a foundation scholarship to attend La Martiniere Calcutta for Girls, one of the best private schools in Calcutta. There, she was constantly taunted for her unconventional parentage, eventually leading her to quit school and receive lessons at home.
Oberon first performed with the Calcutta Amateur Dramatic Society.
In 1929, Merle met a former actor named Colonel Ben Finney at Firpo’s, and she dated him. However, when he saw Oberon’s dark-skinned mother (actually her grandmother) one night at her flat, and realized Oberon had mixed ancestry, he decided to end the relationship. However, Finney promised to introduce her to Rex Ingram of Victorine Studios, if she was prepared to travel to France, which she readily did. After packing all their belongings and moving to France, Oberon and her mother found that their supposed benefactor avoided them, although he had left a good word for Oberon with Ingram at the studios in Nice. Ingram liked Oberon’s exotic appearance and quickly hired her to be an extra in a party scene in a film named The Three Passions.
Oberon arrived in England for the first time in 1928, aged 17. Initially she worked as a club hostess under the name Queenie O’Brien and played in minor and unbilled roles in various films.
Her film career received a major boost when the director Alexander Korda took an interest and gave her a small but prominent role, under the name Merle Oberon, as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) opposite Charles Laughton. The film became a major success and she was then given leading roles, such as Lady Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) with Leslie Howard, who became her lover for a while.
Oberon’s career benefited from her relationship with, and later marriage to, Korda. He sold “shares” of her contract to producer Samuel Goldwyn, who gave her good vehicles in Hollywood. Her “mother” stayed behind in England. Oberon earned her sole Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for The Dark Angel (1935) produced by Goldwyn.
She was selected to star in Korda’s 1937 film, I, Claudius, as Messalina, but her injuries in a car accident resulted in the film being abandoned. She went on to appear as Cathy in her most famous film, Wuthering Heights (opposite Laurence Olivier; 1939), as George Sand in A Song to Remember (1945) and as the Empress Josephine in Désirée (1954).
According to Princess Merle, the biography written by Charles Higham with Roy Moseley, Oberon suffered damage to her complexion in 1940 from a combination of cosmetic poisoning and an allergic reaction to sulfa drugs. Alexander Korda sent her to a skin specialist in New York City, where she underwent several dermabrasion procedures. The results, however, were only partially successful; without makeup, one could see noticeable pitting and indentation of her skin.
Charlotte died in 1937. In 1949 Oberon commissioned paintings of her mother from an old photograph. The paintings hung in all her homes until Oberon’s own death in 1979.
Merle Oberon had a brief affair in 1941 with Richard Hillary, an RAF fighter pilot who had been badly burned in the Battle of Britain. They met while he was on a goodwill tour of the United States.
Oberon became Lady Korda when her husband was knighted in 1942. At the time, the couple were based at Hills House in Denham, England. She divorced him in 1945, to marry cinematographer Lucien Ballard. Ballard devised a special camera light for her to eliminate her facial scars on film. The light became known as the “Obie”.
She married twice more, to Italian-born industrialist, Bruno Pagliai (with whom she adopted two children; they lived in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico) and Dutch actor Robert Wolders – later companion to actresses Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron – before her retirement in Malibu, California, where she died, aged 68, after suffering a stroke. She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.