All articles and pages may contain affiliate links. You can read our disclosure policy here.

Filmography

1928      

The Three Passions

 

1930      

A Warm Corner

Alf’s Button

 

1931      

Never Trouble Trouble

The W Plan

Fascination

 

1932      

For the Love of Mike

Reserved for Ladies

Ebb Tide

Aren’t We All?

Wedding Rehearsal

Men of Tomorrow

 

1933      

Strange Evidence

The Private Life of Henry VIII

 

1934      

The Battle

The Private Life of Don Juan

The Broken Melody

The Scarlet Pimpernel

 

1935      

Folies Bergère de Paris

The Dark Angel

 

1936      

These Three

Beloved Enemy

I, Claudius (unfinished)

 

1938      

The Divorce of Lady X

The Cowboy and the Lady

 

1939      

Wuthering Heights

Over the Moon

The Lion Has Wings

 

1940      

Til We Meet Again

 

1941      

That Uncertain Feeling

Affectionately Yours

Lydia

 

1943      

Forever and a Day

Stage Door Canteen

First Comes Courage

 

1944      

The Lodger

Dark Waters

 

1945      

A Song to Remember

This Love of Ours

 

1946      

Night in Paradise

Temptation

 

1948      

Night Song

Berlin Express

 

1951      

The Lady from Boston

 

1952      

Dans la vie tout s’arrange (a French version of The Lady from Boston)

24 Hours of a Woman’s Life

 

1954      

All Is Possible in Granada

Désirée

Deep in My Heart

 

1956      

The Price of Fear

 

1963      

Of Love and Desire

 

1966      

The Oscar

 

1967      

Hotel

 

1973      

Interval

Awards

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

Actress, Biographies

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.