Born: Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson in Bombay, India, 19 February 1911 (birthplace, date, and name vary in different sources). Education: Attended La Martinère College, Calcutta. Family: Married 1) the director Alexander Korda, 1939 (divorced 1945); 2) the camera-man Lucien Ballard (divorced); 3) Bruno Pagliai, 1957 (divorced), two adopted children: Bruno, Jr. and Francesca; 4) Robert Wolders, 1978. Career: Dance hostess at Cafe de Paris in London; 1930—film debut in Alf's Button; 1932—contract with London Film Productions; 1933—lead in film The Private Life of Henry VIII; followed by films for United Artists produced by Samuel Goldwyn, notably Wuthering Heights, 1939; 1957—host for TV series Assignment Foreign Legion; 1973—producer and co-editor of film Interval. Died: Of stroke in Los Angeles, 23 November 1979.
Films as Actress:
(as Estelle Thompson)
Alf's Button (Kellino)
Never Trouble Trouble (Lane); Fascination (Mander)
Service for Ladies (Reserved for Ladies) (Korda); For the Love of Mike (Banks); Ebb Tide (Rosson); Aren't We All (Lachman); Wedding Rehearsal (Korda) (as Miss Hutchinson); Men of Tomorrow (Sagan) (as Ysobel d'Aunay)
(as Merle Oberon)
The Battle (Hara-Kiri; Thunder in the East) (Farkas) (as Marquise Yorisaka); The Broken Melody (Vagabond Violinist) (Vorhaus) (as Germaine); The Private Life of Don Juan (Korda) (as Antonia)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Young) (as Marguerite Blakeney); Beloved Enemy (Potter) (as Helen Drummond); Folies Bergeres (Del Ruth) (as Baroness Genevieve Cassini); The Dark Angel (Franklin) (as Kitty Vane)
These Three (Wyler) (as Karen Wright)
Over the Moon (Freeland, Howard) (as June Benson)
The Divorce of Lady X (Whelan) (as Leslie Steel); The Cowboy and the Lady (Potter) (as Mary Smith)
Wuthering Heights (Wyler) (as Cathy Linton); The Lion Has Wings (Powell and Hurst) (as Mrs. Richardson)
'Til We Meet Again (Goulding) (as Joan Ames)
That Uncertain Feeling (Lubitsch) (as Jill Baker); Affectionately Yours (Bacon) (as Sue Mayberry); Lydia (Duvivier) (title role)
Forever and a Day (Goulding and others) (as Marjorie); Stage Door Canteen (Borzage) (as herself); First Comes Courage (Arzner) (as Nicole Larsen)
The Lodger (Brahm) (as Kitty); Dark Waters (de Toth) (as Leslie Calvin)
A Song to Remember (Charles Vidor) (as George Sand); This Love of Ours (Dieterle) (as Karin)
A Night in Paradise (Lubin) (as Delerai); Temptation (Pichel) (as Ruby)
Night Song (Cromwell) (as Cathy)
Berlin Express (Tourneur) (as Lucienne)
Pardon My French (Vorhaus) (as Elizabeth Rockwell)
Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life (Affair in Monte Carlo) (Saville) (as Linda Venning)
Todo es posible en Granada (de Heredia) (as Margaret Fobson); Desirée (Koster) (as Empress Josephine); Deep in My Heart (Donen) (as Dorothy Donnelly)
The Price of Fear (Biberman) (as Jessica Warren)
Of Love and Desire (Rush) (as Katherine Beckman)
The Oscar (Rouse) (as herself)
Hotel (Quine) (as The Duchess)
Film as Producer:
Interval (Daniel Mann) (+ ro as Serena Moore)
By OBERON: articles—
Interview (made in 1977) in Films in Review (New York), February 1982, see also the issue for June-July 1982.
On OBERON: books—
Parish, James Robert, and Don E. Stanke, The Glamour Girls, New Rochelle, New York, 1975.
Higham, Charles, and Roy Moseley, Princess Merle: The Romantic Life of Merle Oberon, New York, 1983.
On OBERON: articles—
Current Biography 1941, New York, 1941.
Obituary in New York Times, 24 November 1979.
Obituary in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), February-March 1980.
Berg, A. Scott, "Merle Oberon: Bel-Air Estate of the Best Actress Nominee for The Dark Angel," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Film Dope (Nottingham), July 1992.
On OBERON: film—
Queenie, television mini-series directed by Larry Peerce, 1987.
* * *
Merle Oberon represents a classical case of the woman whose sheer beauty secured her the kind of attention that eventually brought her into films. Raised in India, she did not come to London until she was 17; she then progressed from cafe hostess (name Queenie O'Brien) to film extra. This in turn led to minor roles in undistinguished British films during 1930–32 (name Estelle Thompson), until she finally caught the eye of the Hungarian-British producer, Alexander Korda.
Korda gave her the opportunity, personal patronage, and training which was to establish her as a beautiful star (name Merle Oberon) and acceptable actress. She was later to become his wife. Her first role of importance was as Anne Boleyn in Korda's film, The Private Life of Henry VIII, where her dark beauty and svelte grooming made a marked, if short-lived, impression among the King's succession of wives. Her appearance and panache won her many star roles in both London and Hollywood productions, including those in Korda's The Private Life of Don Juan, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Dark Angel.
Her career seemed threatened when she was in a severe car accident during the shooting of I, Claudius, in which she was to have played Messalina opposite Charles Laughton. (Korda made her accident his reason for closing down this troubled production.) After successful facial surgery, however, she was able to return to the screen, and starred from 1938 through to the 1960s in a range of films, largely American. The more notable, perhaps, are The Divorce of Lady X, Wuthering Heights (with Laurence Olivier), Ernst Lubitsch's That Uncertain Feeling, René Clair's Forever and a Day, and as George Sand in the Chopin biographical film A Song to Remember. Daniel Mann directed her last film, Interval, which she produced herself and co-edited, about an older woman who finds happiness with a younger man, played by Robert Wolders. He went on to become her husband in real life.