Merle Oberon Fast Facts
Born: Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson on February 19, 1911 in Bombay, British India (now Mumbai)
Died: November 23, 1979 (aged 68) in Malibu, California (massive stroke)
Mother: Constance Selby (aged 12 at time of birth) (Eurasian)
Grandmother: Charlotte Selby (Eurasian from Ceylon [Sri Lanka] with partial Maori heritage)
Father: Arthur Thompson (Anglo origins)
Husbands: Alexander Korda (June 3, 1939 - June 4, 1945) (divorced)
Lucien Ballard (June 26, 1945 - February 11, 1949) (divorced)
Bruno Pagliai (July 28, 1957 - 1973) (divorced) (2 adopted children)
Robert Wolders (January 31, 1975 - November 23, 1979) (her death)
Children: (adopted) Francesca Pagliai and Bruno Pagliai, Jr.
Nicknames: Obie and Queenie
Did You Know?
Parentage: Birth certificate lists her father as Arthur Thompson, a railway engineer. It names her mother as Constance Selby, who was only 12 at the time of the birth.
Controversially, Constance was the daughter of Thompson’s girlfriend Charlotte Selby. Charlotte, a Eurasian from Ceylon with partial Maori heritage, had had Constance by an Irish tea planter when she herself was only 14 and living in Ceylon.
Charlotte was around 26 when Merle was born and raised her as her own. The girl grew up thinking Constance was her sister rather than her mother.
In 1914 Thompson joined the British Army and later died of pneumonia on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme.
Oberon lied about her mixed-race heritage, a controversial subject at the time. She told everyone that she was born in Tasmania and that all records of her birth were destroyed in a fire.
To hide her heritage, she would tell friends and acquaintances that the older woman who lived in her house was her maid; the woman was actually her grandmother.
In 1949, 12 years after her grandmother's death, she commissioned a painting of her grandmother from an old photograph, instructing the painter to lighten her mother's complexion in the painting to hide the fact that she was of mixed-race heritage.
Born in 1911, she was given "Queenie" as a nickname, in honor of Queen Mary, who visited India along with King George V in 1911.
Because of facial scars Oberon sustained in a London car crash in 1937, her future husband, cinematographer Lucien Ballard, designed a compact spotlight that he coined the "Obie" (Oberon's nickname). Mounted on the side of the camera, the device lights the subject head on, thus reducing the incidence of unflattering facial lines and shadows.
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.
Michael Korda, nephew of Alexander Korda, wrote a roman à clef about Oberon after her death entitled Queenie. It was turned into a television miniseries starring Mia Sara.
#SOTM Films - Friday, March 4, 2016 and Saturday, March 5, 2016
Top L: Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins in These Three
Top R: David Niven and Merle Oberon in Beloved Enemy
Middle L: Merle Oberon in Folies Bergère de Paris
Middle R: Merle Oberon in The Dark Angel
Bottom L: Merle Oberon in The Private Life of Don Juan
Bottom R: Merle Oberon in The Private Life of Henry VIII
These Three (1936)
BW - 1h 33m
Martha (Miriam Hopkins) and Karen (Merle Oberon) graduate from college and turn an old Massachusetts farm into a school for girls. The friends are aided in their venture by local doctor Joe Cardin (Joel McCrea), who begins a relationship with Karen, and a prominent woman whose granddaughter, Mary (Bonita Granville), later enrolls in the new school. Mary soon reveals herself to be a spiteful child and tells a scandalous lie about Martha and Joe that threatens to destroy the lives of all involved.
Dir: William Wyler
Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea, Bonita Granville.
Beloved Enemy (1936)
BW - 1h 30m
In 1921, British Lord Athleigh (Henry Stephenson) arrives in Dublin with his daughter, Helen (Merle Oberon), to engage in peace talks. As wanted Irish rebel leader Dennis Riordan (Brian Aherne) is not recognized in public, he is able to move about freely and saves the Athleighs from an assassination attempt by a radical faction. Dennis and Helen meet again and, unaware of his position, Helen falls in love with him. Later when Dennis admits his identity, Helen must make a fateful decision.
Dir: H. C. Potter
Cast: Merle Oberon, Brian Aherne, Karen Morley, Henry Stephenson, David Niven.
Folies Bergère de Paris (1935)
BW - 1h 20m
In this 1935 musical comedy, featuring the glitzy production numbers of Busby Berkeley, Eugene Charlier (Maurice Chevalier) easily impersonates the married yet unfaithful Baron Cassini (also Chevalier) in his act. When the baron leaves for a secret out-of-country meeting, Charlier gets hired to play him again at a state reception. Both the baron and Charlier romantically toy with the baroness (Merle Oberon) and Charlier's lover, Mimi (Ann Sothern), in an amusing game of mistaken identity.
Dir: Roy Del Ruth
Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Merle Oberon, Ann Sothern, Eric Blore.
The Dark Angel (1935)
BW - 1h 46m
Alan Trent (Fredric March) and his cousin, Gerald Shannon (Herbert Marshall), have both loved Kitty Vane (Merle Oberon) since childhood. On leave from the front in World War I, Alan proposes to her, but when his leave is canceled, Kitty spends his last night with him. At the front, Gerald believes Alan has been unfaithful to Kitty, and Alan refuses to contradict him, forcing the friends apart. Later, when Alan is presumed killed in a bombing, Gerald sadly returns home to relay the news to Kitty.
Dir: Sidney Franklin
Cast: Fredric March, Merle Oberon, Herbert Marshall.
The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)
BW - 1h 29m
As news spreads through Seville, Spain, that Don Juan (Douglas Fairbanks) is in town, husbands lock up their wives, unaware the famed lover is in poor health. Both Juan's private servant and his doctor urge him to settle down with his own wife, Dolores (Benita Hume), but he is determined to maintain his reputation. When an impostor posing as Juan is killed, he takes the opportunity to retire. However, after six months, a bored Juan wishes to return -- but finds no one believes his identity.
Dir: Alexander Korda
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Merle Oberon, Bruce Winston, Benita Hume.
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
BW - 1h 37m
Renowned for his excess, King Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) goes through a series of wives during his rule. With Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon), his second wife, executed on charges of treason, King Henry weds maid Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie), but that marriage also ends in tragedy. Not one to be single for long, the king picks German-born Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester) as his bride, but their union lasts only months before an annulment is granted, and King Henry continues his string of spouses.
Dir: Alexander Korda
Cast: Charles Laughton, Merle Oberon, Robert Donat, Wendy Barrie, Elsa Lanchester.
#SOTM Films - Friday, March 11, 2016 and Saturday, March 12, 2016
Top L: Merle Oberon in The Lodger
Top R: Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights
Middle L: Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady
Middle R: Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier in The Divorce of Lady X
Bottom L: Ralph Richardson and Merle Oberon in The Lion Has Wings
Bottom R: Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Lodger (1944)
BW - 1h 24m
In London in 1889, retiree Robert Bonting (Cedric Hardwicke) and his wife, Ellen (Sara Allgood), rent a spare room to the mysterious Slade (Laird Cregar) as Jack the Ripper continues to terrorize the city. The Bontings' niece, Kitty (Merle Oberon), is a music hall singer who initially grows fond of the eccentric lodger, but, when the Ripper's body count rises, she and a Scotland Yard inspector (George Sanders) gradually begin to suspect that Slade could be the notorious Whitechapel killer.
Dir: John Brahm
Cast: Merle Oberon, Laird Cregar, George Sanders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
BW - 1h 44m
In this adaptation of the classic Emily Brontë novel set in 19th-century England, wealthy young Cathy Earnshaw (Merle Oberon) shares a loving bond with Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), a poor childhood friend who now works in her stables. Unfortunately, things become complicated when the affluent Edgar Linton (David Niven) decides to pursue Cathy, and Heathcliff leaves out of resentment. Though Heathcliff returns with a self-made fortune, he realizes he may have lost Cathy in his absence.
Dir: William Wyler
Cast: Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald.
The Cowboy and the Lady (1938)
BW - 1h 31m
Bored with serving as official hostess at political events for her wealthy father, Mary Smith (Merle Oberon) goes to a bar, which is promptly raided. Displeased, her father sends her to Palm Beach with her two maids, who take her on a blind date, where she meets taciturn cowboy Stretch Willoughby (Gary Cooper). Learning that Stretch dislikes the idle rich, Mary pretends to be a maid, and after the couple falls in love and marries, she has some quick explaining to do to her father -- and Stretch.
Dir: H. C. Potter
Cast: Gary Cooper, Merle Oberon, Walter Brennan, Patsy Kelly.
The Divorce of Lady X (1938)
Color - 1h 31m
Trapped in London due to the fog, lawyer Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier) grudgingly allows the use of his hotel sitting room by a stranded partygoer, Leslie Steele (Merle Oberon). Charmed by Leslie even after she tricks him into giving up his bedroom and pajamas, Everard becomes infatuated, despite his suspicion that she is married. When Lord Mere (Ralph Richardson) engages Everard to file for divorce against his wife, who met a man at the hotel, Everard fears he may be the "other" man.
Dir: Tim Whelan
Cast: Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Binnie Barnes.
The Lion Has Wings (1939)
BW - 1h 16m
Royal Air Force squadron leader W.C. Richardson (Ralph Richardson), his wife (Merle Oberon) and a relative, Bobby, placidly ignore the military rumblings from Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. Only after the German takeover of Austria, Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland do the Richardsons accept that there must be war. Mr. Richardson and Bobby throw themselves into the first air raid assaults, while Mrs. Richardson and Bobby's girlfriend, June, volunteer for work at the first aid station.
Dir: Michael Powell
Cast: Merle Oberon, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez, Robert Douglas.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
BW - 1h 37m
At the heart of the French Revolution, effete aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard) is secretly the Scarlet Pimpernel, leading an underground group dedicated to freeing nobles from the brutal Robespierre. Blakeney plays his part so well that even his own wife, Marguerite (Merle Oberon), doesn't suspect him. Robespierre's agent, Chauvelin (Raymond Massey), learns that Marguerite's brother is one of the Pimpernel's group, and she begins working unknowingly to destroy her own husband.
Dir: Harold Young
Cast: Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey, Nigel Bruce.
#SOTM Films - Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19
Top L: Merle Oberon in First Comes Courage
Top R: Merle Oberon in A Song to Remember
Middle L: Merle Oberon and Melvyn Douglas in That Uncertain Feeling
Middle R: Merle Oberon in Lydia
Bottom L: Merle Oberon and George Brent in 'Til We Meet Again
Bottom R: Merle Oberon in Over the Moon
First Comes Courage (1943)
BW - 1h 28m
Beautiful Norwegian woman Nicole Larsen (Merle Oberon) is dedicated to the local resistance movement, and seduces Nazi officer Paul Dichter (Carl Esmond) in order to gain information that will help to defeat the Germans. Complicating matters for Nicole are both the difficulty of her loathsome undercover work and the appearance of an old flame, handsome English soldier Allan Lowell (Brian Aherne), who would like nothing more than to reunite with her.
Dir: Dorothy Arzner
Cast: Merle Oberon, Brian Aherne, Carl Esmond, Erville Alderson.
A Song to Remember (1945)
Color - 1h 53m
Polish patriot and composer Frédéric Chopin (Cornel Wilde) is one of the 19th century's most famous musicians, whose love of country and devotion to his legendary music are threatened by his passionate affair with novelist George Sand (Merle Oberon) and his rivalry with mentor Józef Elsner (Paul Muni). Despite his failing health and Poland's subjugation by the Russians, Chopin continues playing, deciding to give one last rousing concert tour across Europe that could cost him his life.
Dir: Charles Vidor
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Merle Oberon, Paul Muni, Nina Foch.
That Uncertain Feeling (1941)
BW - 1h 24m
Jill Baker (Merle Oberon) has an incurable case of the hiccups, for which she reluctantly agrees to see a psychologist, Dr. Vengard (Alan Mowbray). During her first visit she realizes her hiccups may be related to nerves about her husband, Larry (Melvyn Douglas). Upon her second visit to the psychologist, she runs into a famous pianist (Burgess Meredith), and her doubts about her marriage are intensified when he starts courting her. Larry carries out a plan to renew his wife's affections.
Dir: Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Merle Oberon, Melvyn Douglas, Burgess Meredith, Alan Mowbray.
BW - 1h 44m
An older unmarried woman, Lydia MacMillan (Merle Oberon), gets reacquainted with a previous boyfriend, Michael (Joseph Cotten). When he invites Lydia to his house for tea, however, she has no idea that she's about to be confronted with her past. Two other men who courted Lydia years earlier, Bob (George Reeves) and Frank (Hans Jaray), are waiting for her and want to know why she never married. Her answer dredges up memories of Richard (Alan Marshal), the man she loved and is still waiting for.
Dir: Julien Duvivier
Cast: Merle Oberon, Joseph Cotten, Edna May Oliver, Alan Marshal, George Reeves, Hans Jaray.
'Til We Meet Again (1940)
BW - 1h 39m
Time is short for Joan Ames (Merle Oberon). Suffering from a terminal illness, she has only weeks to live and has decided to spend her remaining days traveling the globe. While on a cruise ship back to America, she meets and falls in love with Dan Hardesty (George Brent). Joan doesn't want to ruin their romance by telling him the truth about her illness, but what Joan doesn't know is that Dan's time is limited too; he's a convicted criminal being sent back to America to face his execution.
Dir: Edmund Goulding
Cast: Merle Oberon, George Brent, Pat O'Brien, Geraldine Fitzgerald.
Over the Moon (1940)
Color - 1h 18m
A young woman's (Merle Oberon) $90 million inheritance drives out her fiance (Rex Harrison) and draws fortune hunters.
Dir: Thornton Freeland
Cast: Merle Oberon, Rex Harrison, Ursula Jeans, Robert Douglas.
#SOTM Films - Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26
Top L: Merle Oberon in Désirée
Top R: Merle Oberon in Hotel
Middle L: Merle Oberon in Deep in My Heart
Middle R: Merle Oberon in Berlin Express
Bottom L: Merle Oberon in Night Song
Bottom R: Merle Oberon in Affectionately Yours
Color - 1h 50m
Désirée Clary (Jean Simmons) has met the love of her life, and his name is Napoleon Bonaparte (Marlon Brando). But their love is a difficult one, as Napoleon's rise through the military ranks takes him away from her, and they both eventually marry other people. Years later, as Napoleon seems destined to rule the known world, the two cross paths again and attempt to rekindle their romance. But when Napoleon's reign comes to a end, their relationship may not be able to survive.
Dir: Henry Koster
Cast: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Merle Oberon, Michael Rennie.
Color - 2h 4m
Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas) may own a hotel that's the epitome of luxury, but the accounting books tell a different story. The St. Gregory Hotel is pretty much flat broke. To prevent a corporate takeover, Trent pins his hopes on the ingenuity of hotel manager Peter McDermott (Rod Taylor). But a revolving door of zany guests -- including a drunk-driving Duke of Lanbourne (Michael Rennie) and an intrepid thief named Keycase (Karl Malden) -- makes that a challenging task.
Dir: Richard Quine
Cast: Rod Taylor, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, Merle Oberon, Melvyn Douglas, Michael Rennie.
Deep in My Heart (1954)
Color - 2h 12m
A biographical musical charting the life of composer Sigmund Romberg (Jose Ferrer). Starting out as a musician working at a New York City café, Romberg quickly becomes one of the most successful composers of Broadway musicals, operettas and film scores in the early 20th century. His rise is charted through many musical numbers from his best-known works, such as "The Student Prince," "The Desert Song," and 'Rosalie," many of which feature an all-star cast of MGM performers.
Dir: Stanley Donen
Cast: Jose Ferrer, Merle Oberon, Gene Kelly, Helen Traubel.
Berlin Express (1948)
BW - 1h 27m
During World War II, passengers of various nationalities travel by train from France to Berlin. One of them, Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas), is an influential peacemaker who wants to mend the war-torn continent. When Nazi conspirators determined to keep Bernhardt quiet set off an explosion on the train, it kills a man who turns out to be Bernhardt's decoy. Other passengers (Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Robert Coote) seek the doctor for an explanation, but deception is all around.
Dir: Jacques Tourneur
Cast: Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Korvin, Paul Lukas, Robert Coote.
Night Song (1947)
BW - 1h 42m
At a nightclub, pianist Dan Evans (Dana Andrews) impresses socialite Cathy Mallory (Merle Oberon) with his unique compositions. Learning from Dan's best friend, bandleader Chick Morgan (Hoagy Carmichael), that the proud and embittered Dan is blind, Cathy nevertheless tries to befriend him, only to be rebuffed. The single-minded Cathy then arranges with Chick to meet Dan, pretending to be blind and poor, then secretly arranges a composition contest hoping that Dan will win money for an operation.
Dir: John Cromwell
Cast: Dana Andrews, Merle Oberon, Ethel Barrymore, Hoagy Carmichael, Eugene Ormandy.
Affectionately Yours (1941)
BW - 1h 28m
Tired of being ignored while her husband, Rick (Dennis Morgan), circles the globe -- and eyes the ladies -- as a war correspondent, Sue Mayberry (Merle Oberon) obtains a quick and easy divorce. Rick returns to New York, hoping to win Sue back, which looks impossible since she has a new fiancé, Owen Wright (Ralph Bellamy). Undeterred, Rick pretends to date fellow scribe Irene Malcolm (Rita Hayworth) so he can get Sue jealous and back into his arms. There's just one problem: Irene falls for Rick.
Dir: Lloyd Bacon
Cast: Merle Oberon, Dennis Morgan, Ralph Bellamy, Rita Hayworth.
Merle Oberon on the Radio
Merle Oberon on the Armed Forces Radio Service, Keep 'Em Rolling, Lux Radio Theatre, and The Screen Guild Theater
Merle Oberon - Public Domain Films
Affair in Monte Carlo (1952)
24 Hours of a Woman's Life is a 1952 British film starring Merle Oberon, loosely based on Stefan Zweig's 100 page novella. The film is also known as Affair in Monte Carlo.
D: Victor Saville. Merle Oberon, Richard Todd, Leo Genn, Peter Illing. Rich widow tries to convince gambler that romance is more rewarding than roulette. Monte Carlo backgrounds don't help.
I, Claudius (1937), The Private Life of Don Juan (1934) and The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
I, Claudius is an unfinished 1937 film adaptation of the novels I, Claudius (1934) and Claudius the God (1935) by Robert Graves. Produced by Alexander Korda, the film was directed by Josef von Sternberg, with Charles Laughton in the title role. The production was dogged by adverse circumstances, culminating in a car accident involving co-star Merle Oberon that caused filming to be ended before completion. Footage from the production was incorporated into a 1965 documentary on the making of the film, The Epic That Never Was.
The Private Life of Don Juan is a 1934 British comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Korda and starring Douglas Fairbanks, Merle Oberon and Benita Hume. It was Fairbanks' final film role.
The Private Life of Henry VIII is a 1933 United Kingdom film directed and co-produced by Alexander Korda and starring Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Merle Oberon and Elsa Lanchester.
Merle Oberon on Television
Four Star Playhouse - "Sound Off, My Love"
Season 1, Episode 11 - February 2, 1953
A woman (Merle Oberon) with a reputation of being hard of hearing secretly gets a hearing aid, and starts overhearing people making fun of her. Everyone knows her husband (Gordon Oliver) is having an affair, but she also discovers that he is trying to kill her.
Merle Oberon Bio - Made by Meredy
Wuthering Heights in a Nutshell