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Merle Oberon Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (4) | Trivia (22) | Personal Quotes (3) | Salary (3)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 19 February 1911Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India
Date of Death 23 November 1979Malibu, California, USA  (massive stroke)
Nicknames Obie
Queenie
Height 5' 2" (1.57 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson was born in India on February 19, 1911. She was educated in that country until the age of 17, when she left for London. Merle began her career in British films with mostly forgettable roles or bit parts. She appeared in an uncredited role in Alf's Button (1930), a pattern that would unfortunately repeat itself regularly over the next three years. However, movie moguls eventually saw an an untapped talent in their midst and began grooming Merle for something bigger. Finally she landed a part with substance: the role of Ysobel d'Aunay in Men of Tomorrow (1932). That was quickly followed by The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933). After her portrayal of Lady Marguerite Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Hollywood beckoned and she left to try her hand in US films. American movie executives already had some idea of her talent because her film Vagabond Violinist (1934) (US title: Vagabond Violinst) was a success in that country. With her nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress as Kitty Vane in The Dark Angel (1935), Merle became a star in both Britain and the US. Her work in that film resulted in offers for more quality pictures, and she appeared in several well received films, such as These Three (1936), Over the Moon (1939) and The Divorce of Lady X (1938). Her most critically acclaimed performance--hailed by some critics as "masterful"--was as Cathy Linton in Wuthering Heights (1939). The 1940s proved to be a very busy decade for her, as she appeared in no less than 15 films. After her role in Berlin Express (1948) she would not be seen on the screen again until four years later, as Elizabeth Rockwell in Pardon My French (1951). She was off the screen again for more than a year, returning in Désirée (1954). Unfortunately, she began appearing in fewer and fewer films over the ensuing years. There were no films for her in 1955, only one in 1956 and then none until Of Love and Desire (1963). In between she did appear on television as host of the TV series Assignment Foreign Legion (1956). Her final film was Interval (1973). After her career finally ended she lived in quiet retirement until her death of a massive stroke on November 23, 1979, in Malibu, California. She was 68 and had kept her beauty to the end.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson

Merle Oberon was born in Bombay, of mixed Welsh-Indian parentage, as Estelle "Queenie" Thompson. According to Michael Korda, she "became a feature of Bombay nightlife while still in her early teens and eventually made her way to England as the girlfriend of a wealthy young Englishman." In London she became a star at the Cafe de Paris and the girlfriend of a Black American jazz musician called Hutch.

The three Korda brothers, Alexander, Zoltan and Vincent, were Hungarian Jews who made careers in the movie business, first in London and later in Hollywood. Alexander Korda discovered Queenie in the tea line at the movie studio. He changed her name and cast her as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933), the first British picture to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. Merle Oberon and Alexander Korda married in 1939 and she became the first Lady Korda when he was knighted.

In 1979 Vincent's son Michael Korda, now editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, published 'Charmed Lives', a history of the three flamboyant brothers and their actress wives. Twenty years later, in 1999, Michael wrote 'Another Life: A Memoir of Other People'. In the "Memoir" he says that he had been "more than usually circumspect on the subject of Merle" when he wrote 'Charmed Lives', but Merle's lawyer had reviewed the bound galley proofs and called. Korda, faced with a "time-consuming and expensive lawsuit," took Oberon "virtually out of the book altogether."

In 1985 Michael published a fictionalized biography of his aunt, 'Queenie'.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Wylie Jones J.

Spouse (4)

Robert Wolders (31 January 1975 - 23 November 1979) (her death)
Bruno Pagliai (28 July 1957 - 1973) (divorced) (2 children)
Lucien Ballard (26 June 1945 - 11 February 1949) (divorced)
Alexander Korda (3 June 1939 - 4 June 1945) (divorced)

Trivia (22)

Was known as "Queenie Thompson" up until 1933 when future husband Alexander Korda changed her name for her role in The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933).
Following her death, she was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, in the Garden of Remembrance.
Because of facial scars the actress 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.
Lost the role of Domini Enfilden in The Garden of Allah (1936) to Marlene Dietrich.
To hide her half-Indian parentage, she would tell friends and acquaintances that the older woman who lived in her house was her maid; the woman was actually her mother.
Her father hailed from Britain and her mother from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Had extremely sensitive skin. She suffered from cosmetic poisoning twice, the second of which left permanent scarring.
Early publicity stated that she was born in Tasmania, Australia, rather than India. At that time, a Tasmanian background was considered "classier" than her true mixed race origins.
The two children she had during her marriage to Bruno Pagliai, Francesca Pagliai and Bruno Pagliai Jr., were adopted.
Her will left most of her money to be divided between her children. She left $1 million to the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital. Her husband, Robert Wolders, got nothing, at his own request.
In 1949, 12 years after her mother's death, she commissioned a painting of her mother from an old photograph, instructing the painter to lighten her mother's complexion in the painting to hide the fact that she was part-Indian.
The miniseries Queenie (1987) starring Mia Sara is based on a book by Merle's nephew, loosely based on her life.
Was considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), which went to Vivien Leigh.
According to an interview with Oberon in the February 1982 edition of "Films in Review", Samuel Goldwyn owed her over a million dollars to her for a series of pictures. He allegedly cried to her that he did not have the money. According to her, she told him to forget about it even though she still owed agent's fees to Myrom Selznick. Some years later, Oberon asked Mrs. Goldwyn if she could buy a print of Wuthering Heights (1939) to complete her collection of films for her children but was refused.
Most early biographies of Merle Oberon credited "Service for Ladies" as her first Korda film, but she was not in it or "Never Trouble Trouble", another incorrect attribute.
Although she made three films opposite Charles Korvin, she said in an interview in the February 1982 issue of "Films in Review" that he was not a good actor.
Stunned by Merle Oberon's radiant beauty in The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933), director William Wyler recommended to cousin Carl Laemmle to sign her. Months later, Wyler discovered that Universal had taken his advice but mistakenly signed Binnie Barnes.
Had appeared with Binnie Barnes in four films: The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933), The Private Life of Don Juan (1934), The Divorce of Lady X (1938) and 'Til We Meet Again (1940).
Merle Oberon passed away on November 23, 1979, three months away from what would have been her 69th birthday on February 19, 1980.
She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6274 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on February 8, 1960.
Was considered for the role of Bithiah in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956).
To date (2016), Oberon is the only Asian actress to be nominated as Best Actress.

Personal Quotes (3)

Without security, it is difficult for a woman to look or feel beautiful.
Even when I was single, I owned homes and gardens. I buy beauty when other women buy jewels. Land is security to me. I need gardens that are mine to walk on.
[on Ernst Lubitsch in That Uncertain Feeling (1941)] That was probably the happiest picture I ever made because Lubitsch was such a funny man, such a darling man. He played the piano between every take, and there would be laughs. Then I always ask him to do the scene for me before I did it only to have a laugh.

Salary (3)

The Dark Angel (1935) $60,000
The Price of Fear (1956) $35,000
The Oscar (1966) $5,000

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