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Star of the Month: Merle Oberon
Remind Me

Merle Oberon Profile

Darkly striking lead, raised in India from the age of seven and discovered by Alexander Korda (to whom she was married from 1939 to 1945) while working as a film extra in England. Combining a slightly frosty reserve and a distinctive British accent with a somewhat exotic beauty which suggested a passionate nature, Oberon achieved immediate fame after Korda cast her as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). She went on to star in a number of British films, notably The Scarlet Pimpernel (1935), and, beginning with The Dark Angel and Follies Bergere de Paris (both 1935), was primarily based in Hollywood, initially under the aegis of Samuel Goldwyn Productions.

Two films Oberon made at Goldwyn directed by William Wyler featured some of her best work: These Three (1936), a worthy but altered adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour in which a scandalous lesbian romance was rewritten as a heterosexual triangle; and her best-remembered film, Wuthering Heights (1939), in which she played Kathy opposite Laurence Olivier's Heathcliff. Korda's epic version of I, Claudius, directed by Josef von Sternberg, was unfortunately was abandoned in mid-production after Oberon was seriously injured in a 1937 car crash.

Popular in both period and contemporary romances, Oberon's box-office lure in Hollywood continued through the mid-1940s with Julien Duvivier's lavish Lydia (1941), Dorothy Arzner's offbeat WWII story, First Comes Courage (1943), and her tempestuous turn as unconventional writer George Sand in A Song to Remember (1945). Her stardom, however, slipped later in the decade after several poor films which failed to capitalize on a persona which was half English rose and half headstrong, tormented lover. Ever glamorous, the jet-setting Oberon made intermittent screen appearances in the 1950s (Desiree 1954) and 60s (Of Love and Desire 1963) in mostly unmemorable films, typically as sophisticated, jaded women of the world. After her death, Korda's nephew Michael wrote a novel, Queenie (which was made into a TV miniseries in 1987), which was reputedly based on Oberon's life, telling of the rise to fame of a young woman of partially Asian descent attempting to conceal her impoverished upbringing and interracial ethnicity. Oberon's second husband was cinematographer Lucian Ballard, and her fourth, actor Robert Wolders.

Biographical data supplied by TCMdb

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