Sunday, 20 February 2011


Oh dear, a centenary that the world appears to have overlooked... For yesterday it would have been 100 years since the birth of that most glittering and beautiful of classic movie stars, Miss Merle Oberon.

Apart from being a stunningly beautiful and photogenic British export to America, the former Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson (nicknamed "Queenie" by her family) held a significant and ground-breaking position in Hollywood history, as the first leading lady of Indian origin to appear in mainstream movies. Although she deliberately tried to obscure her background (claiming to be Tasmanian), it seems that her mother was of Ceylonese origin, her father was a Welsh-Irish employee of the India Railways, and she was born in Bombay.

Miss Oberon's potential was spotted early on by renowned film producer Alexander Korda (who she later married), who cast her as Ann Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII with Charles Laughton, and the rest, as they say, is history. She starred in movies such as The Scarlet Pimpernel with Leslie Howard, The Four Feathers with Ralph Richardson and The Private Life of Don Juan with Douglas Fairbanks, was nominated for an Oscar in Dark Angel, and came to screen prominence as Cathy in the all-time classic version of Wuthering Heights, starring alongside a smouldering Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.

Her star was almost blotted by a car crash in 1937 that left her face scarred, and later attempts to treat her skin left her with further disfigurements. Her second husband cinematographer Lucien Ballard even invented a new technique (which he named "the Obie") to disguise them.

During the 1950s, as parts gradually dried up for Miss Oberon, she retired from acting. She died of a stroke, aged just 68, in 1979.

Here at Dolores Delargo Towers, among our collection of tacky oddities is a treasured copy of the television mini-series Queenie, based upon Merle's life. Worth watching for the ham-fisted attempts at recreating the golden age of Hollywood alone, I'd say!

Miss Merle Oberon, we will never forget you... RIP.

Merle Oberon entry in the BFI Screenonline catalogue

Merle Oberon on IMDB

Here is a very camp appearance by the lady herself in an early Technicolour "masterpiece" Night in Paradise:

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