Merle Oberon

Other names: 

Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson (real name), Queenie O'Brien, Estelle Thompson

Date of birth: 
19 Feb 1911
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Date of death: 
23 Nov 1979
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1928
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



London, Los Angeles


Merle Oberon was born in India to a Welsh father, Arthur Thompson, who worked in Bombay as a railway engineer and his Ceylonese wife Constance. She was educated in India until the age of 17, when she left for London, where she worked as a hostess in the Café de Paris and as an extra in British films. In the early 1930s, she was discovered by the film producer Alexander Korda, whom she later married (they divorced in 1945), who cast her as Anne Boleyn in his 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII and created her screen name Merle Oberon for her. Her most critically acclaimed performance was in the 1939 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights as Cathy, starring alongside Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff.

Oberon had a complex relationship with her dual heritage, especially after her move to Hollywood. On her arrival in England in 1927, she would call herself ‘Tasmanian’, thinking that her mixed-race heritage and her Indian origin might be an obstacle to her career. In company she would introduce her mother, who for many years accompanied her, as her maid.

Oberon worked with prestigious directors such as Korda, Ernst Lubitsch, René Clair, Jules Duvivier, King Vidor, and William Wylerand starred alongside some of Hollywood’s most famous male stars, Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Douglas Fairbanks senior, Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, George Sanders, and Marlon Brando among them.

Oberon died of a stroke in Los Angeles on 23 November 1979.


Robert Graves (Oberon was set to star in Alexander Korda's film adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius), Alexander Korda, Laurence Olivier, Sabu.

Published works: 


The Three Passions (1928)

A Warm Corner (1930)

Alf's Button (1930)

Never Trouble Trouble (1931)

The W Plan (1931)

Fascination (1931)

For the Love of Mike (1932)

Reserved for Ladies (1932)

Ebb Tide (1932)

Aren't We All? (1932)

Wedding Rehearsal (1932)

Men of Tomorrow (1932)

Strange Evidence (1933)

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The Battle (1934)

The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)

The Broken Melody (1934)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Folies Bergère de Paris (1935)

The Dark Angel (1935)

These Three (1936)

Beloved Enemy (1936)

I, Claudius (1937) (unfinished)

The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

The Cowboy and the Lady (1938)

Wuthering Heights (1939)

Over the Moon (1939)

The Lion Has Wings (1939)

'Til We Meet Again (1940)

That Uncertain Feeling (1941)

Affectionately Yours (1941)

Lydia (1941)

Forever and a Day (1943)

Stage Door Canteen (1943)

First Comes Courage (1943)

The Lodger (1944)

Dark Waters (1944)

A Song to Remember (1945)

This Love of Ours (1945)

A Night in Paradise (1946)

Temptation (1946)

Night Song (1948)

Berlin Express (1948)

24 Hours of a Woman's Life (1952)

Pardon My French (1952) (French version was also filmed)

All Is Possible in Granada (1954)

Desirée (1954)

Deep in My Heart (1954)

The Price of Fear (1956)

Of Love and Desire (1963)

The Oscar (1966)

Hotel (1967)

Interval (1973)

Secondary works: 

Higham, Charles, Merle: An Autobiography of Merle Oberon (Sevenoaks: New English Library, 1983)

Shipman, David, The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, rev. ed. (London: Warner, 1993)

‘Obituary’, The Times (26 November 1979) p. 14