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Merle Oberon-the Ultimate Party Hostess

Updated on April 14, 2013

Years ago, there was a former Hollywood film producer who retired to east Texas and spent a few moments each day on local talk radio answering questions about famous stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood of which he invested a large part of his life.

I called in to talk to him one day and asked if it were true that Merle Oberon was the quintessential party hostess of Hollywood. He responded that she indeed was and at the time had a home in Acapulco, Mexico where such galas were given. He told me that everyone who was anyone came to her parties on the cliff.

Who was this beautiful and mysterious film star? There has been some misconception as to her birthplace. For years, it was stated that she was born in Tasmania, Australia. Actually, miss Oberon falsely made that available to the press simply because it sounded more proper, or romantic than her actual birthplace, Bombay, India on February 19, 1911 to a Welsh father and an Indian mother.

Errol Flynn, the highly publicized leading man of Hollywood films had been born in Tasmania and possibly that is where she came up with such an idea. To hide her half-Indian parentage, she would tell visitors to her home that her mother was her maid. Another story was that when she had an artist do a painting of her mom, she had him lighten her mother's skin color to hide the darker Indian heritage.

Merle was educated in India and at just seventeen left home for England. There, she found work in British films in rather unimportant parts. One day, while in line at the commissary on the studio lot, she was discovered by a producer which led to her role as Anne boleyn in The Private Life of Henry Vlll in 1933. This, incidentally became the very first British film nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. Merle married her benefactor in 1939 and when her husband was knighted as Sir Alexander Korda, she became the First Lady Korda.

The marriage lasted exactly six years and one day. During that time, Merle's prominent roles were in The Scarlet Pimpernel with Leslie Howard who would go on to win Scarlett's heart in Gone With the Wind, The Dark Angel with Frederick March for which she would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, The Cowboy and the Lady with Gary Cooper, her most famous film Wuthering Heights in 1939 with Lawrence Olivier and her pompous and demanding role in A Song To Remember with Paul Muni and Cornel Wilde; the true story of the legendary composer Frederic Chopin.

She would continue to make films throughout the 50's and 60's with her final screen performance in 1973 in Interval. She would marry a second time in 1945 only to divorce again in 1949. A third trip to the alter produced two adopted children. That marriage in 1957 lasted sixteen years. Her fourth marriage was in 1975 and would last until her death in November of 1979.

Merle had homes in Acapulco, Mexico and in Malibu, California where she died at age 68, still beautiful to the end. Her parties were legendary and included the rich and famous and film stars. Here is a video of one of her parties. In attendance are President Lyndon B. Johnson's daughter Linda Byrd Johnson and her date, film star George Hamilton, John Wayne and his wife and Mexico's film star Dolores Del Rio and her husband.


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