Numerous portraits in the NFSA’s Taussig film stills collection capture the early career of glamorous Hollywood star, Merle Oberon (19 February 1911 – 23 November 1979). Ever mysterious, stunningly beautiful and with an air of the exotic, that quality of mystery carried over from her film persona to the question of her origins.
The Private Life of Merle Oberon
Merle Oberon was a star of British and Hollywood films in the 1930s and 40s. She rose to fame with roles opposite Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, UK, 1933), Douglas Fairbanks in The Private Life of Don Juan (Alexander Korda, UK, 1934) and Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, USA, 1939).
She also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for The Dark Angel (Sidney Franklin, USA, 1935).
Throughout her early press tours, Oberon attributed her success to her humble Tasmanian birthplace and touted her Australian origins with pride. In a 1934 interview with Coralee Clarke Rees in The West Australian (‘Australian-born Film Star's Rise to Fame’), Oberon further detailed her biographical connections.
She said, ‘I was born in Tasmania but left there when I was a child ... Since my films have been circulated, several people in odd parts of Australia have bobbed up to claim me as a relation … I don’t know very much about them because my family quarrelled with them some time ago.'
Oberon adamantly repeated various tales of her Australian beginnings until her death in 1979. It was only later that Oberon’s Australian heritage was exposed as studio publicity fiction.