Estelle Merle Thompson was born in India on February 19, 1911 of Welsh and Ceylonese (now Sri Lankan) descent. She was educated in that country until the age of 17, when she left for London. She began her career in British films with mostly forgettable roles or bit parts. She appeared in an uncredited role in Alf’s Button (1930), a pattern that would unfortunately repeat itself regularly over the next three years.
However, movie moguls eventually saw an an untapped talent in their midst and began grooming Oberon for something bigger. Finally she landed a part with substance: the role of Ysobel d’Aunay in Men of Tomorrow (1932). That was quickly followed by The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933). After her portrayal of Lady Marguerite Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Hollywood beckoned and she left to try her hand in US films. American movie executives already had some idea of her talent due to her role in Vagabond Violinist (1934) (US title: Vagabond Violinist) was a success in that country. With her nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress as Kitty Vane in The Dark Angel (1935), Oberon became a star in both the UK and the USA.
Her work in that film resulted in offers for more quality pictures, and she appeared in several well received films, such as These Three (1936), Over the Moon (1939) and The Divorce of Lady X (1938). Her most critically acclaimed performance–hailed by some critics as “masterful” — was as Cathy Linton in Wuthering Heights (1939). The 1940s proved to be a very busy decade for her, as she appeared in no less than 15 films. After her role in Berlin Express (1948) she would not be seen on the screen again until four years later, as Elizabeth Rockwell in Pardon My French (1951). She was off the screen again for more than a year, returning in Désirée (1954).
Unfortunately, Oberon began appearing in fewer and fewer films over the ensuing years. There were no films for her in 1955, only one in 1956 and then none until Of Love and Desire (1963). In between she did appear on television to host Assignment Foreign Legion (1956). Her final film was Interval (1973). After her career finally ended she lived in quiet retirement until her death of a massive stroke on November 23, 1979, in Malibu, California. Oberon was 68 and had kept her beauty to the end.
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