Merle Oberon — Play Your Hunches (1936) 🇺🇸

Merle Oberon |

December 06, 2021

It’s the way Merle Oberon bet on stardom!

by Dorothy Herzog

It is some 7,000 miles from Hollywood to a city in India named Darjeeling. Merle Oberon is the only actress in motion pictures who has made that long trek successfully. She traveled by way of London to click first in British, then in Hollywood pictures.

If the truth be known, Merle comes from even a greater distance than Darjeeling, India. That was but one stopping off place in her journey to the top. She was born in “down under”— in Hobart, Tasmania, an island off the coast of Australia. At the age of seven, she went on to India. At sixteen, she continued on to London. At 23, she arrived in Hollywood.

But if you want the real, inside picture of Merle Oberon — and she has never given it before — you’ll have to travel back with her to Darjeeling, a small, slumbrous town high in the mountains — far from the bedlam of automobiles, street-cars, any sort of noise.

It is the darkest hour before dawn. A party of five people venture from a house in the more populated section of the town. Five horses have been saddled. The party mounts. They gallop toward the mountains.

No one in the party speaks. No sound is heard but the sounds of the night and the cozy clump of horses’ hoofs. Forming a circle of phosphorous white before them is the snow-line of the mountains. It is the only light in the deep darkness. It is cold — very cold. The party reaches the ridge toward which they have been ascending. They quietly wait in the silence for the dawn. They face to the north and to the east. To the north they gaze into the mystery that is the “top of the world,” the country of Tibet. To the east, they look to China and the direction of the sunrise to come.

A bird suddenly calls through the stillness. Another. Then, in the east, a ribbon of light melts through the blue-black sky. In swift beauty, the flowing light etches its pageantry of warm coloring through the heavens. The darkness retreats. A dazzling halo heralds the rising of the suit. Majestically, its rising is orchestrated by the singing of the birds, the cloudless ball of red ascends above the emblazoned horizon and a scene of mountainous grandeur is revealed in all its vital aloneness.

Merle Oberon has never forgotten that dawn.

“Though I’ve never been back since I left, some years ago,” she said.

She left because a picture came to her with that dawn, a picture she is even yet not fully aware of.

“I left,” she put it, “because of a hunch.”

“And that?” I asked.

She considered. “It’s following an overwhelming urge to do something without apparently any logical reason for doing it.”

“Was that the hunch that made you leave ?”

“Yes, to try the movies.”

She was living, at that time, with her uncle and aunt. Her uncle is an officer in the British-Indian army.

“They didn’t approve of my idea,” Merle continued her story, “but I’d already decided to carry on with my hunch.”

“Do you always follow a hunch?”

“Always. It’s right, you know. But with me, I had no notion how to begin a movie career, especially so far away from any of the studios. The first thing I had to decide was which studios I would tackle, London or Hollywood. I decided on London— also a hunch. Then I had to find out what people I should see and where they were located. I got that information from movie magazines, and one day I was just on my way.”

But even when she arrived in London from India, Merle was still “just on her way,” for the going was hard and no doors were opened to her. She worked in a night club. She went the studio rounds. Insignificant parts came her way. It didn’t look any too hopeful, until one day Alexander Korda enjoyed one of those daring moments that directors do enjoy on occasion. He was looking for an actress to play the role of Ann Boleyn in his talkie, “The Private Life of Henry VIII.” He happened to remember the Oberon girl. He gave her a screen test. She made good. He cast her for the part. She played it to a fare-you-well. Korda placed her under contract in London. United Artists placed her under contract m Hollywood. Merle Oberon found herself in the dawn of her talkie career.

“It’s most gratifying,” she expresses it.

But she still functions according to “hunches.” It’s highly probable, now that she has become a figure of importance in pictures, that this faculty may one day be used against her. As soon as a star doesn’t agree with her producer and advisors she is said to be hard to get along with.

“But if I’ve a hunch it is or it isn’t right to do certain things,” Merle questions, “isn’t it to the advantage of everyone that I follow it?”

I don’t know. But it was just that sort of action that prompted her to break off with a well-known star when their romance was on the verge of his getting a divorce to marry Merle.

“He adores his children,” she recognized. “Sooner or later, if we had married, he would have missed them so keenly that he would have longed to be with

them. I couldn’t stand between him and this happiness.”

She severed that relation without leaving any loose ends dangling around to knot up the premises later on.

She’s extraordinarily frank in talking about herself. She doesn’t mind in the least speaking about David Nivens, the handsome young British juvenile, who dashed on to New York from the Coast to meet her when she landed from London this last trip.

“Are you going to marry David Nivens?” I asked tactfully.

She laughed. “There’s no marriage for me for at least two years.”


“I shan’t really be settled for two years,” she explained, and added, “if I am then. You see, I have to alternate with pictures in Hollywood and London. That keeps me pretty much on the go, and I detest traveling.”

“You’ve covered plenty of mileage already,” I commented.

“I don’t think about it,” she replied.

“Well, then,” I questioned, “if marriage is out — what about romance?’’

“I suppose I shall be reported engaged when I get back to Hollywood,” she anticipated with lively interest.

“Aren’t you engaged to Mr. Nivens?”

She shook her head. “But when one goes out with a man she is said to be engaged to him, isn’t she?”

“Do you mind?”

She smiled. “It does no harm, does it?” “It depends who’s talking about you,” I countered.

“Well, we all run that chance.” She let it go at that.

As you may suspect, she’s quite a decisive personality. Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, is one person who perceives and respects this trait in her.

Doug was in the party that Merle took to see the premiere of The Dark Angel when that picture bowed into London. She asked Doug, on that occasion, if he thought she should make “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the picture Alexander Korda wanted her to co-star in with Charles Laughton.

Doug answered pointblank, “You’re going to do what you want to do anyway. Why ask me?”

She decided not to do the picture. The chances are she had already decided before asking Doug, but opinions, even when asked for, don’t sway her. They merely serve to light her ideas.

She is an interesting mixture, this Oberon youngster. Five feet-two of vitality, she gives the impression of being all over the place — which isn’t true. She merely makes sure that she knows what is going on that concerns her. She wastes no time fencing about what she wants. She uses words of one syllable to say what she has to say. Her favorite jewel is her aquamarine ring. She doesn’t go in very much for jewelry. She loves riding horseback. She likes the water. On the Coast, she lives in Santa Monica, her front yard dipping into the Pacific Ocean — the same Pacific that will one day take her back to India via the west. She wears very simple clothes — sports things, usually, during the day. When she wears evening dress, she goes without stockings. She has a trick of looking at a person candidly and calmly.

Che is a little cynical about love. As ^ an experience it has its whirl but it isn’t too trustworthy. She has had her horoscope read once, but she forgets what she was told. She has never been to a fortune-teller. Once, a woman at a Hollywood party read her palm and told her some things that later happened. She thinks that sort of outside help might become a weakness, unless a person was careful to use his own discretion in facing life and conditions.

She likes people. She likes good food, too. She doesn’t diet — never has — never has any notion of doing it, though she doesn’t make any definite decision about such future problems. She isn’t fearful about herself or her career. Success is nice, but she has known obscurity and she lived _ in and through that without fear. She isn’t money conscious. It isn’t what something costs, to her; it’s what it means to her that counts. She likes perfume but has no favorite. A spring green is her favorite color. She has never gone in for “isms.” She isn’t impressed by names. She is impressed when she reacts favorably to meeting names. She is just as impressed if the person is unknown.

She enjoys reading but she doesn’t speak of this voluntarily. She’s amazingly tactful, though her frankness might give the opposite impression. She sees through people but doesn’t embarrass them by letting them know that. She plays no politics, which might give the idea that she is doing just that.

She doesn’t mind being talked about. She loves dogs. She brought an airedale puppy over from England this last trip, which sends her canine quota to three. She isn’t extravagant but she isn’t parsimonious, either. She has chestnut hair and chestnut eyes_ and that young, clean charm that goes with health, and courage, and vitality.

She has no dream she wants to realize but there is a dream she is going to realize. She’s a girl who has seen the dawn on “the top of the world.” She’ll live it as she once saw and felt it and she’ll follow her hunches in the doing, both in and out of emergencies. She’ll’ hold her own no matter where she is because she understands where she fits into the picture.

Merle is soon to be seen in “These Three.”

Source: Modern Screen, March 1936

Source: Modern Screen, April 1936

The steady invasion of foreign players has brought to our shores no more interesting a personality than that of Merle Oberon. All her European-made films have been enthusiastically received by the public.

Now that she is under contract to United Artists, we are eager to see her first American-made picture opposite Maurice Chevalier in “Folies Bergère de Paris.”

Photo: Clarence Hewitt

Source: Picture Play Magazine, April 1935

Source: Picture Play Magazine, May 1935