Slim Smith

Merle Oberon

 

Ill met by headlights, a collision of masks

She existed only as a series of masks.

1: The Mask of Shame.
Born to an unmarried 12-year-old, a conjuring trick turned mother into sister and grandmother into mother.

2: The White Mask.
To work in the movies she wore a white mask to cover her Anglo-Indian background. Her birthplace moved from India to Australia, all documents relating to her birth were ‘destroyed in a fire’.

3: The Road Casualty Mask.
A car crash caused facial scarring which was masked with cosmetics and careful camerawork.

4: The Spy Mask.
She married the film director Alexander Korda. When the Second World War began they moved to Hollywood, secretly working for British Intelligence.

5: The Surgical Mask.
A bad reaction to whitening cosmetics required extensive and painful surgery to restore her looks.

6: The Fairy Mask.
Born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson, she used the stage name Queenie O’Brien until Korda renamed her Merle Oberon. From O’Brien to Oberon, with perhaps an allusion to the king of the fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream, who had fallen out with Titania the fairy queen over his desire for an Indian changeling boy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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