When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Merle Oberon In Doubt! Errol Flynn Indeed!!

HOBART, TASMANIA — I was just in a place here in Taz called Drifter’s Internet Cafe, which is loaded with local hero Errol Flynn memorabilia. It also has a small pipe thru which you can peer out a side street window and see the house where Merle Oberon might or might not have been born.

Drifter's Internet Cafe

Drifter's Internet Cafe



Flynn was quite a guy...

Merle Oberon's birthplace???

Merle Oberon's birthplace???



As everyone in the town of Hobart will tell you, Flynn was expelled from 5 schools here. “I tried to be like him, but only got expelled from one school,” quipped an old-timer to me today.

The cafe this afternoon, in addition to memorabilia, had shirts and signs made up calling Flynn the “Tasmanian Devil.” Coincidentally, I had actually seen a pair of those furry, terrier-sized carnivores earlier today, and — altho they don’t look exactly like the Chuck Jones cartoon character — they make guttural snorting sounds just like the animated one.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

But the mystery here is whether screen beauty Merle Oberon is actually Tasmanian as she claimed. Her father was English; her mother was from India. Many authorities say she was born in India but claimed Tasmania as home as a way to distance herself from her ethnic Indian origins. [When her elderly mother would be padding around the house, Oberon would tell her houseguests that she was the maid.]

One thing is for sure about her history: a great cinematographer I used to work with was using the small, direct light that everyone in production called an Obie which bathes a face with a soft and flattering light. The shooter, John Godwin, told me it was called an Obie for Merle Oberon, and was developed by her cinematographer husband (Lucien Ballard). Oberon had been in a car wreck which had left scars on her face; Ballard developed the light to erase them when she was being filmed. [That car wreck was not just any car wreck: it was the final nail in the coffin for a production in the late 1930s of I, CLAUDIUS, directed by Josef vonSternberg and starring Charles Laughton in the title role with Oberon as Messalina. The production was plagued with overruns and outbreaks of huge temperament. All that’s left is outtakes that were used in an excellent BBC documentary back in the 1960s called THE EPIC THAT NEVER WAS .]

Doug of PostModern Joan

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