Merle Oberon

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The first non-white Anne Boleyn: how Merle Oberon hid her race from Hollywood

With dark, lustrous hair and mysterious eyes, Merle Oberon seemed the perfect choice to play Anne Boleyn in the 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII. Henry’s second wife is described in the historical records as possessing “black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion” and Oberon’s otherworldly beauty appeared to capture the essence of one of the most tragic figures in British history. Only years later would the true significance of the casting become clear: Oberon, it was revealed, had broke new ground as the first non-white actress to play a British royal on screen.
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