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Wuthering Performance

One day on the set of William Wyler's Wuthering Heights (1939), David Niven (playing Edgar) found himself struggling with a pivotal scene in which Cathy (Merle Oberon) is lying dead in her bed surrounded by her mourning family. Niven nervously glanced at the script ("Edgar breaks down at foot of bed and sobs") and called the director over. "Willy," he said, "I can't do that." "Do what?" Wyler asked. "I don't know how to sob, Willy," Niven explained. "Speak up," Wyler ordered. "Louder." "I don't know how to sob!" Niven yelled. "Well," said Wyler, turning to the cast, "you've all heard it -- here's an actor who says he doesn't know how to act!" He then turned back to Niven: "Now, sob!" Niven tried, to no avail. "Jesus," Wyler muttered, "can you make a crying face?" Niven tried again. "Oh, God," Wyler cried, calling a prop man over. "Give him the blower," he ordered, and watched as the prop man puffed menthol through a handkerchief into Niven's eyes. "Bend over the corpse," Wyler instructed. "Now make your crying face... blink your eyes... squeeze a little... bend over the corpse... heave your shoulders." Though Niven dutifully followed his instructions, the result was not what he was hoping for: instead of tears coming out of his eyes, green slime began oozing from his nose. "Ooooh! How horrid!" Merle Oberon screamed -- and promptly jumped up from her deathbed and fled to her dressing room.
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