NEARLY 55 years after Franco Zeffirelli’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the film’s star is suing Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million over nudity.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were just teenagers when they electrified audiences in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. The film was a hit and was nominated for four Oscars, but it also caused controversy for a bedroom scene, which included Whiting’s rear and Hussey’s bare breasts.
Now in their 70s, Hussey and Whiting filed a lawsuit Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court accusing Paramount of sexually exploiting and distributing nude images of adolescent children.
The lawsuit alleges that Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, assured both actors that there would be no nudity in the film and that they would wear skin-colored underwear in the bedroom scene. But in the last days of filming, the director allegedly begged them to perform naked with make-up on “otherwise the film will fail”.
Hussey was 15 at the time and Whiting was 16. According to the lawsuit, Zeffirelli showed them where the camera would be placed and assured them that nudity would not be photographed or published in the film. The lawsuit alleges that he was dishonest and that Whiting and Hussey were actually filmed naked without their knowledge.
What they were told and what happened were two different things. They trusted Franca. At the age of 16, as actors, they believed that they would not violate the trust they had. Franco was their friend and honestly, at the age of 16, what could they do? They have no options. There was no #MeToo movement,” said Tony Marinozzi, who is the business manager of both actors.
According to the complaint, Hussey and Whiting have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in the 55 years since the film’s release, and have also lost their job opportunities. Despite their successful performances, Hussey and Whiting had very limited acting careers after Romeo and Juliet. They are seeking damages “believed to exceed $500 million.”
“Nude images of minors are illegal and should not be shown. They were very young naive kids in the 60s who didn’t realize what was about to hit them. They suddenly became famous on a level they didn’t expect, and they were abused in a way which they did not know how to deal with,” said the actors’ lawyer Solomon Gresen.
The lawsuit relies in part on a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older child sexual abuse lawsuits, and courts have seen an influx of complaints against the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, among other organizations.
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