When they ignited audiences in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were just teens. The movie was a success and received four Academy Award nominations, but controversy erupted over a bedroom scene that showed Hussey’s bare breasts and Whiting’s buttocks.
Hussey and Whiting, who are now in their 70s, filed a complaint against Paramount on Friday, accusing the studio of sexually abusing them and disseminating nude pictures of young children.
According to the lawsuit, the late director Zeffirelli promised both actors that there would be no nudity in the movie and that they would wear flesh-colored underwear in the bedroom scene. Zeffirelli passed away in 2019. However, the director allegedly begged them to act naked with body makeup in the final days of production, “otherwise the picture would fail.”
Whiting was 16 years old and Hussey was 15 at the time. The complaint claims that Zeffirelli showed them where the camera would be placed and reassured them that no nudity would be captured on camera or shown in the movie. The lawsuit claims that he was lying and that Hussey and Whiting were secretly filmed in their underwear.
According to Tony Marinozzi, the business manager for both actors, “What they were told and what transpired were two different things.” They had faith in Franco. At age 16, they followed his example and trusted that he wouldn’t betray their confidence. They were friends with Franco, and at age 16, what are they supposed to do? There aren’t any choices. #MeToo didn’t exist.
In the 55 years since the film’s debut, Hussey and Whiting allegedly experienced mental pain, emotional distress, and loss of employment chances. Hussey and Whiting only had extremely brief acting careers following “Romeo and Juliet,” despite their spectacular performances.
Damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million” are what they are suing for.
The performers’ lawyer, Solomon Green, stated in an interview that “naked photos of kids are illegal and shouldn’t be displayed.” These were really young, impressionable kids in the 1960s who had no idea what was about to happen. They were suddenly well-known at a level they had never anticipated, and they were also violated in ways they were ill-equipped to handle.
A California law that temporarily delayed the statute of limitations for past allegations of child sexual abuse is one of the legal bases for the lawsuit. In the days preceding the deadline of December 31, the courts received a large number of complaints against various groups, including the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church.
A request for a response from Paramount was not immediately complied with.
Hussey defended the nude scene in a 2018 interview with Variety.
She added that Zeffirelli shot it nicely, adding that “nobody my age had done that before.” It was required for the movie.
She said that the sequence was “taboo” in America but that nudity was already prevalent in European movies at the time in a 2018 interview with Fox News.
It wasn’t a huge deal, she claimed. Leonard wasn’t at all timid, either. I just completely forgot that I was naked while we were filming.