The stars of the 1968 film Romeo & Juliet are suing Paramount for sexual exploitation and distributing nude images of adolescent children.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were 15 and 16 when they performed in director Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of the historic tale by William Shakespeare. While the movie was nominated for four Oscars, it drew condemnation at the time for a nude scene showing Hussey’s breasts and Whiting's buttocks.
Both Hussey and Whiting are now in their 70s. They filed their lawsuit Friday under a California law that temporarily suspends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases.
In their suit, Hussey and Whiting alleged that Zeffirelli initially told the actors they would wear flesh colored undergarments in the bedroom scene. When it came time to shoot, the two say Zeffirelli insisted they perform in the nude “or the Picture would fail.”
Hussey and Whiting also claimed that Zeffirelli showed them the camera's position, and insisted that no nude bodies would be shown. They allege that their bodies were filmed without their knowledge.
Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actors, told Variety that “what they were told and what went on were two different things."
"They trusted Franco," he said. "At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.”
Hussey had previously defended the nude scene in a 2018 interview with Variety, saying that Zaffirelli, who died in 2019, shot the scene tastefully.
“Nobody my age had done that before,” Hussey said. “It was needed for the film.”
She also previously told Fox News that “it wasn’t that big of a deal,” adding, “Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”
According to the claim, Hussey and Whiting have lost job opportunities because of the controversial decision at the time. Despite the film being their breakout performances, both actors' careers were limited following its release.
Hussey and Whiting also report experiencing severe "mental anguish and emotional distress" in the five decades since the movie's premiere. They are seeking damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million.”
The actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, told Variety that regardless of the previous notions surrounding the scene, Paramount's actions were damaging.
“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited," he said. "These were very young naïve children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them. All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”
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