June 7, 2023
Stars of 1968 Romeo and Juliet Sue for Child Abuse over Nudity

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who as teenagers brought Shakespeare to life in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, are suing Paramount for child abuse over the movie’s nudity. As Variety reports, they are seeking damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million.”

Whiting was 16 when he appeared in the movie, and Hussey began at 15 but turned 16 during production. For the famous, “It was the nightingale, and not the lark,” scene, Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, filmed Whiting’s butt and Hussey’s bare breasts. Now in their 70s, the actors allege that they had been assured there would be no nudity, only to be pressured the day of the shoot to expose themselves “or the Picture would fail.”

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, the business manager for both actors. “They trusted Franco. 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.”

The lawsuit relies on a recent California bill which temporarily opened up the statute of limitations for older child sexual abuse claims. According to their attorney Solomon Green, “Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited. These were very young naive 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.”

As recently as 2018, Hussey had defended the nudity in Romeo and Juliet. In an interview with Variety, she said, “Nobody my age had done that before,” calling the scene tasteful and “needed for the film.”

She added, “It wasn’t that big of a deal. And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.” She also described Zeffirelli as a “genius. He just brought things to life. That’s what I loved about Franco. He hired always the most perfect person to do the role, which ever role it was. And then he let that actor do what they felt.”

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