Romeo And Juliet Stars Sue For Child Abuse Over 50 Years Later

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are suing for child abuse after being allegedly forced to perform nude in Romeo & Juliet.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

romeo & juliet

The stars of the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount Pictures for child abuse. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who are now 71 and 72 years old respectively, say they were exploited during a nude scene when they were teenagers. Filed in the Santa Monica Superior Court in California last week, the lawsuit accuses the studio of sexual harassment, fraud, sexual abuse, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to Variety, the suit also alleges the Romeo and Juliet director assured both actors that no nudity would be included in the movie. Instead, they would create the illusion by wearing flesh-colored undergarments while filming the scene. But as production came to a close, filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli implored them to perform in the nude. He said if they didn’t the picture would fail.

The document goes on to state that Zeffirelli showed Hussey and Whiting where the camera would be positioned. He also assured them that no nudity would be shown to audiences when Romeo and Juliet eventually hit theaters. But to their horror, the bedroom scene went on to include shots of the actress’s bare breasts and her co-star’s buttocks.

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As such, the lawsuit states that Zeffirelli was dishonest since the Romeo and Juliet stars were filmed nude without their knowledge. Addressing the legal action, the business manager for both actors, Tony Marinozzi said what his clients were promised and what transpired were two different things. “They trusted Franco. They took his lead that he would not violate that,” he said in a statement.

He added that at just 15 and 16 years old they felt stuck and without options. “There was no #MeToo,” Marinozzi continued. Now, 50 years later, the Romeo and Juliet stars say they have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress since the film’s release. The pair also claims to have lost out on job opportunities despite their breakout performances.

Hussey and Whiting are seeking damages over $500 million, Variety reports. Speaking about the lawsuit, the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen said nude images of minors are unlawful and should not be exhibited. He added that his clients were young naive children in the 60s who didn’t understand the level of fame that was about to hit them when Romeo and Juliet were released.

“All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected,” Gresen explained. “And in addition, they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.” The Romeo and Juliet lawsuit relies on a California law that temporarily suspends the statute of limitations for old sexual abuse claims. Meanwhile, Paramount did not immediately respond to a request for comment from various media outlets.

Interestingly, Olivia Hussey defended the controversial Romeo and Juliet nude scene in 2018. Speaking to Fox News, the actress said nudity was “taboo in America” at the time but was common in European films. She also referred to the filming process as “not that big of a deal.” She even added that Leonard wasn’t shy at all. “In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on,” she told the publication.