1968 Romeo and Juliet film

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting starred in Romeo and Juliet. Decades after the publication, they now accuse the film studio of child abuse.

In 1968, a film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” was released. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting played the title characters at the time, and Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, directed the film. Now, more than 50 years later, the leading actors are making serious allegations.

Hussey, now 71, and Whiting, who is a year older, have accused the film production company Paramount of sexually exploiting them and disseminating nude pictures of teenage children. As “Variety” reports, it is specifically about a nude scene. The actors filed a lawsuit in Santa Monica Superior Court last Friday.

Did the director break the agreement?

The lawsuit alleges that director Zeffirelli assured the two then-underage actors that there would be no nudity in the film and that they would wear nude underwear in the bedroom scene. But in the final days of filming, the director is said to have asked her to appear naked and with body make-up “otherwise the film would fail.”

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey: The actors want to go to court.
Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey: The actors want to go to court. (Source: IMAGO/UPI Photo)

Hussey was 15 at the time and Whiting was 16. According to the lawsuit, Zeffirelli showed them where the camera would be positioned and assured them they would not be photographed or featured in the film nude. The lawsuit alleges that he lied and that Whiting and Hussey were in fact filmed naked without their knowledge.

Even then, the film sparked controversy for the bedroom scene, which featured Whiting’s bottom and Hussey’s bare breasts.

“What they were told and what actually happened are two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, who works as a manager for the two actors. “They trusted Franco. At 16, as an actor, they relied on him not to betray that trust. Franco was their friend, and frankly what are they doing at 16? There is no other option. There was no # Me too.”

“Mental Anguish and Emotional Suffering”

According to the lawsuit, in the 55 years since the film’s release, Hussey and Whiting have endured “mental anguish and emotional distress” and have lost job opportunities.

“Nude pictures of minors are illegal and should not be shown,” the actors’ lawyer, Solomon Gresen, said in an interview. “These were very young, naïve kids in the ’60s who didn’t know what was in store for them. Suddenly they were famous to a degree they didn’t expect and they were also hurt in ways they couldn’t handle knew.”

The lawsuit relies in part on a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older child sex abuse claims. The courts recorded an onslaught of lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America, the Catholic Church, and other organizations in the days leading up to December 31, 2022.

The actors are demanding damages, which should amount to more than 500 million dollars (equivalent to about 472 million euros). Paramount has not yet responded to the lawsuit.