Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet remains one of the more iconic movies based on the work of William Shakespeare, but the project wasn’t exactly free from controversy. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were just 15 and 16 years old at the time of filming, respectively, and the movie included a bedroom scene which included glimpses of Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s buttocks. The two Romeo and Juliet actors have now filed a lawsuit in Santa Monica Superior Court accusing Paramount Pictures of “sexually exploiting them and distributing nude images of adolescent children.“
According to the lawsuit, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting allege that Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, had told them that there would be no nudity in Romeo and Juliet. Toward the end of filming, he said that they would need to perform in the nude or else “the Picture would fail.” To make matters worse, the suit alleges that Zeffirelli told the actors that the camera would be set up in such a way that no nudity would be captured on film, which was obviously false.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting’s business manager Tony Marinozzi. “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.” Hussey and Whiting’s attorney Solomon Gresen added, “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.” The lawsuit alleges that Hussey and Whiting have experienced mental anguish and emotional distress since Romeo and Juliet was released, claiming that they have lost out on job opportunities. The pair are seeking damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million.” The lawsuit was able to be filed after a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse.
Olivia Hussey had previously defended the nude scene, telling Variety in 2018 that “Nobody my age had done that before.” She said that Franco Zeffirelli shot it tastefully as it was “needed for the film.” Hussey added, “Everyone thinks they were so young they probably didn’t realize what they were doing. But we were very aware. We both came from drama schools and when you work, you take your work very seriously.“