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Stars of 1968's 'Romeo And Juliet' Sue Paramount Over Child Abuse In Nude Film Scene
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting – who were 15 and 16 at the time of the filming – filed a $500 million lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging they were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, according to the Associated Press.
The then-teenage stars of 1968’s film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud over a nude scene in the film, according to the Associated Press.
Olivia Hussey, 71, who was 15 years old as she filmed the movie, and Leonard Whiting, 72, who was 16 at the time, are suing in Los Angeles County Superior Court for more than $500 million, the AP reported. The lawsuit alleges the teens were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, in violation of California and federal laws against indecency and the exploitation of children.
The actors claim director Franco Zeffirelli—who died in 2019—first told the teenagers they would be wearing flesh-colored undergarments in the bedroom scene, the AP reported. But on the morning of the shoot, the lawsuit alleges Zeffirelli told Whiting and Hussey they would wear only body makeup, and that the camera would be positioned in a way to not show nudity. Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts were ultimately shown during the scene.
The suit alleges Zeffirelli told the actors if they didn’t perform with body makeup in the nude, the “picture would fail,” according to Variety.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actors, told Variety. “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 says Hussey and Whiting have suffered emotional damage and mental anguish for decades, and given the revenue brought in by the film over decades, the actors are entitled to damages of more than $500 million, according to the AP. The lawsuit also alleges the actors lost out on job opportunities.
“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” said the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, in an interview with Variety. “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.”
Variety touched on the controversial scene in an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the movie in 2018, but Hussey defended the nudity to Variety at the time.
“Nobody my age had done that before,” Hussey told Variety, and said that the director shot it “tastefully”—adding “it was needed for the film.”
Hussey told also told Fox News in 2018 the nudity was more taboo in America than in Europe.
“But it was just the fact that I was 16 that got a lot of publicity,” she told Fox News. “The large crew we worked with was whittled down to only the very basic people, a handful of people. It was done later in the day when it wasn’t busy. It was a closed set.”
Hussey also praised her time working with the director on “Romeo and Juliet” to Variety and went on to work with him again in 1973’s “Lost Horizon,” the 1977 NBC miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth,” and in 1978’s “Death on the Nile.”
“I think it was such an amazing experience,” Hussey told Variety in 2018. “I used to say to Franco, I don’t want to work with anyone but you. I can do anything for you because you understand me. I mean if I could have, I would have just worked with Franco.”
The lawsuit was filed under a 2019 California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for three years for child sex abuse, allowing plaintiffs to file new lawsuits involving old abuse cases. The law also permanently extended the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual assault from the time a victim is age 26 to age 40. The deadline to file in the so-called “lookback window” was Dec. 31.
More than 2,000 lawsuits have been filed in the three-year period against the Catholic Church, The Los Angeles Times reports. The lawsuits date back as far as the 1940s.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez was among a group of Catholic bishops who argued the law was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court declined to review the case in June, the LA Times reported.