Stars of 1968 Zeffirelli film Romeo and Juliet sue over teen nude scene

Two stars of 1968 Romeo and Juliet sued Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million on Tuesday for a nude scene in the film that was shot when they were teenagers.

Olivia Hussey, then 15 and now 71, and Leonard Whiting, then 16, now 72, filed lawsuits in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and cheat.

Director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told both of them that they would wear flesh-colored underwear in the bedroom scene that appeared late in the film and was shot on the final days of filming, the lawsuit alleges.

But on the morning of the shoot, Zeffirelli told Whiting, who plays Romeo, and Hussey, who plays Juliet, that they would only wear body makeup, while also assuring them that the camera would be in place. No nude scenes, follow to match.

Two men in suits and one woman in ao dai attended the movie premiere.
Romeo and Juliet film director Franco Zeffirelli, left, Hussey, center, and Whiting attend the film’s premiere in Paris on September 25, 1968. (Eustache Cardenas/Press Association)

However, they were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, in violation of California and US laws against indecent and child exploitation, the lawsuit said.

Zeffirelli told them they had to act nude “or else the film would fail” and their careers would be damaged, the lawsuit said. The actors “believed they had no choice but to act nude and apply body makeup as required.”

Whiting’s bare ass and Hussey’s topless are shown briefly in the shot.

Watched by generations of high school students

The film and its theme song were huge hits at the time and have been shown to generations of high school students studying Shakespeare’s plays since.

Court records say Hussey and Whiting have suffered emotional trauma and mental distress for decades, and each has had careers that do not reflect the film’s success.

It says that given that suffering and the revenue the film has brought in since its release, the actors are entitled to more than $500 million in damages.

A man and a woman stand with their arms crossed during a film festival gala dinner.
Whiting and Hussey appear at the opening gala night of the 2018 TCM Classical Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Calif., on April 26, 2018. (Image Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty)

An email seeking comment from a Paramount representative was not immediately answered.

The lawsuit was filed under California law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, leading to a flurry of new lawsuits and a resurgence of many that had previously been dismissed.

Hussey defended the scene in a 2018 interview with Variety, which first covered the lawsuit, on the film’s 50th anniversary.

“Nobody my age has done that before,” she said, and went on to say that Zeffirelli shot it elegantly. “It’s essential to the movie.”

The Associated Press usually does not name people who say they have been sexually abused unless they publicly report it, as Hussey and Whiting have done.


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