By: Ainsley Northrop
On Dec. 30, 2022, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting — stars of the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet — filed a lawsuit at Santa Monica Superior Court against Paramount Studios for sexual abuse and fraud. Despite its seemingly random timing, this lawsuit was filed days before a California law went into effect, which prevents citizens over the age of 40 from suing for sexual abuse they experienced during their childhood.
Hussey and Whiting, who are now 71 and 72 respectively, expressed particular discomfort with the nude scene pictured in the movie. Despite publicly defending the scene in past interviews immediately following the film’s release, both Hussey and Whiting have now accused director Franco Zeffirelli of pressuring them to film the scene nude. According to the actors, Zeffirelli initially promised they would be permitted to wear flesh-colored undergarments for the duration of the bedroom scene. However, both actors, as well as their attorney, claim that when the time came to film the scene, Zeffirelli went back on his promise, stating that Hussey and Whiting, who claim they were 15 and 16 at the time, “must act in the nude or the Picture would fail.”
Despite requesting this change, Zeffirelli allegedly still assured both Hussey and Whiting that the actual film would not include any nudity and that cameras would be placed in specific areas of the room to accommodate such. The complaint claims that following this comment, staff put full body makeup on the actors and, despite their concerns, Hussey and Whiting acted the scene in the nude.
55 years later, Hussey and Whiting maintain they are still emotionally damaged, and they explained that their lawsuit seeks damages of hundreds of millions of dollars. Even though the filing of the suit has been a major step for Hussey and Whiting, this lawsuit has caused significant controversy among Paramount Studios, as well as the public. Many journalists are even deeming the lawsuit an embarrassment and a lie.
Solomon Gresen, the attorney for both actors, explained to reporters, “They trusted [Zeffirelli]. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. [Zeffirelli] was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.” 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.” Gresen further detailed how the modern atmosphere has become much more welcoming for speaking up about sexual assault since the 1960s.
Gresen concluded, “It sounds cliche, but at 71 and 72, it truly is about closure for them.”
(Sources: CNN, NPR, Washington Post)