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Romeo and Juliet Stars Sue Over 1968 Film’s ‘Sexual Abuse’

Romeo and Juliet
The actors, now in their 70s, claim director Franco Zeffirelli encouraged them to do nude scenes despite previous assurances. Credit: Video screenshot/YouTube/Evening Standard

The stars of the Oscar-winning 1968 film Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount Pictures for sexual abuse over a nude scene they appeared in.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were teenagers when they starred in the movie.

In a new legal case, the English actors, now in their 70s, claim director Franco Zeffirelli encouraged them to do nude scenes despite previous assurances that they would not have to.

The two actors are seeking damages of more than $500 million based on suffering they say they have experienced and the revenue brought in by the film since its release.

They claim Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told them they would wear flesh-colored underwear in the bedroom scene.

However, on the morning of the shoot, they allege the director told them they would wear only body make-up while assuring them the camera would be positioned to not show nudity.

In the final film, Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts were briefly shown during the scene.

Zeffirelli told them they must act in the nude “or the picture would fail” and their careers would be hurt, the pair claim in the lawsuit. The actors “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body makeup as demanded.”

Romeo and Juliet
Franco Zeffirelli and Olivia Hussey while filming Romeo and Juliet in 1967. Public Domain

Whiting was then sixteen years of age and is now seventy-two, while Hussey was fifteen when the film was shot and is now seventy-one.

The pair is suing Paramount for sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and fraud. The lawsuit accuses the Hollywood studio of sexually exploiting the two young actors and distributing nude images of adolescent children.

Romeo and Juliet film was popular among teenagers

Romeo and Juliet was a romantic drama film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

The most financially successful film adaptation of a Shakespeare play at the time of its release, it was popular among teenagers partly because it was the first film to use actors who were close to the age of the characters from the original play.

It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati). It was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to date to be nominated for the latter category.

Whiting and Hussey both won Golden Globe Awards for Most Promising Newcomers.

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