Romeo and Juliet stars suing studio over teenage nude scene

The titular stars of the 1968 Oscar-winning film Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount Pictures for sexual abuse, alleging they were pressured into a nude scene aged just 15 and 16 at the time.

Romeo and Juliet 1968

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, who are now both in their early 70s, claim director Franco Zeffirelli pressured them into doing nude scenes despite previous assurances they would not have to.

Paramount has not yet publicly responded to the claim, with the two actors seeking damages of more than $500m (£417m). That figure, they say, is based on their suffering and the revenue the film has brought in over the last five decades.

Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts briefly appear during the scene in question.

It is alleged Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told the pair they would wear flesh-coloured underwear in the bedroom scene, before changing tack on the morning of the shoot, saying they would only wear body make-up and no nudity would be shown.

Zeffirelli told the pair they must act in the nude “or the picture would fail” and their careers would be hurt, it is claimed in the lawsuit. Whiting and Hussey “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body makeup as demanded”.

Romeo and Juliet was a huge success, nominated for four Oscars – best director, best picture, cinematography and costume design. It won the awards for the latter two. 

Whiting was 16 at the time and is now 72; Hussey was 15, now 71. The pair are suing Paramount for sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud, accusing the studio of exploiting them and distributing nude images of adolescent children. 

The lawsuit in Santa Monica Superior Court, under a California law that has temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for child sex abuse.

Tony Marinozzi, a business manager for the two actors, said: “What they were told and what went on were two different things.

“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.”

Romeo and Juliet 1968

Solomon Gresen, lawyer for the pair, 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.”

Hussey defended the nude scene in a pair of 2018 interviews. In the first, with Variety, Hussey said: “Nobody my age had done that before,” adding that Zeffirelli shot the scene tastefully. “It was needed for the film.”

In a second interview with Fox News, Hussey said: the it was “taboo” in the United States, but that nudity was common in European films at the time. “It wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said. “And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”

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