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1968 ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars File 2nd Lawsuit Against Paramount

By Michael Feb 17, 2024

The lead actors of the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet have found themselves in a legal battle with Paramount Pictures over the movie’s nude scene.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, who starred as Romeo and Juliet, respectively, have accused the studio of sexual abuse and harassment in two separate lawsuits. In the initial complaint, filed in December 2022, the costars claimed they were told by the film’s late director, Franco Zeffirelli, that the movie would not feature nudity and that they would wear flesh-colored undergarments for a bedroom scene, according to the Associated Press.

The original suit also alleged that Zeffirelli suggested that the performers filmed the scene naked or the movie “would fail.” At the time of the production, Hussey was 15 years old and Whiting was 16.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” the actors’ business manager Tony Marinozzi told Variety in January 2023. “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.”

A judge dismissed the case in May 2023. Whiting and Hussey fought back by filing a second lawsuit against Paramount in February 2024, claiming the studio digitally redistributed the film without their permission.

Keep scrolling to learn more about the Romeo and Juliet and Paramount legal drama:

Who are Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting?
Whiting and Hussey got their big breaks starring as the 1968 Shakespeare adaptation’s titular star-crossed lovers. The critically acclaimed film was a box-office success upon its 1968 release and went on to score four Oscar nominations and two wins for Best Costume and Best Cinematography in 1969.
In August 2018, Hussey spoke to The Guardian about her role in the movie in honor of its 50th anniversary. “I loved playing Juliet,” the Argentina native said at the time. “The only part I didn’t like was all the PR. It was exhausting, and I was this wild little thing.”
Despite the film’s success, Whiting and Hussey went on to have limited roles. Hussey starred in projects such as Jesus of Nazareth, Death on the Nile, Lost Horizon and Black Christmas, while Whiting appeared in films and shows such as Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Adolescence, Frankenstein: The True Story and Social Suicide.
When Was the Second Lawsuit Filed?
Whiting and Hussey filed a second lawsuit against the studio in February 2024, nearly one year after their original complaint was dismissed in May 2023. According to multiple outlets, the duo accused Paramount and Criterion Collection of unlawfully distributing the film due to the nude images featured in it.
Per the lawsuit, Whiting and Hussey reportedly never gave the studio consent to redistribute the film or photos of the movie that weren’t 35 mm analogue cinematographic photographs. The actors claimed the film’s digital release goes against their previous distribution agreement with the studio.
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
What Did the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars Claim In the Original Lawsuit?
The actors alleged that the film’s director assured them there would be no nudity in the production, but Zeffirelli allegedly later suggested that they should shoot the bedroom scene in the nude to prevent the film from failing.
The complaint also stated that the actors have since suffered from mental anguish and emotional distress. Whiting and Hussey claimed that they lost out on job opportunities, despite their breakout performances in the Oscar-winning picture.
What Did the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars Seek In the Lawsuit?
Hussey and Whiting reportedly asked for $500 million — equivalent to the amount of money the film has earned since its 1968 release — for the emotional and physical pain they claimed to have suffered due to the alleged harassment, per the Associated Press.
When Was the Original Lawsuit Filed?
The lawsuit was filed on December 30, 2022, with the Santa Monica Superior Court, one day before the statute of limitations’ temporary extension expired. According to Variety, California law temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse until the deadline of December 31, 2022.
What Did Director Franco Zeffirelli’s Son Said About the Original Lawsuit?
The director’s son, Pippo Zeffirelli, called the initial lawsuit “embarrassing” in a January 2023 statement to Entertainment Weekly, adding that the nude scene in question was “far from pornographic.”
“It is embarrassing to hear that today, 55 years after filming, two elderly actors who owe their notoriety essentially to this film wake up to declare that they have suffered an abuse that has caused them years of anxiety and emotional discomfort,” Pippo said at the time. “[Franco] Zeffirelli himself was accused of being reactionary precisely because, over and over again, he spoke out against pornography,” he added. “The nude images in the film express the beauty, the transfer, I would even say the candor of mutual giving and do not contain any morbid feeling.”
What Has Paramount Said About the Lawsuits?
Paramount has yet to comment on either of Whiting and Hussey’s lawsuits.

By Michael

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