‘Romeo and Juliet’ stars, in their 70s, sue Paramount for over $500 million over nude scene in 1968 film

The stars of the 1968 big screen version of the classic William Shakespeare tale of lovers from two feuding Italian families have filed a lawsuit seeking over $500 million from Paramount Pictures over a nude scene in the film that was shot when they were teenagers.

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting who are both now in their seventies filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud, over a half-century after the movie was released.

The 71-year-old Hussey who was 15 at the time and the 72-year-old Whiting who was 16, claim they were assured by director Franco Zeffirelli that the nude love scene wouldn’t be included in the movie, which at the time stirred controversy over shots of bare breasts and buttocks prior to graphic sex and nakedness becoming commonplace in films.

According to the lawsuit, Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, allegedly told the two that they would be wearing flesh-colored undergarments in the controversial scene that was shot in the final days of filming, and that camera angles and body makeup would assure that no nudity would be shown.

The two said that Zeffirelli had told them that they must act in the nude “or the Picture would fail” and their careers would suffer, they “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude in body makeup as demanded,” the lawsuit says.

“The lawsuit was filed under a California law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, which has led to a host of new lawsuits and the revival of many others that were previously dismissed,” the Associated Press reported.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actors said, according to Variety. “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.”

The two claim that they have suffered years of emotional damage and mental anguish as a result of the scene and that their careers did not reflect the success of the movie, according to the suit.

(Video: YouTube/Shakespeare Network)

In a 2018 interview with Variety to mark the film’s 50th anniversary, Hussey defended the nude scene which was shot tastefully by Zeffirelli.

“Nobody my age had done that before,” she said. “It was needed for the film.”

“Everyone thinks they were so young they probably didn’t realize what they were doing,” she added. “But we were very aware. We both came from drama schools and when you work, you take your work very seriously.”

“I think because it was done very tastefully,” Hussey said of the scene in another 2018 interview with Fox News.  “And in Europe, it was very different. In America, it was very taboo. But in Europe a lot of the films had nudity. Nobody really thought much of it. But it was just the fact that I was 16 that got a lot of publicity… The large crew we worked with was whittled down to only the very basic people, a handful of people. It was done later in the day when it wasn’t busy. It was a closed set…”

“If you see it, the reality is these two young kids married against their parents’ wishes and have this one night together and then they die… And it wasn’t really banned in any country… And we shot it at the very end of the film. So by that time… we’ve all become a big family… It wasn’t that big of a deal. And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on,” she said.

“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” said the actors’ attorney Solomon Gresen, Variety reported. “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.”

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