Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were just teenagers, 15, and 16 respectively when they thrilled audiences in the 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The film was a box office success and received four Academy Award nominations. However, it sparked controversy because to a bedroom scene that featured pictures of Whiting’s buttocks and Hussey’s exposed breasts.
Now, Hussey and Whiting, both in their 70s, filed a case in Santa Monica Superior Court on Friday, accusing the studio of sexually exploiting them and sharing nude photographs of adolescent children.
According to the claim, Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, promised both actors that there would be no nudity in the film and that they would wear flesh-colored undergarments in the bedroom scene. However, in the closing days of production, the director allegedly begged them to act naked with body makeup, “otherwise the Picture would fail.”
“What they were told and what happened were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, the performers’ business manager. “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.”
Hussey and Whiting, according to the complaint, have endured mental pain and emotional hardship in the 55 years since the film’s debut, as well as missed work chances. Despite their blockbuster performances, Hussey and Whiting’s acting careers were brief following “Romeo and Juliet.” They are suing Paramount for damages “in excess of $500 million.”
“Nude photos of kids are illegal and should not be displayed,” the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, said in an interview. “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.”
Variety asked Paramount for a comment, but they haven’t given one yet.