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‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars Sue Paramount Over Teen Nude Scene in 1968 Film

Honestly, it's a lousy play. Shakespeare is overrated.


‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars Sue Paramount Over Teen Nude Scene in 1968 Film


Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, now in their 70s, allege they were sexually exploited


By Joseph De AvilaFollow

Updated Jan. 4, 2023 2:36 pm ET


The two stars of the 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli, have sued Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million, alleging they were sexually exploited during a nude scene in the film when they were teenagers.


Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet, was 15 years old when the movie was filmed and Leonard Whiting, who played Romeo, was 16. Both are now in their 70s and allege that Paramount engaged in fraud, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, according to a complaint filed Friday in state Superior Court in Los Angeles County.


Mr. Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, told the actors they would appear in flesh-colored clothing in a bedroom scene, according to the complaint. But on the day of the shoot, Mr. Zeffirelli told the actors they would wear body makeup with the camera positioned in a way that wouldn’t show their nude bodies, the lawsuit said.


The underage actors were misled, however, and were filmed in the nude without their knowledge in violation of state and federal laws, the lawsuit said.


“Defendants were dishonest and secretly filmed the nude or partially nude minor children without their knowledge,” the lawsuit said. “The knowing and repeated use of sexual images of minor children is the worst of behaviors in our society and must be eradicated.”


Paramount was “repackaging what is essentially pornography,” the complaint said.


Paramount Global PARA 8.38%increase; green up pointing triangle didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Franco Zeffirelli Foundation, an organization dedicated to the legacy of the director, didn’t respond to a request for comment.


The director told Ms. Hussey and Mr. Whiting the film would fail without the scene and would damage their careers, the lawsuit said. Ms. Hussey and Mr. Whiting said they thought they had no choice but to shoot the scene nude with body makeup.


The scene shows Ms. Hussey’s bare breasts and Mr. Whiting’s bare buttocks.


Ms. Hussey said in an article published in 2018 by Variety that the scene had been shot tastefully.


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


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Ms. Hussey and Mr. Whiting were previously barred from filing a lawsuit for the incident because the statute of limitations had expired. But in 2019, California passed a law that lifted the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse for a three-year period. That three-year window expired at the end of 2022. Many lawsuits were filed just ahead of the deadline against the Roman Catholic Church.


The lawsuit said the actors have suffered mental anguish and emotional stress since the film was released, to great fanfare, more than 50 years ago. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.


Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

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