Almost 55 years after Franco Zeffirelli Oscar-nominated adaptation of Romeo & Juliet came out, the then-young stars of the film are now suing Paramount Pictures for more than $100 million for alleged sexual abuse, negligence and more.
“Defendants were dishonest and secretly filmed the nude or partially nude minor children without their knowledge, in violation of the state and federal laws regulating said child sexual abuse and exploitation,” the filing from Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting states. “Plaintiffs have suffered and will continue to suffer physical pain and mental pain along with extreme and severe mental anguish and emotional distress,” the suit (read it here) over the Best Picture Oscar-nominated movie based on William Shakespeare’s classic doomed lovers tale goes on to say.
In a Shakespearean drama of their own and estimating the studio has made over $500 million off the Zeffirelli adaptation, Hussey and Whiting are seeking punitive and exemplary damages of more than $100 million. With Encino CA-based attorney Solomon Gresen handling their case, the duo is also looking at “compensatory, economic and non-economic damages according to proof, along with disgorgements of the economic benefit to Paramount.”
Seemingly confusing a December 1967 date for 1968, the year the film was released, the December 30, 2022 filing details:
At the time of filming, Mr. Whiting (Romeo) was a minor child aged 16 years and Ms. Hussey was also a minor child aged 15 years. Plaintiffs were told by Mr. Zeffirelli that there would be no nudity filmed or exhibited and that Plaintiffs would be wearing flesh colored undergarments during the bedroom/love scene. However, on the morning of the shoot of the bedroom scene in the second week of December 1968, the very last days of photography the minor children Plaintiffs were given body make-up and were told by Mr. Zeffirelli that they must act in the nude or the Picture would fail. Millions were invested. They would never work again in any profession, let alone Hollywood. Zeffirelli showed them were the cameras would be set so that no nudity would be filmed or photographed for use in Romeo & Juliet or anywhere else. Plaintiffs believed they had no choice to act in the nude with body make-up as demanded on the last days of filming.
Paramount did not respond to request for comment from Deadline on the seven-claim suit.
The subject of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims in the past, Zeffirelli died in 2019 and hence is not a defendant in this action.
Causing a stir at the time for the nudity in the film, Romeo & Juliet was a box office smash when it came out in March 1968. Nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, the film took home trophies for Best Cinematography and Costume Design. Both Whiting and Hussey won Golden Globes for their performances.
As recently as 2018, Hussey has spoken about the need for the nudity in the film. In the midst of publicity for her then-just published memoir, she told Fox News that the nudity “wasn’t that big of a deal.” The Jesus of Nazareth veteran also noted in another interview that same year that though she and Whiting were young, they were both theatre vets and “we were very aware.”
Obviously, she and Whiting take a different point of view on the issue now.
“It has taken great courage for both Olivia and Leonard to address the sexploitation/sexualization (of minors) that occurred then, and unfortunately continues to permeate our society today,” the duo’s manager Tony Marinozzi told Deadline today of the suit. “The #MeToo movement and other similar support groups have provided a platform for Olivia and Leonard to finally hold those accountable regarding these abuses.”
Marinozzi has been 71-year-old Hussey’s manager since October 2020, and has been working with now 72-year-old Whiting since February 2022.
The timing of the filing late last week in Los Angeles Superior Court came mere hours before the December 31 expiration of the nearly three-year extension of California’s lifting of the statute of limitations for claims of sexual abuse against children.