Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting Sue Paramount for Exploitation 54 Years After Filming Romeo and Juliet

It has been more than 54 years since Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting starred as Romeo and Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s film titled Romeo and Juliet. They captured the hearts of many with their on-screen chemistry and wow-ed audiences with their performance as they re-enacted an all-time classic. 

The film received heavy praise with $39 million in box office sales – despite a budget under $1 million. It was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and won 2 of them, including Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. Hussey and Whiting also won Best Newcomer Male and Female at the Golden Globes. 

Hussey and Whiting were just 15 and 16 years old, respectively, at the time of filming. The two were just starting their acting careers and were already receiving worldwide recognition, but it would end up being the peak of their careers as they struggled to land prominent roles in the five decades since its release.

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According to Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, a large reason why their careers stalled was due to the sexual exploitation they experienced throughout the casting and filming process. The allegations are being highlighted in a new lawsuit filed by the two actors on December 30th as they seek reimbursement.

The lawsuit refers to a nude scene in the 1968 Romeo and Juliet film, which showed Hussey’s bare breasts and Whiting’s bare buttocks while laying on a bed. Court documents explain how the director, Franco Zeffirelli, led Hussey and Whiting to believe there would be no nudity in the film – which was a lie.

The lawsuit goes on to detail how Zeffirelli originally told Hussey and Whiting that they would be wearing flesh-colored undergarments during the bed scene. He also showed both actors where the cameras would be located during filming, further ensuring that no nudity would be photographed or released. 

Unfortunately, things changed during the final days of filming – when Zeffirelli insisted they perform the scene nude or else ‘the picture would fail.’ The lawsuit also alleges they were filmed nude without their knowledge and accuses Paramount (as well as Zeffirelli) of distributing nude images of teenagers. 

Mixed Signals From Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting

In the lawsuit, Olivia and Hussey are claiming nearly 55 years of mental anguish and emotional distress as a result of the nude scene – even citing a loss of job opportunities. The lawsuit was filed on December 30th in response to the new California law. They’re seeking approximately $500 million in damages. 

“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,” said Solomon Gresen, who is representing the two actors.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things. They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead believing that he would not violate them and the trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo,” said the two actors’ business manager.

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Of course, this is all a much different stance than the one Olivia Hussey took in 2018 when speaking to Fox News. “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. She also defended the scene in another interview.

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