The stars of the 1968 movie “Romeo and Juliet” have submitted a lawsuit in Los Angeles County accusing Paramount Pictures of sexually abusing them by filming their nude bodies without their knowledge when they were children.
Leonard Whiting, who played Romeo Montague when he was 16, and Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet Capulet when she was 15, are suing the studio giant for sexual harassment, negligence, intentional tort, fraud, appropriation of name and likeness, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices, and child sexual abuse. The lawsuit, submitted Friday, has yet to be officially filed in L.A. Superior Court.
Directed by Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, the 1968 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” features a controversial bedroom scene in which Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts are visible.
Per court documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the onscreen lovers claim they were coerced into filming the sequence nude after Zeffirelli initially assured them that “there would be no nudity filmed or exhibited, and that [they] would be wearing flesh colored undergarments during the bedroom/love scene.”
Whiting and Hussey allege that, on the morning of the bedroom shoot, Zeffirelli told them that “they must act in the nude or the Picture would fail” — adding that “millions were invested” in the project and that “they would never work again in any profession, let alone Hollywood” if they didn’t comply. The child actors were allegedly covered with nude body makeup and “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude ... as demanded.”
The complaint also notes that Zeffirelli, who died at age 96 in 2019, allegedly showed Whiting and Hussey “where the cameras would be set so that no nudity would be filmed or photographed for use in Romeo & Juliet or anywhere else.” The co-stars argue that the studio either knew or “should have known” that images of their nude bodies “were secretly and unlawfully obtained ... for later use by Paramount and others.”
As a result of Zeffirelli and Paramount’s alleged transgressions, Whiting and Hussey say they have suffered physical pain, severe mental anguish and emotional distress, as well as “a lifetime loss” of earnings, employment benefits and job opportunities. They are seeking general, compensatory and punitive economic and noneconomic damages “believed to be in excess” of $500 million.
“Paramount ... authorized, condoned and/or ratified the unlawful conduct by ... repackaging what is essentially pornography and evidence of a crime and then reselling that poisonous product for profit over the objections of Mr. Whiting and Ms. Hussey since 1968,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The knowing and repeated use of sexual images of minor children is the worst of behaviors in our society and must be eradicated.”
“Romeo and Juliet” received four Academy Award nominations in 1969 for cinematography, costume design, director and best picture. It won for cinematography and costume design.
A representative for Paramount did not immediately respond Tuesday to the L.A. Times’ request for comment.
©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.