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‘Romeo and Juliet’ Child Stars Sue Paramount Over Sexual Exploitation, Seeking $500 Million in Damages

Hussey and Whiting were both under 18 at the time of filming the 1968 Oscar-nominated adaptation, which featured nudity.

Romeo and Juliet

“Romeo and Juliet” (1968)

Everett

Former “Romeo and Juliet” actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have filed a lawsuit against Paramount alleging sexual exploitation at the time of the 1968 film.

Hussey, who was 15, and Whiting, who was 16, also accused the production studio of distributing nude images of children; Hussey’s bare breasts were exposed in the film along with Whiting’s buttocks. The lawsuit was filed in Santa Monica Superior Court and claims sexual harassment, fraud, sexual abuse, negligence, appropriation of name and likeness, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unfair business practices/injunction in the complaint, as IndieWire can confirm.

Paramount Pictures Corporation is the official defendant. Law firm Solomon Gresen Gresen is representing both Hussey and Whiting in the lawsuit.

Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019 at age 96, directed “Romeo and Juliet.” Hussey and Whiting allege that Zeffirelli assured them there would be no nudity in the film due to the use of skin-colored undergarments. However, during the last days of filming, Zeffirelli allegedly encouraged them to perform the bedroom scene nude with body makeup or “the Picture would fail,” according to the legal documents obtained by IndieWire.

“Defendants were dishonest,” the lawsuit states. “The knowing and repeated use of sexual images of minor children is the worst of behaviors in our society and must be eradicated.”

Zeffirelli allegedly filmed Hussy and Whiting naked without their knowledge, misrepresenting where the camera would be positioned.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Hussey and Whiting’s shared business manager Tony Marinozzi said in a statement. “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.”

The complaint cites both actors experienced mental anguish and emotional distress over decades since the film wrapped. Both claim they also have lost out on job opportunities. The estimated damages sought from Paramount are “believed to be in excess of $500 million.”

After “Romeo and Juliet,” Hussey went on to star in the horror film “Black Christmas,” “Death on the Nile,” and “It.” Whiting appeared in “Say Hello to Yesterday” and “War Is War.” The duo later starred in the 2015 movie “Social Suicide” together.

The lawsuit was filed after a California law temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse.

Hussey and Whiting’s attorney Solomon Gresen said, “Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited. 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.”

Actress Hussey previously told Variety in 2018, for the film’s 50th anniversary, that the nude scene was “needed” for “Romeo and Juliet” and marked a turning point in American cinema.

“Nobody my age had done that before,” Hussey said, claiming director Zeffirelli made the artistic decision tastefully.

Hussey and Whiting are not the only child stars speaking out on past nude scenes: Brooke Shields addressed the controversial 1980 film “Blue Lagoon” and said that a feature like that would “never be made again” given its explicit content when she was 14 years old.

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