When Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Romeo and Juliet” was first released in 1968, a brief scene of the star-crossed teenage lovers waking up naked in bed together caused what the film critic Roger Ebert described as “a lot of fuss”, including blaring headlines. that Queen Elizabeth II had witnessed the scene at the London premiere.
Earning two Oscars and critical acclaim, the film became a classic adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy and a staple of many English classrooms for decades.
But now, more than 50 years later, the two actors who played the protagonists, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, have filed a lawsuit against the film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, alleging that the bedroom scene was deceptively filmed when they were underage and that they had been assured that no nudity would be included in the final product.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, places much of the blame for the deception at the feet of Mr. Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, but alleges that Paramount Pictures’ photos of the plaintiffs’ nudes knew or should have known. bodies were secretly and illegally obtained during the performance.”
The company “packages what is essentially pornography,” the complaint said.
Paramount representatives did not respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.
In the scene, Mr. Whiting’s Romeo rises from bed and basks in the Veronese sun, his bare backside on screen for several seconds. Juliet remains mostly tucked under the sheet before jumping out of bed – her bare chest briefly showing.
Ms. Hussey was 16 years old when the scene was filmed, and Mr. Whiting was 17, said Tony Marinozzi, manager of both actors, who are now 71 and 72. (The scene was filmed in September 1967, he said, though the lawsuit filed lists an incorrect date.)
According to the lawsuit, Mr Zeffirelli told the actors that no nudity would be filmed and that they would wear flesh-colored undergarments during the bedroom scene, but on the morning of filming he told them that “she would fail in the nude or the picture. ”
The director “showed them where the cameras would be set up so that no nudity would be filmed or photographed for use in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ or anywhere else,” the lawsuit said.
The actors sued just before the end of a three-year period in California that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations so people who said they were sexually assaulted as children could file civil suits. In recent days, the state has seen a flurry of lawsuits under the statute, called the California Child Victims Act, before its term expired on Saturday.
The lawsuit concerns, among other things, sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children.
The Franco Zeffirelli Foundation, a non-profit organization in Italy dedicated to the director’s legacy, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In her 2018 memoir, ‘The Girl on the Balcony’, Ms. Hussey recalls filming the scene and wrote that after a make-up artist approached her to apply full-body makeup, she confronted Mr. Zeffirelli after a ‘little panic attack’. and he assured her that she would wear a nightgown on the spot.
“‘Although things, you know, current in another direction, I want you ready,” recalled Ms. Hussey abides by the director’s statement.
The scene was filmed on a closed set, Ms Hussey recalled in the memoir, meaning only essential crew members were allowed to attend, but there was one incident where a “dirty old man” had to be removed from the crew, she wrote.
In interviews around the time of the memoir’s publication, Ms. Hussey had expressed some approval of the way the scene was filmed, telling Variety that it was tastefully shot. She told Fox News that “it wasn’t that big of a deal” and that the film’s production crew had become “big family”.
John C. Manly, a longtime attorney representing plaintiffs alleging sexual assault, said Ms. Hussey’s statements as an adult would likely make the case more difficult to win.
Mr Marinozzi said Ms Hussey’s interviews about the scene showed she was trying to “get a handle” on the situation and expressed pride for the film and her performance, although he said she was never proud of that scene.
“They did what they had to do because they were professionals,” he said.