‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars Sue Over Underage Nude Scene

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Reading William Shakespeare’s classic plays are a rite of passage for all American high school students. And often those plays are supplemented with filmed versions of the Bard’s comedies and tragedies. Just about everyone I know around my age, for example, saw Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet in school — despite the fact that the movie includes a scene where the two stars, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, are briefly shown naked together in bed.

It always baffled me that this was permitted, and that was before I learned that both Whiting and Hussey were actually underage at the time the nude scene was filmed. If that was considered taboo in 1968, it certainly didn’t hurt the film’s box office. Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet was a huge financial hit at the time, and won several Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography.

But now Whiting and Hussey have filed a lawsuit against the distributors of the film, Paramount Pictures. According to Variety, they are now accusing the studio of “sexually exploiting them and distributing nude images of adolescent children.”

The suit alleges that Zeffirelli “assured both actors that there would be no nudity in the film, and that they would wear flesh-colored undergarments in the bedroom scene. But in the final days of filming, the director allegedly implored them to perform in the nude with body makeup, ‘or the Picture would fail.’” (Zeffirelli died in 2019 at the age of 96.)

The two stars of the film are now in their 70s; they were 15 and 16 when they made the film. Their suit was filed as a law that had temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on some child sexual abuse cases in the state of California was set to expire at the end of 2022. Per Variety’s report, the two actors are asking for damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million.”

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