Since the late 1960s, Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of Romeo & Juliet has generally been considered the best version of the Shakespearean classic on film. However, recent news is set to damage it’s reputation. The film’s underage lead performers, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, helped make it a hit. They are now suing Paramount Pictures because they allege not only that their infamous nude scene in the film was filmed without their consent, but that it constitutes child pornography. Join Facts Verse as Olivia Hussey sues for her controversial Romeo & Juliet scene.
Franco Zeffirelli Made Romeo & Juliet Popular Again
In 1968, Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet was released upon the world of cinema, and it had a dramatic impact. Prior to the film’s release, there had yet to be a definitive adaptation of the Shakespearean classic on film. Not only did Franco’s version strike a chord with audiences that allowed it to become a financial hit, but it also stayed true to the source material in integral ways. One of those ways was by casting lead performers that matched the age that the titular characters were supposed to be in the original play.
The idea of casting teenage actors in Romeo & Juliet was all well and good, but it ended up having some decidedly sketchy consequences. The good part was that the teenage actors made the film more realistic, and also helped the material translate to the teen demographic. If it weren’t for the fact that Franco’s film starred teenagers, it likely wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a hit as it was. The teenage performers that Franco hired to play the characters of Romeo and Juliet were Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, respectively. Olivia was 15 at the time that she performed in the film, while Leonard was 16. While there was nothing wrong with the decision to cast teenagers in the film in and of itself, the teenage casting became controversial when the film was released and it contained a notable nude scene.
As soon as the iconic nude scene from Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet was unveiled to the public, audiences began questioning whether or not what they were seeing on the screen was actually what they were being told. Optimistically, many audience members imagined that body doubles or other such tricks were being utilized to create the illusion that the underage performers were nude. As it turns out, the teenage performers in the film were actually as nude on set as they appeared to be in the final product. Not only that, but the two teenage performers are now alleging that they appeared nude in the film without their consent.
Romeo & Juliet’s Stars Are Now Alleging Foul Play
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have just recently filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures that related to the infamous nude scene in Romeo & Juliet. Paramount Pictures was the film’s distributor, and Olivia and Leonard are alleging that the company has profited off of the distribution of child pornography by continuing to make the film available to paying members of the public. In most cases, distributing images of nude teenagers would be an obvious crime. However, things are different in the world of cinema. This is especially true when you take different time periods and different regions into account. Not only was Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet filmed in the 1960s, but it was made by a filmmaker whose sensibilities were much more European than American. To Franco, the depiction of nude teenagers in his film was no big deal, and much of the world felt the same way when it was released. It was predominantly Romeo & Juliet’s popularity in America that drew so much attention to the teenage nudity that was featured therein.
Not only did Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting’s nudity in Romeo & Juliet get a free pass despite the fact that the performers were underage, but the film has overcome it’s controversy since it’s release to become staple viewing in high schools across America. It seems that the world no longer thinks that Franco Zeffirelli’s 1986 film adaptation is all that controversial. Instead, audiences have come to consider it the preeminent version of the play to get teenagers hooked on Shakespeare. Olivia and Leonard’s new lawsuit is liable to change this reputation and reignite the controversy the film was met with upon it’s release.
While the fact that 1968’s Romeo & Juliet contains nude image of teenage performers may be enough for certain audience members to decry it, there are worse things being alleged in Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting’s new lawsuit. Not only are Olivia and Leonard claiming that their infamous nude scene should be illegal to distribute, but they are also claiming that it was filmed without their consent. According to both performers, they were coaxed into performing nude in the film at the behest of Franco Zeffirelli himself. Once Franco managed to convince the two teenage performers to strip nude in front of the camera, he assured them that no nudity would be featured in the film’s final cut. As anyone that has seen the adaptation knows, the director was lying.
Did Franco Trick Olivia and Leonard Into Appearing Nude?
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting allege that they were promised before filming of 1968’s Romeo & Juliet even started tat there would be no nudity featured in the film. There was a bedroom scene that was written into the script, but Franco Zeffirelli assured the two teenagers that flesh-colored garments would be used in order to give off the illusion that the performers were nude so that they didn’t have to strip in front of the camera. It wasn’t until towards the end of the movie’s shoot, once it was time to film the bedroom scene, that Franco began suggesting that the idea of flesh-colored garments be eschewed. Franco was persistent, alleging that the film wouldn’t work unless Olivia and Leonard were actually as naked as they appeared to be.
Eventually, Franco Zeffirelli was able to wear Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting down with his insistence that his film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet wouldn’t work unless the performers stripped down before the cameras. However, as we’ve already established, he was only able to do so by promising that no graphic nudity would make it into the film. Franco claimed that the cameras were placed in such a way that none of the performers’ genitalia were even being recorded. It was under this presumption that Olivia and Leonard finally performed their iconic bedroom scene.
Another thing that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are alleging in their new lawsuit is that the release of Romeo & Juliet caused strain that their careers would never recover from. Given that neither performer has worked much in the many decades since the film was released despite it’s massive box-office success should suggest as much. In total, the two performers are suing Paramount Pictures for a staggering sum of around $500 million. The lawsuit was filed as a result of a recent California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations in regards to older claims of child sexual abuse. Some have suggested that Olivia and Leonard are being exploitative in their pursuit.
Are Olivia and Leonard Being Sincere?
People that are on Paramount Pictures’ side allege that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are opportunists that are only expressing outrage about their teenage nude scene now that they think they can get some money and attention out of it. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the performers’ shared lawyer believes that the matter of Romeo & Juliet’s infamous nude scene constituting child pornography is pretty cut and dry. In 2018, Olivia Hussey gave an interview to Fox News during which she parroted Franco Zeffirelli’s claim that the nudity in his adaptation of Romeo & Juliet had been exactly what the film needed. There’s certainly a lot of merit to the argument that the film wouldn’t have the legacy that it does today if it weren’t for it’s nude scene. Regardless of the morality, audiences seem to enjoy looking at the film’s nude teenage performers.
Besides the mystery behind the infamous nude scene, another thing that fans have often wondered about in regards to 1968’s Romeo & Juliet is whether or not it’s two teenage performers ever hooked up behind the scenes. As it turns out, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting actually did develop somewhat of a thing for each other over the course of the adaptation’s filming. However, there love was much more innocent than the one depicted in both the film and the play that it’s based off of. According to Olivia, she had never been with a boy before appearing besides Leonard in Romeo & Juliet. The two stars were physically attracted to each other upon their first meeting, and they developed a bond over the course of production. They became something like boyfriend and girlfriend, though things never got serious.
After Romeo & Juliet, Olivia Hussey had some trouble in her love life. At the age of 17, her agent introduced her to an actor by the name of Christopher Jones. Unbeknownst to both Olivia and her agent, the actor suffered from violent schizophrenia. The abuse started in the relationship early on, but Olivia stayed longer than she should’ve because she felt obligated to help the man. Olivia eventually broke things off with Christopher and moved into a house in Hollywood. This wasn’t just any old house, though. It was the house that Sharon Tate had been murdered in by that Manson Family just several weeks prior! While Olivia was staying there, Christopher broke into the house and raped her.
Olivia certainly suffered a lot of horrors during her teenage years, and she didn’t have a lot of career longevity in terms of her acting. However, she’s happily married today with several children. One of Olivia’s children is an actress, and her name is India Eisley. Olivia and Leonard Whiting got the chance to play India’s on-screen parents in the 2015 film Social Suicide, which was based upon Romeo & Juliet.
It remains to be seen how the reputation of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet will change in the wake of the new lawsuit that has been filed by stars Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting against the movie’s distributor. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were underage when they filmed their infamous nude scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, and that the director allegedly coaxed the teenage performers into filming the scene against their consent? Comment down below!