Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in »Romeo and Juliet«
Photo: United Archives / kpa Publicity / IMAGO
More than 50 years after the theatrical release of »Romeo and Juliet«, the two leading actors had sued the production company for millions in compensation because of a nude scene. But it will not come to the trial they are seeking in the state of California: A court in Los Angeles dismissed the lawsuit on Thursday.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, now both 72 years old, filed the lawsuit against Paramount Pictures in December. During the filming of the 1968 Shakespeare adaptation, they were urged by director Franco Zeffirelli to take nude shots for a bed scene. As minors, they were assured that their naked bodies would not be seen later in the film, they described. Previously, they would have worn skin-colored underwear for love scenes. In the film, the breasts of the then 16-year-old Hussey and the bare buttocks of the then 17-year-old Whiting can be seen for several seconds.
The judge noted that the scene was protected by the First Amendment because the actors "have not provided any evidence that the film can be considered sufficiently sexually suggestive here to be considered definitively illegal." Among other things, she rejected the accusation that the nude scenes would amount to child pornography. In its written decision, it also noted that the lawsuit does not fall under a California law that temporarily suspends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, and that re-releasing the film in February did not change that.
The actors' lawyers condemned the decision, stating that they intend to file a different version of the lawsuit in federal court. The lawsuit for millions of dollars in compensation revolved around sexual harassment, fraud and the infliction of mental suffering.
The actors' lawyer, Solomon Gresen, criticized the court's decision. Minors could not give their consent for sexually explicit acts, the lawyer said in a statement. They wanted to bring the case before a federal court after the film "Romeo and Juliet" was re-released this year. The exploitation and sexualization of minors by the film industry must be stopped, Gresen wrote.
»Romeo and Juliet« was a great success at the box office and won Oscars for cinematography and costume design in 1969. However, both main actors did not get any major roles after that.