A judge said Thursday she would throw out the lawsuit from the two teenage stars of the 1968 film “Romeo and Juliet” who claimed they were coerced into performing nude scenes by director Franco Zeffirelli.
Olivia Hussey played Juliet at the age of 15; Leonard Whiting, who played Romeo, was 16 at the time.
“Plaintiffs have not put forth any authority showing the film here can be deemed to be sufficiently sexually suggestive as a matter of law to be held to be conclusively illegal,” Judge Alison Mackenzie wrote. “Plaintiffs’ argument on the subject is limited to cherry-picked language from federal and state statutes without offering any authority regarding the interpretation or application of those statutory provisions to purported works of artistic merit, such as the award-winning film at issue here.”
MacKenzie, who dismissed the lawsuit’s claim that the scenes constituted “child pornography,” stated that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations.
Hussey, 72, and Whiting, 72, filed their lawsuit just as 2022 ended. The lawsuit claimed Zeffirelli, who died in 2019 at 96, had told the actors there would be no actual nudity in the film, and that their bedroom scene would feature them wearing flesh-colored underwear. The lawsuit contended that as the filming wound to a close, Zeffirelli asked them to perform nude with body makeup, threatening that without doing so, “the Picture would fail,” Variety reported.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, the actors’ business manager stated of Zeffirelli. “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.”
“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” Solomon Gresen, the actors’ attorney, declared. “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.”
In 2018, Hussey told Variety of the nude scene, “Nobody my age had done that before. It was needed for the film.” She called Zeffirelli a “genius. He just brought things to life. That’s what I loved about Franco. He hired always the most perfect person to do the role, which ever role it was. And then he let that actor do what they felt.”
“I think it was such an amazing experience,” she added. “I used to say to Franco, I don’t want to work with anyone but you. I can do anything for you because you understand me. I mean if I could have, I would have just worked with Franco.”