Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie ruled on Thursday that she will be dismissing a case involving the two lead stars of the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The lawsuit involved the risque scene of a then 15-year-old Olivia Hussey (Juliet) and a then 16-year-old Leonard Whiting (Romeo).
In December, Hussey and Whiting filed the suit claiming that the film’s director Franco Zeffirelli forced them to perform naked together in a bedroom scene. At first, Zeffirelli told Hussey and Whiting they could simply wear makeup on their bodies, assuring them that nothing inappropriate would be shown because the camera would be angled in a certain way.
However, the stars proceeded to be filmed naked without being privy to it. The suit explains that it violated California and federal laws regarding indecency and exploiting children. Allegedly, on the morning of the said shoot, Hussey and Whiting were told by Zeffirelli to act naked or the movie would fail and their careers would suffer.
Both actors shared that, in fact, the opposite happened, suffering from abuse, harassment, and mental distress for decades. They endeavored to receive more than $500 million for the damages from the defendant, the film studio Paramount Pictures.
Judge Alison Mackenzie discovered Hussey and Whiting performed a cherry-picking of the law, having no legal authority as to why it should apply to “the award-winning film at issue here.”
Furthermore, Mackenzie stated the plaintiffs’ claims over the naked scene don’t align with what’s deemed an explicit and harmful exposing of children.
Solomon Gresen, Hussey and Whiting’s lawyer, expressed that the “exploitation of minors in the film industry must be confronted and legally addressed to protect vulnerable individuals from harm and ensure the enforcement of existing laws.”
In an interview, Gresen said he intended to file a different lawsuit in federal court, and that the new case would be based on the film’s Criterion Collection DVD release that came out in February. This, Gresen confirmed, would put a refresh on the statute of limitations.
During their testimony, Hussey and Whiting explained their exact experience filming the scene. They both recalled similar declarations. Hussey said that Whiting “returned to the bed and gets under the covers with me” and that they engaged in an interaction that was physically intimate.
Paramount’s lawyer rebutted these statements, calling them “completely false and perjured testimony.” They also stated that the activity in Zeffirelli’s film (which is protected under the First Amendment) “depicts a completely different scene and sequence of events.”
Additionally, Paramount further disagreed with Hussey and Whiting’s statement, since the movie won two Oscars, and claimed there was nothing obscene or crude about the scene. The claims, they said, were too dated to be brought up in court.
An attorney for Paramount Pictures made no comment on the verdict. The studio’s dismissal of the case under California’s anti-SLAPP statute eliminates any unnecessary lawsuits where free speech might be suppressed.
In a joint statement, Hussey and Whiting shared, “We waited going on 55 years for justice. I guess we’ll have to wait longer.”