1968 ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Actors Plan New Lawsuit After Judge Dismisses Claims Over Nude Scene

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting say they were coerced by the film’s director as teens

Leonard White and Olivia Hussey
Getty Images

A judge has granted Paramount Pictures’ motion for dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the stars of a 1968 film adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet” who claim they were coerced by director Franco Zeffirelli into performing a nude scene as teenagers.

In a tentative ruling filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge Alison Mackenzie ruled that the plaintiffs’ case did not sufficiently prove that the nude scene amounted to “child pornography” and therefore overrode the film’s First Amendment protections as an artistic work. While a new California law lifted the statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims, the judge said that the plaintiffs did not comply with the provisions required for such claims under that law.

In a statement sent to TheWrap, Hussey and Whiting’s attorney Solomon Gresen is looking into a potential appeal of the case and is also planning to file a federal suit based on the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray re-release of “Romeo & Juliet” that came out this past February, which he says resets the statute of limitations.

“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,” the judge wrote in his decision. “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.”

Gresen said Hussey and Whiting were “very disappointed” by the ruling.

“But they are confident they will receive justice,” the lawyer said. “They’ve waited over 55 years and if they have to wait for the appeal and this new federal case to be filed then they’ll just have to wait for that.

“The new federal filing is for misappropriation of name and likeness based on the Valentine’s Day redistribution of a digitally enhanced version that shows new high definition nude images of the minor plaintiffs,” Gresen continued. “Since we have unlawful acts occurring in 2023, the statute of limitations defense should never have been applied. We consider it a victory that the judge didn’t rule on and exclude the 2023 re-release and we will be refiling that in federal court in short order.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.