January 31, 2023

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Zeffirelli Foundation Condemns ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Sexual Assault Case

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A lawsuit filed by “Romeo and Juliet” actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, alleging Paramount sexually exploited them as teenagers in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, is drawing ire from Italy’s Franco Zeffirelli Foundation.

The foundation’s president, Pippo Zeffirelli, who is the late director’s adopted son, reacted with disgust over the weekend to a lawsuit filed last week in a Santa Monica court, which claims Zeffirelli cheated on actors while shooting a bedroom scene that included photos of Whiting. Buttocks and smiling bare breasts. At that time the actors of “Romeo and Juliet” were, respectively, 16 and 15 years old. The film was a hit and was nominated for four Academy Awards.

“It is embarrassing to hear that today, 55 years after filming, two elderly actors who originally owed their notoriety to this film have woken up and announced that they were the victims of a torture that has caused them years of anxiety and emotional distress,” Pippo Zeffirelli said in a statement to Italian media outlets, adding that the nude scene in question was “far from pornographic.”

The head of the Florence-based foundation also noted that Hussey went on to work with Zeffirelli on his 1977 TV mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth,” while Whiting attended the late director’s funeral in Florence in 2019 and later spoke warmly of Zeffirelli in 2020. At a memorial service in London.

The Franco Zeffirelli Foundation includes a museum that houses more than 250 works by the late director, including stage and costume drawings. Zeffirelli is perhaps best known for “Romeo and Juliet,” although his other credits include “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and “Hamlet” (1990), with Glenn Close and Mel Gibson. .

According to the lawsuit — which is against Paramount and does not legally involve the late director’s heirs — Zeffirelli assured both actors while shooting “Romeo and Juliet” that there would be no nudity in the film and that they would wear flesh-colored underwear. Bedroom view. But in the last days of filming, he requested them to perform naked with body makeup, “otherwise the film will fail.” Zeffirelli then allegedly showed them where the camera would be, and assured them that no nudity would be filmed or released. The lawsuit alleges that he was dishonest, and that Whiting and Hussey ended up being filmed naked without their knowledge.

According to the complaint, Hussey and Whiting, who are now in their 70s, have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in the 55 years since the film’s release and have also lost job opportunities. Despite their breakout performances, they had very limited acting careers after “Romeo and Juliet”.

The actors are seeking more than $500 million in damages.

In a 2018 interview with diversity, to protect the scene of laughter naked. “No one my age has done this before,” he said, adding that Zeffirelli shot it down with relish. “It was needed for the film.”

Paramount has not commented on the lawsuit.

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