Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in "Romeo and Juliet": Was there parental consent?
Photo: United Archives / kpa Publicity / IMAGO
Pippo Zeffirelli has reacted indignantly to a lawsuit filed in California against the film studio Paramount.
In it, actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, then teenagers, accused director Franco Zeffirelli of forcing them to undress on camera.
The two starred in Zeffirelli's 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
For the Zeffirelli Foundation - named after the Florentine director Franco, whose son Pippo is its president - the nude images in Romeo and Juliet are not pornography: "They express the beauty and frankness of mutual devotion and contain no morbid feelings," it says in a statement from the foundation, from which the Guardian and the Italian news agency Ansa, among others, quote.
Hussey and Whiting are seeking half a billion in damages, including for "emotional trauma" they suffered and lost revenue.
In the case of Spencer Elden, who was depicted as a naked child on the cover of Nirvana's album »Nevermind«, his lawsuit was dismissed in a third instance in September last year.
Franco Zeffirelli died in 2019, on February 12 he would have been 100 years old.
His foundation is not involved in the case, in which only Paramount is in the dock.
“The love scene is about as far removed from pornography as you can imagine.
Zeffirelli himself has been accused of being reactionary precisely because he repeatedly spoke out against pornography,” says Pippo Zeffirelli.
The director's son says he was confident that the film's two producers, John Brabourne and Anthony Havelock-Allan, had obtained clearance from the actors' parents before shooting the scene.
Both producers have already passed away.
The lawsuit states that Hussey and Whiting assumed they were performing the scene in tan underwear.
Zeffirelli only told them on the morning of the shoot that they would only wear body make-up.
The director told the young couple they had to act naked, "or the film will fail."
"Romeo" actor is said to have spoken at the memorial service
The lawsuit comes 55 years after the film.
"It's embarrassing that two older actors, who are largely known for this film, wake up and claim they've been wronged," says Pippo Zeffirelli.
He recalled that the relationship between the two and the director was marked by gratitude and friendship: Olivia Hussey later worked with Franco Zeffirelli in »Jesus von Nazareth« – she played Maria in the monumental 1977 film.
Leonard Whiting came to Florence for Zeffirelli's funeral and then spoke for him at the 2020 memorial service in London.