Wall Street Times

Pippo Zeffirelli Defends Late Father Franco Against Sexual Exploitation Allegations in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Lawsuit

Pippo Zeffirelli, the son of late director Franco Zeffirelli, has spoken out against a sexual exploitation lawsuit filed against Paramount Pictures by Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, the stars of Zeffirelli’s iconic 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet

The lawsuit, filed last month, alleges that the filmmakers pressured the actors into performing a nude scene and exposed them to sexual harassment on set.

However, Zeffirelli has defended the film and denied the allegations, calling the lawsuit “embarrassing” and insisting that the nude scene was “far from pornographic.” 

He went on to say that his father was “a great artist and a gentleman” and that he would never have allowed or condoned any form of sexual exploitation or harassment on set.

“It is embarrassing to hear that today, 55 years after filming, two elderly actors who owe their notoriety essentially to this film wake up to declare that they have suffered an abuse that has caused them years of anxiety and emotional discomfort,” Zeffirelli said, according to EW. 

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Zeffirelli Defends

Zeffirelli, the president of the Franco Zeffirelli Foundation, has defended the late director against allegations of exploitation and sexual harassment made by actors Redgrave and Dench. 

“[Franco] Zeffirelli himself was accused of being reactionary precisely because, over and over again, he spoke out against pornography,” he continued. 

“The nude images in the film express the beauty, the transfer, I would even say the candor of mutual giving and do not contain any morbid feeling.”

Furthermore, Zeffirelli claimed that the producers of the film had consent forms from the actors’ parents, and added that Zeffirelli had spoken out against pornography throughout his career. 

Redgrave and Dench are suing Paramount Pictures over a nude bedroom scene in the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, in which they starred as the titular characters. 

Too Young

They were 16 and 15 at the time of filming and allege that Zeffirelli encouraged them to film the scene naked with body makeup, despite promising them that there would be no nudity in the film. They also claim that Zeffirelli filmed them naked without their knowledge.

As a result, the actors say they have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress and have lost out on job opportunities. They are seeking damages believed to be in excess of $500 million. 

The lawsuit was filed under a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse. 

Representatives for both actors and Paramount have not commented on the lawsuit. 

Zeffirelli – the son – pointed to the fact that both actors have praised the film in recent years and have maintained a relationship of “deep gratitude and friendship” towards the director. 

He also mentioned that Hussey collaborated with his father again in the 1977 miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth.” 

“It appears to me that in all these years, they have always maintained a relationship of deep gratitude and friendship towards Zeffirelli, releasing hundreds of interviews about the happy memory of their very fortunate experience, which was crowned with worldwide success,” he continued.

The Complaint

Whiting and Hussey, the actors of the 1968’s Romeo and Juliet, are suing Paramount Pictures over a nude scene in the movie that was filmed when they were minors. 

In a complaint filed in California, the actors accused the studio of sexual harassment, exploitation, sexual abuse, fraud, negligence, and the distribution of nude images of children. 

They claim that they have undergone mental anguish and emotional distress in the nearly 50 years since the movie’s release. Furthermore, they said they have lost out on job opportunities. 

The actors are looking to claim damages supposedly in excess of $500 million. They sued under a California law that momentarily suspended the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse.

In their complaint, the actors allege that filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli assured them nudity would not happen in the movie and that they would wear flesh-colored underwears to film an intimate scene between the titular characters. 

However, they claim that in the final days of filming, Zeffirelli encouraged them to film the bedroom scene naked with body makeup, saying that the movie “would fail” if they did not.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” the business manager for both actors, Tony Marinozzi, said in an interview with Variety. 

“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.”

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Under California Law

The California law allowed the actors to file their lawsuit despite the passage of time since the alleged incidents occurred.

“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited. These were very young naive children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them,” Solomon Gresen, an attorney for Whiting and Hussey, said, speaking to Variety. 

“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.”

Romeo and Juliet was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful film upon its release in 1968, and was nominated for four Oscars. 

The movie starred Whiting and Hussey as the titular characters, and featured a controversial nude scene that the actors are now suing Paramount Pictures over. 

Hussey went on to make appearanced in films like Black Christmas, Death on the Nile, and Undeclared War, while Whiting’s subsequent film credits included Say Hello to Yesterday, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and War Is Hell. The two actors also reunited in the 2015 film Social Suicide.