“Thus with a kiss I die,” wrote William Shakespeare in Romeo & Juliet, and thus echoed a Los Angeles judge today over the alleged sexual abuse and negligence lawsuit from the stars of Franco Zeffirelli Oscar-nominated 1968 adaptation of the doomed lovers play.
Stating that the $100 million in damages action against Paramount Pictures from Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting contains a “gross mischaracterization” of the bedroom scenes in question from the film and citing the First Amendment, Judge Alison Mackenzie put forth a tentative ruling to dismiss the case.
“Defendant’s special motion to strike Plaintiffs’ entire Complaint …is GRANTED as each cause of action asserted therein arises from protected activity and Plaintiffs have failed to show a probability of success on the merits of those claims,” she wrote Thursday of Paramount’s (successful) attempt to have the matter tossed under California’s anti-SLAPP laws.
Simultaneously, make short work of the notion that the scenes from the Best Picture nominee are child pornography, as the late December 2022-filed claim insisted, the judge added in strict terms:
Here, Defendant has not conceded that any of its conduct was illegal, nor have Plaintiffs conclusively demonstrated the alleged conduct is illegal as a matter of law. Indeed, Plaintiffs themselves recognize that depictions of naked minors will only constitute illegal child pornography if they are “sufficiently sexually suggestive.” 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. 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.
So, unless Judge Mackenzie has a complete change of heart (don’t laugh, it does happen), the DTLA hearing this morning should be the end of this matter. Hussey and Whiting’s lawyer Solomon Gresen may be considering an appeal, I hear.
Reps for Paramount did not response to request for comment from Deadline on today’s tentative ruling. If we hear back from the studio we will update this post.
Now in their 70s, Hussey and Whiting alleged that Zeffirelli violated their consent by filming them nude without their knowledge. Hussey and Whiting were 15 and 16 years old when Romeo & Juliet was shot. Estimating that the film has made over $500 million since its pre-Summer of Love release, the duo sought $100 million in damages
The claims were 180° from what Hussey said in 2018 when she spoke of the nudity in the film. Back then, plugging a new memoir, the actress told Fox News that the nudity “wasn’t that big of a deal.”
The nudity was certainly a big deal of a sort when Romeo & Juliet came out in March 1968. Nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, the controversial picture won Best Cinematography and Costume Design Oscars. Both Whiting and Hussey also won Golden Globes for their performances.
Having faced claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the past, Zeffirelli was unable to response to Hussey and Whiting’s accusations – as he died in 2019.
However, the filmmaker’s son Pippo Zeffirelli did respond to Hussey and Whiting’s allegations
“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,” he said in January 2023.
Reps for Hussey and Whiting did not respond to request for comment today.
Perhaps it is best left to the Bard: “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”