“Thus of a kiss I die”, wrote William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, and so echoed a judge in Los Angeles today over the alleged star sexual abuse and neglect trial of Franco Zeffirelli, the Oscar-nominated 1968 adaptation of the Doomed Lovers play.
Stating that the $100 million damages lawsuit against Paramount Pictures by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting contains a “gross misinterpretation” of the bedroom scenes in question from the film and citing the First Amendment, Judge Alison Mackenzie has issued an interim decision to dismiss the case. .
“Defendant’s special motion to strike plaintiffs’ claim in its entirety…is GRANTED because each cause of action asserted therein arises out of a protected activity and plaintiffs have failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of these claims,” she wrote of Paramount (success) on Thursday. attempt to have the case dismissed under California’s anti-gag laws.
Simultaneously, disregarding the idea that the Best Picture nominee’s scenes are child pornography, as the lawsuit filed in late December 2022 insisted, the judge added in stern terms:
Here, the defendant has not admitted that any of its conduct was unlawful, nor have the plaintiffs conclusively shown that the alleged conduct was unlawful in law. Indeed, the plaintiffs themselves acknowledge that depictions of nude minors will only constitute illegal child pornography if they are “sufficiently sexually suggestive”. Plaintiffs have presented no authority showing that the film here can be considered sexually suggestive enough in law to be considered permanently illegal. Plaintiffs’ argument on the subject is limited to hand-picked language in federal and state statutes without offering any authority regarding the interpretation or application of those statutes to purported works of artistic merit, such as the award-winning film at issue here.
So unless Judge Mackenzie completely changes his mind (don’t laugh, it happens), this morning’s DTLA hearing should be the end of this case. Hussey and Whiting’s attorney, Solomon Gresen, may be considering an appeal, I hear.
Representatives for Paramount did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment on today’s interim decision. If we hear from the studio, we’ll update this post.
Now in their 60s, Hussey and Whiting alleged that Zeffirelli violated their consent by filming them naked without their knowledge. Hussey and Whiting were 15 and 16 when Romeo and Juliet was shot. Estimating that the film has made more than $500 million since its release before Summer of Love, the duo have sought $100 million in damages
The claims were 180° from what Hussey said in 2018 when she talked about nudity in film. At the time, posting a new memoir, the actress told Fox News that the nudity “wasn’t that bad.”
Nudity was definitely a big deal when Romeo and Juliet was released in March 1968. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, the controversial film won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. Whiting and Hussey also won Golden Globes for their performances.
Having faced allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the past, Zeffirelli was unable to respond to Hussey and Whiting’s accusations – as he died in 2019.
However, the filmmaker’s son, Pippo Zeffirelli, has responded to Hussey and Whiting’s allegations.
“It is disturbing to hear that today, 55 years after the shooting, two elderly actors who owe their notoriety mainly 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.
Representatives for Hussey and Whiting did not respond to request for comment today.
Perhaps best left to the Bard: “Parting is such a sweet pain that I’ll say goodnight until tomorrow.”