A judge in California on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the lead actors in the 1968 film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” against Paramount Pictures over a scene in which their characters wake up in bed together nude.
The actors, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, asserted in the lawsuit filed last year that they were underage at the time of filming, and that the movie’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, had assured them that they would be wearing flesh-colored undergarments during the bedroom scene. But on the morning of the shoot, the lawsuit claimed, he told the teenage actors that “they must act in the nude or the picture would fail.”
Their suit claimed that Paramount, the movie’s distributor, “knew or should have known images of plaintiffs’ nude bodies were secretly and unlawfully obtained during the performance.” In court papers, lawyers for the actors wrote that the scene should not be considered protected speech because it qualified as “child pornography.” Ms. Hussey was 16 when the scene was filmed, and Mr. Whiting was 17, Tony Marinozzi, a manager for both of the actors, said.
A lawyer for Paramount disputed the actors’ assessment of the film, which won two Oscars, arguing in court papers that the scene is not lewd or lascivious, and adding that their claims were too old to bring in court.
“The reality that the film is not child pornography is, of course, also supported by the fact that the film is extremely famous, has been in distribution for fifty-five years, and has been viewed or possessed by millions of Americans (including students studying Shakespeare in school), without any contention by law enforcement, plaintiffs, or their parents that it is ‘child pornography,’” the lawyer, Richard B. Kendall, wrote.
Zeffirelli died in 2019, but one of his sons whom he adopted as an adult, Giuseppe Zeffirelli, said that the scene was “as far from pornography as you can imagine.”
The judge dismissed the lawsuit, writing that the claim concerned filmmaking, a protected activity under the First Amendment.
In a statement, a lawyer for the actors, Solomon Gresen, said the actors intended to take the issue to federal court.