“Thus I die with a kiss,” wrote William Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet, and so a Los Angeles judge reiterated today over the alleged sexual abuse and negligence lawsuit of the stars of Franco Zeffirelli, an Oscar-nominated 1968 adaptation of the doomed lovers play.
Judge Alison Mackenzie stated that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting’s $100 million punitive action against Paramount Pictures contains a “gross mischaracterization” of the bedroom scenes in question from the film and citing the First Amendment, Judge Alison Mackenzie issued a preliminary ruling to dismiss the case.
“The Defendant’s Special Motion to Strike Plaintiffs’ Entire Complaint … is GRANTED because each cause of action asserted therein arises from protected activities and Plaintiffs have demonstrated no likelihood of success based on the merits of those claims,” she wrote Thursday of Paramount’s (successful) attempt to get the case overruled under California’s anti-SLAPP laws.
At the same time, the judge made short shrift of the idea that the Best Picture nominee’s scenes are child pornography, as the claim filed at the end of December 2022 emphasized, the judge added in strict terms:
Here, the defendant has not admitted that its conduct was unlawful, nor have the plaintiffs conclusively shown that the alleged conduct is unlawful under the law. Indeed, plaintiffs themselves acknowledge that images of naked minors only constitute illegal child pornography if they are “sufficiently sexually suggestive”. Plaintiffs have not put forward any authority to show that the film here can legally be deemed sufficiently sexually suggestive to be considered unlawful. Plaintiffs’ argument on this issue is limited to cherry-picked language from federal and state statutes without offering any authority as to the interpretation or application of those legal provisions to purported works of artistic merit, such as the award-winning film presented here. the order is.
So unless Judge Mackenzie 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, is considering a possible appeal, I hear.
Paramount representatives did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment on today’s preliminary ruling. If we hear back from the studio, we’ll update this post.
Hussey and Whiting, now in their 70s, claimed Zeffirelli violated their consent by filming them naked without their knowledge. Hussey and Whiting were 15 and 16 years old at the time Romeo & Juliet was shot dead. The duo estimated that the film has made more than $500 million since its release before Summer of Love and sought $100 million in damages.
The claims were 180° from what Hussey said in 2018 when she spoke about the nudity in the film. Plugging in a new memoir, the actress told Fox News that the nudity “wasn’t that big of a deal.”
The nudity was definitely a big deal back then Romeo & Juliet came out in March 1968. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, the controversial film won the Oscars for Best Cinematography and Costume Design. Both Whiting and Hussey also won Golden Globes for their performances.
Zeffirelli has faced claims of sexual harassment and assault in the past and was unable to respond to Hussey and Whiting’s allegations – 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 fame primarily to this film are waking up to declare that they have been victims of abuse that have left them with years of anguish and emotional discomfort. delivered,” he said in January 2023.
Representatives for Hussey and Whiting did not respond to a request for comment today.
Perhaps it is best left to the bard: “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till morning.”