Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were the teenage stars of the 1968 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo And Juliet. Both stars filed a lawsuit against Paramount regarding their nude scenes in the movie on Friday, December 30. The actors, who were both teenagers when filming the movie, are suing the studio for sexually exploiting them and distributing nude images of adolescent children, per Variety. Their lawsuit comes following a California law, which suspends the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse.
However, judge Alison Mackenzie put forth a “tentative ruling to dismiss the case,” according to a May 25, 2023 report by Deadline. Calling the suit a “gross mischaracterization” of the scene, she also stated in writing that, “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.”
Find out more about Leonard, 72, and the lawsuit here.
Leonard was 16 when he took part in the movie, and Olivia, now 71, was 15. The lawsuit claims that director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019 at 96, had initially told both stars that they would wear nude undergarments in the controversial bedroom scene, but later begged them to film naked with body makeup. The lawsuit also says that they were told that no nudity would be included in the movie, and they wouldn’t be filmed nude, but it was. “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,” their manager Tony Marinozzi told Variety. The two stars are seeking up to $500 million in damages.
Before being cast as Romeo, Leonard had appeared in a variety of TV roles, with his first part coming in 1965’s The Legend of Young Dick Turpin. Some of his other TV parts included on The Magical World of Disney and Laughter from the Whitehall. After Romeo And Juliet, he was cast in a few more movie and TV roles, including Frankenstein: The True Story, and 1975’s Rachel’s Man. After the 1975 film, he rarely worked on-screen. His only roles after 1975 include providing the voice for a character in the animated series The Dreamstone in 1990, and a 2015 film.
While his last on-screen film role for 40 years was Rachel’s Man in 1975, Leonard did continue acting for the stage for a little bit longer. He played the Pharaoh in a 1978 production of the classic musical Joseph And The Technicolor Dream Coat, which ran until 1979, per TheatreGold. The production was also included on the BBC.
Throughout his life, Leonard has had three different wives. He first married late model Cathee Dahmen in 1971 and had a daughter Sarah Beth, who passed away in 2014. After divorcing from Cathee, Leonard was in a relationship with Valerie Tobin, who he had a daughter Charlotte Westenra with. Charlotte has gone on to become a director and dramaturg, according to her website. Charlotte is clearly close with her dad and spoke about their relationship in an August 2016 interview with Jinshan Hong. “Sometimes we sit around and discuss Shakespeare together. We’ve had arguments over silly things. So occasionally we do get into heated debates,” she told the outlet. “I was really proud of him and I’ve got pictures of his stills from some of his films.”
Leonard has been married to Lynn Presser since 1995.
While Leonard mostly stepped away from acting in the 70s, he did reunite with Olivia Hussey for the 2015 movie Social Suicide, which is loosely based on Romeo And Juliet, nearly 50 years after they starred in the 1968 film. Instead of playing star-crossed forbidden lovers though, the two played a mother and father to the leading character Julia, played by Olivia’s daughter India Eisley.
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