Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have filed a US lawsuit in California against Paramount studios in Hollywood for “in excess of $500million” for child abuse over being allegedly pressured into completely stripping for the sex scene and then the use and distribution of the filmed material. The stars used a temporary suspension in time limitations for historic cases. Their lawyer Solomon Gresen said: “These were very young naive children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them… they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”
The lawsuit alleges mental anguish and loss of potential work for 55 years since the film was released, claiming that the stars’ were misled and then pressured into the scene. They had been told they would wear flesh-coloured boy suits but then Zefferelli asked them to strip naked “or the Picture would fail.”
Hussey and Whiting allege they were told where the camera would be placed and that no nude shots would be filmed or used as stills but the completed film included images of Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s buttocks.
Tony Marinozzi, their business manager, said: “What they were told and what went on were two different things. They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had.”
Whiting himself described his first reactions to seeing Hussey at their first 1967 auditions: “It was in a basement studio. I just saw her. They say you can’t believe in love at first sight, but you can because I thought she was just absolutely scrummy, like a really big cream cake.”
Hussey was photographed at a recent fan expo last Halloween, posing in front of a poster of the film, for which she remains famous to this day.
In 2018 she defended the sex scene to Variety in artistic terms but also said that both she and Whiting were comfortable flming it at the time.
Hussey said: “Nobody my age had done that before… It was needed for the film.”
The same year, the Argentine-born actor also said that while such a scene was still “taboo” in the US, elsewhere in European cinema it was not unusual: “It wasn’t that big of a deal, and Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”
Both Hussey and Whiting allege the film and ensuing controversy damaged their potential future work. However, in her autobiography, Hussey recounted being offered Anne of A Thousand Days opposite Richard Burton and True Grit with John Wayne by powerful producer Hal B Wallis in 1969. She made an offhand remark that “I couldn’t see myself with Wayne” and both offers were withdrawn.
Instead, the star became an early pulp horror movie ‘scream queen’ after 1974’s Black Christmas but also appeared in the 1978 all-star Death on the Nile.