The lawsuit of Romeo and Juliet (1968)


Della Roehler, Reporter

Romeo and Juliet a worldwide Academy Award-winning film written by William Shakespeare faces controversy. William Shakespeare a well-known English poet, dramatist, and actor who has succeeded in the world of literature gets backlash for a film portrayed by one of his most famous pieces. 

William Shakespeare a remarkable artist from Stratford-upon-Avon first ever began writing his pieces in the late 16th or early 17th century. He was born on April 23, 1564, and was his family’s eldest surviving child. Growing up as the big brother of 5 siblings, his three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters Anne, who passed away ,at seven and Joan. Williams father, John Shakespeare was able to provide a very great life for his children. He worked as a leather worker, but he much like others was a prosperous businessman, and rose through local offices in Stanford which led to him being an alderman after he had gotten married to his wife Mary Arden. Shakespeare attended grammar school where he was able to study and memorize literature. After school William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway and welcomed children Susann, Judith, and Hamnet, Shakespeare then moved to London where it is heard he started his work while his children and wife lived in Stanford. 

For a while know one knew who Shakespeare was “the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a “Shake-scene.” The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare’s earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594” (Shakespeare’s Life | Folger Shakespeare Library, 2023).

Romeo and Juliet is just one play Shakespeare had written, he wrote the play in 1594-1596 the earliest of years in Shakespeare life. The play itself is a dramatic tragedy of two star-crossed lovers who die a tragic death. “The appeal of the young hero and heroine—whose families, the Montagues and the Capulets, respectively, are implacable enemies—is such that they have become, in the popular imagination, the representative type of star-crossed lovers. Shakespeare’s principal source for the plot was The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562), a long narrative poem by the English poet Arthur Brooke, who had based his poem on a French translation of a tale by the Italian Matteo Bandello” (“Romeo and Juliet | Summary, Characters, & Facts | Britannica,” 2023). The inspiration would soon lead to miraculous plays and films in the future. 

The 1968 film Romeo and Juliet also known as one of the most widespread remakes of all plays. The film was produced by Franco Zeffirelle, the American film drama is “…an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy of the same name” (“Romeo and Juliet | Film by Zeffirelli [1968] | Britannica,” 2023).Until this version of Shakespeare’s tragic romance, the actors who played the title lovers were often too old to plausibly portray the characters. Refreshingly, Zeffirelli gave the roles to young, inexperienced actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who at the time of filming were ages 15 and 17, respectively. The acclaimed director provided his trademark sweeping production design, emulating the actual societal conditions in which the story takes place. His version resonates with a realism that previous film versions lack” (“Romeo and Juliet | Film by Zeffirelli [1968] | Britannica,” 2023).

After more than 50 years Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting sue Paramount for inappropriate scenes expressed in the film. “The suit was filed by the stars of the film, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, on Friday, December 30, accusing the studio of “sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud,” according to the Associated Press. The costars claimed that director Franco Zeffirelli — who died in 2019 — told both actors that the film would not have any nudity and for the bedroom scene the twosome would wear flesh-colored undergarments” (Simpson, 2023). The young actors at the time were told that if not told to shoot nude the film “would fail.” The actors did, “What they were told and what went on were two different things,” the actors’ business manager Tony Marinozzi told Variety on Tuesday, January 3. “They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had” (Simpson, 2023). Even with the unthinkable happening to these to peoples lives they still went on to defended the film after what had occurred. 

“Hussey and Whiting, who are now both in their 70s, have filed their lawsuit with the Santa Monica Superior Court 55 years after the film’s initial release. According to Variety, California law temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse until the deadline of December 31, 2022” (Simpson, 2023). Olivia and Leonard have also greatly expressed their the mental challenges, emotional distress and career challenges that the film has brought against them. The two actor are reportedly seeking $500 million about the same as how much money the film has earned since its release. The two actors hope to get relief and clouser after once this lawsuit has settled. Marissa Moore a high school English teacher who has been teaching this book for about 8 years says she thinks, “… that people have the right to heal and process things that happen in there life. I don’t have a problem with it and I’m proud of them for pursuing the lawsuit.”