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I'm Obsessed With Zeffirelli’s 'Romeo And Juliet' — And Now It's Ruined For Me

Photo: Blueee77, Paladin12 / Shutterstock
old album cover of Romeo and Juliet

The best Valentine’s Day I ever had wasn’t a romantic candlelit dinner with my partner nor was it a group date in a fun location.

No, the best Valentine’s Day, the best moment in my life was meeting Leonard Whiting, the English actor who played Romeo in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Romeo and Juliet.

Meeting Leonard Whiting is one of my most cherished memories. Photo from author’s collection.

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While I don’t love the photo of me above, there’s no denying that I’m euphoric at meeting the Romeo of my generation.

Seeing the movie for the first time

I saw the movie in a theater, when I was seven years old, with my parents, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.

Since the film was first released, I’ve seen it several times in the theatre, I own the album, the complete movie soundtrack, the poster, two color programs( which are my prized possessions,) Olivia Hussey’s memoir, “The Girl on the Balcony,” and a hastily put together book on Leonard Whiting that I bought with my allowance.

I’ve been reciting dialogue from the movie for over 50 years which is why I have a gift for Shakespeare and was in our Theatre Department’s production of “Henry the 4th Part I.”

My likes, dislikes, and who I am at my core, have a lot to do with my love of that movie.

A lawsuit was filed

Recently, it was announced that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are suing Paramount for child abuse, referring to the nude scene in the movie.

When they were cast in the movie, they were promised that there wouldn’t be any nudity and that their bodies would be covered in flesh-colored bodysuits. 

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However, when it came time to shoot the scene, the director, Franco Zeffirelli convinced them to do the scene nude, or the movie would fail.

Olivia Hussey was fifteen years old, and Leonard Whiting was sixteen, it was the first major motion picture leading roles for both of them, and in the 1960s before #MeToo.

The pair trusted Zeffirelli not to exploit them and he betrayed their trust, and according to the legal documents, over the years, both Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have suffered “mental anguish” and “emotional distress."

In an article in The Guardian, it’s reported that the pair are seeking damages believed to be more than $500 million due to not only the psychological suffering but the financial hit they both took on missing out on jobs.

No guidance from the Whiting Camp yet

Lynn Whiting, Leonard’s wife is an active presence on his Facebook page and has not responded to fans asking if they should boycott the movie.

I don’t know what to do.

I want to honor and acknowledge Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting’s pain but never seeing the movie again would be a huge loss for me.

Do I watch everything but the nude scene or get rid of my DVDs and my collection of Romeo and Juliet memorabilia?

And no, switching to the Baz Luhrmann version, Romeo+ Juliet won’t work for me. I have trouble with all versions of Romeo and Juliet that aren’t the Franco Zeffirelli one.

I used to think it was perfect.

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Living my best Fan Girl life

Both Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were stunningly beautiful in the movie, and are still gorgeous. When I met Leonard, he couldn’t have been more gracious and kind.

He signed one of my programs, told me he loved me (!), and my friend took the picture of us.

I’ve met some of my idols before and there’s no guarantee they’ll be wonderful, but Leonard was.

The Prince’s final words feel fitting

A glooming peace this morning with it brings

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and astrology lover. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman's Day.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.