I understand that – just as one can live through something that seems traumatic and later see it was not a big deal – one can look back on an experience that seemed benign at the time and realize it was quite the opposite and that it had long-lasting and negative effects. (I have had both epiphanies about past experiences.) I wondered about this when I read of the lawsuit filed by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting against Paramount Pictures in regards their Romeo and Juliet nude scene. The movie was made over 50 years ago, but California temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for some child sex abuse cases. Hussey, as recently as 2019, said the scene was no big deal and she also worked with Franco Zeffirelli again, in his television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (a thoroughly gorgeous production). The actors are asking for $500 million to make up for emotional damage and lost revenue – they say they were duped and coerced into the scene. I imagine whatever outcome there is will depend on what contracts were signed and whether their parents agreed to what was seen on screen, as Hussey and Whiting were under-aged. (Zeffirelli’s son has responded.) But if indeed their concern is protecting young people from exploitation (a noble goal), one might think the suit wouldn’t be about such a huge sum of money, but rather a chance to discuss their experiences as teenagers in the movie industry. One might think a lawsuit would not be necessary at all – a speaking tour might suffice, or a book. For what it is worth, I adore the film in question and remember seeing it for the first time as a teen and then again in a university English class. There was nothing titillating about it.
I’m not a big fiction reader, particularly contemporary fiction, which I generally find ham-handed and tedious. But I absolutely loved Hamnet and Judith, by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s historical fiction, about Shakespeare’s two youngest children, twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at the age of 11, and the novel is about his death, about the plague (fitting for our era of pandemic), as well as the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife. The latter’s childhood and background are part of the story, and this paragraph describing her as a child and adolescent gave me a huge pang, as this was precisely what I experienced in my family.
She grows up feeling wrong, out of place, too dark, too tall, too unruly, too opinionated, too silent, too strange. She grows up with the awareness that she is merely tolerated, an irritant, useless, that she does not deserve love, that she will need to change herself substantially, crush herself down if she is to be married.
(And yes, I have crushed myself down some.) From that rather painful recollection, though, I bring you some uplift: a clip from a sitcom I just discovered – Upstart Crow. It is about Shakespeare and his family, his career, his friends and the Elizabethan era. Hysterically funny and edifying. Unfortunately, only seems to be on at random times on PBS.