A jolt of youth … Olivia Hussey in Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet (1968). Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive
Melding Shakespeare with the spirit of rebellion, Hussey became the world’s most famous teenager. Then she went to lớn live sầu at Hollywood’s most notorious address
At their first press conference in 1967, Romeo & Juliet clutched each other’s hands. “For safety,” star Olivia Hussey insisted to the Guardian. The paper noted that director Franteo Zeffirelli’s 16-year-old heroine still spoke Shakespeare with a Spanish lilt. As a child, Hussey – birth name Osumãng cầu – left Buenos Aires for London with her mother & brother, unaware that she wouldn’t see her father again until she became so famous that the Argentinean government flew her trang chủ khổng lồ hug her grandmother on live TV.
Fame hadn’t taken long to lớn arrive. As Hussey recounts in her lively new autobiography, The Girl on the Balcony, a year after the trio arrived in the UK, she turned to lớn her mother and announced: “I think it’s time I started taking my career seriously.” She was eight.
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I never felt afraid in the Manson house. All I felt was the sweetness of Sharon TateOlivia Hussey“I used lớn walk around the house with a towel on my head pretending lớn be a nun,” says Hussey, now 67. “One day I just said, ‘I don’t know about being a nun. I lượt thích pretending lớn be a nun. Maybe if I was an actress, I could pretover to be a nun và still be me.” Her vow came true. After Romeo and Juliet – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – turned her and co-star Leonard Whiting into international idols, she went on lớn play both the Virgin Mary and Mother Teresa. Laughs Hussey: “That was my destiny.”
Sweet sorrow: Leonard Whiting và Hussey in Romeo & Juliet. Photograph: www.ronaldgrantarchive.comOff-screen, Hussey’s look is a touch more rock’n’roll. At an organic Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, she’s wearing all-Trắng with a leopardskin jacket, stacks of silver rings, and boots embroidered with roses. Her husbvà of 29 years, David Eisley, headed a Sunset Strip metal band when they met in the 80s. In the book, he comes zooming into lớn her life on a Harley. That memory is half hers, half her eldest son Alex Martin’s, who co-wrote the chapters that Hussey couldn’t bring herself to lớn type. The hardest concerned the death in 1987 of her first husband, Dino Martin, who flew from LA khổng lồ Britain to beg her for a date. She said no. But a year later, Hussey moved lớn California, và eventually said yes.
‘I knew he was in love sầu with me’ … Zeffirelli directing Hussey & Leonard Whiting in Romeo and Juliet. Photograph: Rex ShutterstockThe Girl on the Balcony is most startling when Hussey rappels off Shakespeare’s ledge lớn scamper around Hollywood. She arrived in Los Angeles a month after Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family – & moved inkhổng lồ the crime scene on Cielo Drive, which was owned by her manager Rudi Altobelli. Cops and gawkers haunted the house. One morning, Hussey was making coffee when Manson girl Linda Kasabian gave sầu District Attorney Vincent Bugliođắm đuối a walkthrough of the attachồng.
“I could hear her say, ‘And that Abigail Folger was lying over there và she had lots of stab wounds,’” says Hussey. “People would say, ‘How could you live sầu there?’ I’d say it was actually the safest house in Hollywood. There was a button under the desk in the living room that buzzed directly lớn the Beverly Hills police. When you walked in there, there were no bad vibes or anything. All I felt was the sweetness of Sharon. I never felt afraid.”
‘I like pretending’ … Hussey as Mary in Jesus of Nazareth. Photograph: ITV/Rex/ShutterstockIt was a dramatic introduction to lớn Los Angeles. Overnight, everyone began locking their doors. Hussey briefly dated Terry Melcher, then thought lớn be Charles Manson’s intended target, who now travelled with bodyguards. “Terry was a sweetheart,” says Hussey, “but he was fucked up.” Hussey found herself at the centre of a celebrity shift. Dino was the eldest son of the Rat Pack’s Dean Martin. Dinner at the in-laws meant meeting everyone from Sammy Davis Jr và Truman Capote to lớn Richard Burton và Elizabeth Taylor. Meanwhile, Dino surprised his bride by bringing the Bee Gees home for dinner. She answered the door in her pyjamas.
Hussey represented that generational change, though her autobiography is too modest lớn say it. Part of the reason the public was obsessed with her Juliet was that Hussey was a groovy 60s teenager who danced & drank và befuddled her elders. Her miniskirts và hippy hair were a sign that the kids – and maybe the whole globe – were changing. The journalists who managed to pin her down for a quote fumbled for words. One older reporter lectured: “There aren’t many girls at 15 I know that smoke cigarettes publicly.” Hussey coolly replied: “Oh, there are.” She gazed at hyên ổn impassively và took a drag.
“I loved playing Juliet,” says Hussey today. “The only part I didn’t lượt thích was all the quảng bá. It was exhausting, & I was this wild little thing.” Online, she’s continually discovering shots of herself she’s never seen. “I must have had people photographing me everywhere I went,” she says. She posts them on Instagram where today’s high-schoolers, who discovered the film in English lessons, message her asking if she và Leonard really dated (yes) and plead for love sầu advice. “Lighten up!” Hussey responds. “Life just unfolds. If I know nothing else, I know that in two months your life can change completely.”
‘Yes, we dated’ … Hussey & her Romeo and Juliet co-star Leonard Whiting in Los Angeles in 2018. Photograph: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP
Hussey & her first husbvà, Dean Martin’s son Dino. Photograph: Globe Photos/Guy Webster/Rex/ShutterstockThe book is structured around a question Hussey poses on page four: “That girl on the balcony keeps asking, ‘Has the life I’ve given you been worth it?’” The role wasn’t a gift. It was a trade. She & Whiting gave sầu Zeffirelli’s blockbuster a jolt of youthful rebellion that wired a 400-year-old play lớn the anti-Vietphái mạnh war protests. Teenagers had had enough of dying for their parents’ feud. In exchange, Romeo & Juliet gave Hussey immediate & eternal fame, plus a bottle of diet pills – the producers’ idea – that her mother furiously flushed down the toilet. Too late. She’d swallowed the fear that her body toàn thân was too curvy for the camera. On set, Zeffirelli called her “Boobs O’Mina”. Later, he confessed that she was the unrequited love sầu of his life.
“I know. I knew,” says Hussey. “We had a bond. I’d look at him và know exactly how he wanted me lớn play it.” In the foreword, Zeffirelli, now 94, writes: “You are the object of my adoration.” She still gives the director a kiss on his birthday. She considers herself unscathed, though she pointedly notes that the #MeToo movement is “fantastic,” adding: “We’ve sầu all been harassed in one way or another. Luckily for me, I had a big mouth và I was always being interviewed. Those sleazy people, I’d meet them but they wouldn’t dare.” The book does, however, contain an tài khoản of a violent rape by her then boyfriend, actor Christopher Jones, while she was living in Cielo Drive. Hussey discovered that she was pregnant và had a termination.
‘That was my destiny’ … taking a break on phối during the filming of Mother Teresa of Calcutta (2003). Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/APFor a while, Hussey’s life seemed to move so fast she could barely hang on. She nervously peed in her couture dress when presented to the Queen at Romeo and Juliet’s royal premiere, and said no khổng lồ several projects she probably should have sầu done, such as the sidekiông chồng role in True Grit. (“John Wayne doesn’t really bởi vì anything for me,” she shrugged to lớn producer Hal Wallis.) Later, when she had khổng lồ be less picky, she acted alongside everyone from Bette Davis to Traci Lords. She made good movies, including Bob Clark’s slasher Blaông xã Christmas, a favourite of Elvis Presley’s, và legendary bombs such as the 1973 musical Lost Horizon, ranked by Golden Turkey awards founder Michael Medved as one of the 50 worst films of all time.
By 22, Hussey was a divorced single mother who was terrified khổng lồ leave her house, thanks lớn agoraphobia aggravated by strangers stopping her on the street. “It wasn’t that I was snobby – I was shy,” she says. “I’ve always been so sensitive sầu. I cry easily. I’m an actress.” A friend dragged her to lớn meet Swamày Muktanandomain authority, a controversial guru on his first American tour, và for the first time, she fell in instant – if platonic – love sầu, just like Juliet. “When I met him, the world stopped,” says Hussey. Muktanandomain authority, she says, touched her third eye & her vision flooded with xanh light. She followed hlặng to a retreat in the Catskills, and another in India, braving the onlookers who wanted an autograph in a moment when she was so shattered, she barely recognised herself. “I loved him so much and in the end he helped me love myself,” she says.
Birthday kisses … director Franco Zeffirelli. Photograph: John Reardon/The ObserverLove knocked her flat again when she met her second husband, Tokyo pop star Akira Fuse (though she didn’t speak a word of Japanese) và permanently, when she met Eisley. “My roông xã,” she calls hyên ổn. “I didn’t think I could ever fall in love sầu again, because I’d loved so much.” She had two more children, Maximillian Fuse và the actor India Eisley, who put her career on pause for a year to lớn help Hussey through breast cancer for a second time – she is now in remission. Hussey herself continues khổng lồ act sporadically, though now that The Girl on the Balcony is published, her energy has shifted toward animal rights activism. Her twitter page is cluttered with emojis of hearts và tears for an endless stream of rescue dogs and tragic animal heroes, lượt thích a đoạn Clip of an armless squirrel named Karamel.
“A dog gives you unconditional love sầu and its completely in the moment. We should all strive sầu khổng lồ be lượt thích our dogs,” says Hussey. “It’s all about love when you boil it down.” Juliet ought to lớn know.
The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life after Romeo và Juliet is published by Kensington.