ELEGANT AND DOE-EYED, OLIVIA HUSSEY, at 40, still looks the classic beauty she appeared almost 24 years ago in the movie Romeo and Juliet. But these days, clearly, she also has a non-Capulet side. The T-shirt, black leggings and high-top sneakers provide the first hints. Rounding out the non-Renaissance picture, there’s a large black Harley-Davidson parked in her Coldwater Canyon garage.
Juliet on a Harley? Indeed it’s been a long, bumpy ride for the actress since she was cast as the heroine in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 hit. The film turned Hussey, 16, and her 17-year-old Romeo, Leonard Whiting, into instant stars. But the newfound celebrity proved to be overwhelming for both Whiting (see page 60) and her. “We were thrown into this fishbowl,” she says. “You’re robbed of a whole chunk of your childhood, and nothing is real anymore.”
In the years since her sensuous screen debut, Hussey has weathered the breakup of two marriages, an ongoing battle with agoraphobia (fear of public places) and the postdivorce death of Dean Paul Martin, her first husband and father of her elder son, Alex, 19. For the past year she has also been waging a legal battle with longtime manager Jay Levy, 49, whom she accuses of filching up to $1 million from her savings and pension fund and of engineering a secret $348,000 mortgage on the now $2 million home she bought four years ago.
Last October, Hussey filed a more than $500,000 civil suit against Levy, who has been under investigation by the FBI. “I made two films two years ago, and that [money] never went into the bank,” she says. “I don’t know what happened to it.” Levy, who refuses to comment on her charges, is currently facing at least 11 other lawsuits from former clients. Several years ago he made an out-of-court settlement with comedians Tom and Dick Smothers after they accused him of fraud, breach of contract and negligence.
But financial woes are only the latest in Hussey’s history of hard knocks. The first came at age 2, when her parents, Argentine opera singer Andreas Osuna and legal secretary Joy Hussey, separated. Young Hussey was bundled off to England by her mother soon after. “She took her two children to England and took a big chance,” says Hussey admiringly of her mother. Put into drama school at age 4, by the time she was 13, Hussey was costarring with Vanessa Redgrave in the London stage production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Zeffirelli caught her performance one night and asked her to audition for the role of Juliet. Said Zeffirelli at the time: “I chose her because she is life itself.”
That life soon became less than carefree when the crush of publicity from the Shakespearean smash aggravated an already existing case of agoraphobia. Hussey left acting for two years, but though she avoided the public, she didn’t lack for intimate companionship. In 1970 she married Dean Paul Martin, Dean Martin’s son, who, a few years earlier, had pursued her all the way to England after seeing Romeo and Juliet in a Hollywood theater. The marriage collapsed after three years because, says Hussey, “he hadn’t finished running around, and [by then] I was busy trying to work.”
Too proud to demand money from Martin or his parents, Hussey struggled, and “at one point it got so tight that I was selling my own jewelry” to make ends meet, she recalls. “I thought I had failed. I had this beautiful child, and I was alone.” An introduction to yoga and Indian guru Swami Muktananda raised her spirits and eventually eased her agoraphobia. To this day she remains a devout follower.
A second marriage followed, this time to Japanese singer Akira Fuse, whom she had met in Japan while filming a TV commercial. The union resulted in son Max, now 9, but it too ended in divorce, in 1987, when Akira decided that life in California was ruining his career in Japan. Just about then, first husband “Dino,” with whom Hussey had remained close, died in a plane crash. Shaken by the losses, Hussey abandoned acting again to be with her sons.
Then in 1989, she met her current live-in love, rocker David Glen Eisley, 37, in Jerry’s Famous Deli, a Studio City watering hole. Eisley, who had seen Romeo and Juliet 50 times, went gaga at first glance. “As I was leaving, she smiled, and my hair stood on end,” he recalls. He rushed home and penned a ballad titled “Olivia” and sent a tape to Hussey through her agent. She called, and a romance ignited.
Though the hard-rocking Eisley, whose last band was called Dirty White Boy, and the soft-spoken Hussey may seem star-crossed, Hussey defends her Romeo: “He may wear earrings and chains on his boots, but when he opens his mouth, he knows every line of Romeo and Juliet.”
Thanks to her financial mess, Hussey, too, may soon be learning lines as well. “I’m one of those actresses that really enjoys staying home with my children,” she says. “To be told you’ve got to get to work, it is just unbelievable what it does to you.” Two years ago she played Norman Bates’s mother in Psycho IV: The Beginning and Richard Thomas’s wife in the TV miniseries It. But although she muses about playing someone “really bitchy and nasty,” the old innocence surfaces when she describes her ideal role. “One of my dreams,” says Hussey, “is to play Mother Teresa.”
NANCY MATSUMOTO in Los Angeles