In 1968, at only sixteen years old, Olivia Hussey became one of the most famous faces in the world, immortalized as the definitive Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet. Now the iconic girl on the balcony shares the ups and downs of her truly remarkable life and
career . . .
The part was an opportunity of a lifetime for a simple girl from Buenos Aires, Argentina. But for Olivia, the role of movie star was hard to play, and harder still, to live up to. In this candid memoir, she tells her story—from being an “It Girl” in swinging 60s London and her enduring friendship with Romeo & Juliet co-star Leonard Whiting, through three tumultuous marriages—including one with Dean Martin’s son, Dino—motherhood, stage-four breast cancer, debilitating agoraphobia, bankruptcy, and ultimately, a journey of self-discovery in India that led her on a path to fulfillment.
She brings readers intimately close to the legendary performers she knew, loved, worked with, and battled, including The Beatles, Vanessa Redgrave, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Anthony Perkins, Christopher Reeve, Lawrence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, and more. Olivia also finally reveals for the first time, the identity of the actor—a fellow young newcomer—who raped her, but who would not break her.
Featuring a foreword by her star-making director Franco Zeffirelli, Olivia Hussey’s memoir shines with her luminous spirit—inspiring, surprising, and fascinating to read about.
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About the Author
In a career spanning more than fifty years, OLIVIA HUSSEY has portrayed leading roles in films (Romeo and Juliet, Black Christmas, Death on the Nile, Mother Teresa of Calcutta) and celebrated television miniseries (Jesus of Nazareth, The Bastard, Ivanhoe, The Last Days of Pompeii, Lonesome Dove). She also has appeared in Murder, She Wrote and Boy Meets World and done voice work for Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and the Star Wars video game franchise. For her performance in Romeo & Juliet, she won the Golden Globe for Most Promising Female Newcomer and the David di Donatello Award (the Italian Academy Award) for Best Actress. Born of Argentinean and English ancestry, she lives in Los Angeles.
ALEXANDER MARTIN moved to London after high school and attended the Central School of Speech and Drama with intention of taking up the family business. He appeared in the films Can’t Hardly Wait, 21, and Josie and the Pussycats. A little over a year ago while he was beginning work on his first book, his mother called and asked if he would help with her memoir; it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Read an Excerpt
A Rough Start
Alma Joy Hussey loved to dance the tango. She was twenty-three, the daughter of British expats living in Buenos Aires, and on Friday nights she would dance. Armin-arm with a couple of girlfriends, she would head to the Avenida de Mayo in the heart of the city. It was 1948, and the milongas, dance clubs, were packed with beautiful young people dying to see and hear their favorite singers. One of the best singers was a twenty-one-year-old man from Victoria, just outside Buenos Aires, who had moved to the city five years before. On one of those festive Friday nights, in one of those packed milongas, when the lights went down and the orchestra started up, Osvaldo Ribo walked out onto the stage to sing, and my mother fell in love.
At least, that's the story she told me. The truth may be very different. Memories are fluid; without firm context to anchor them, they can slip and slide. For my mum, that context shifted over the years, and she began to remember things as she believed they ought to have been rather than as they actually happened. As for me — at best, I think my parents were a pair of star-crossed lovers from disapproving families. At worst, I see them through the eyes of the girl who came from their broken home.
My father's real name was Andres Osuna. He was born in 1927, into a family that had originally emigrated from Northern Spain. His father died before I was born, but I remember my grandmother clearly enough: She disapproved of my mother.
I think there might have been quite a few disapproving faces in the Buenos Aires of the 1950s. As it remains today, the city was broken up into different communities: Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and English. All Argentinean, of course, but each fiercely proud of its own cultural heritage. Before 1940, these groups mixed easily with one another. In marketplaces, Portuguese grocers sold to French chefs, Spanish families walked along boulevards chatting with German friends, and in corner pubs English bartenders poured glasses of Fernet for all.
But World War II changed everything. As Europe spiraled into darkness, the various ethnicities in Buenos Aires retreated into the security of their tribes. Lines were drawn, sides were taken. What's more, the war brought out old grudges and deep resentments. Words like "colonialism" and "assimilation" began to creep into conversations around the city, fostering an atmosphere of distrust and clannishness that lingered long after the war was over.
For my grandmother, who ruled my father's side of the family with an iron fist, even the idea that her grandson should love an English woman was not to be countenanced. She saw the English as nothing more than poor, vulgar potato farmers who should all be sent packing. For my mom's family, this condescension cut deep. First, they were not English; they were from strong Scottish stock. Second, they had been in Argentina for three generations and felt entitled to call the place home. It was into these dark waters my parents waded. They were in love and, despite their families' disapproval, they married.
I was born on April 17, 1951. I only have a few memories of my mum and dad together. I do know that they were very different. My mother was all kinetic energy: four feet ten, with a tiny hummingbird body and short brown hair. She loved to party, and was always laughing. In many ways, she looked at the world as a child might: as a place of simple truths requiring direct action.
My father was, shall we say, more relaxed, with the indolence that sometimes comes to those blessed with tremendous good looks. In fact, he was striking, with hooded eyes; high, chiseled cheekbones; a sharp jawline; and long, narrow nose — noble features that could have belonged to the captain of a fifteenth-century Spanish treasure ship had they not been softened by his kind, carefree expression and deeply sensitive soul.
My father never drank. He never smoked. He loathed parties. He was happiest sitting around his kitchen table with his brothers, singing and playing guitar. He was a gentle man.
Their marriage didn't last two years. They split when I was one and my mum was pregnant with their second child, my brother, Andrew.
At times I've thought, how sad to have your love destroyed by family pressure, Montague versus Capulet. But maybe my father and mother were just too different. There are parts of our parents that must always be a mystery to us. I can tell you, though, that I carried the pain of their separation and the trauma of its aftermath for a long, long time.
After my father left, my mother worked as a secretary somewhere in the city. Six months pregnant, she would leave early in the morning and come home after five, exhausted but uncomplaining. Most mornings, she would drop Drew and me off at her sister's on her way to work. I adored both of my mother's siblings: Uncle Bungie — a nickname for Barry — and Auntie Linni, short for Leonore. Linni was very much like my mother, small and strong. I remember spending hours snuggled up with her in the late afternoon, watching the headlights reflect off the blinds in her little apartment, hoping they shone from the bus that was bringing my mother home. The sisters even sounded alike; for years after my mother died, I would call Linni just to hear my mother's voice.
Some days, Uncle Bungie would come by Linni's flat. Tall and lean, he would walk through the front door carefully so as not to hit his head. I would throw myself over the back of the couch and rush to him. He never came empty-handed; as I bobbed and weaved around him, he would keep his hands firmly behind his back to conceal whatever little treasure he had brought me. Of all my early memories it's these weekdays spent with Bungie and Linni that I cherish most.
When he wasn't being "Uncle Bungie" to his hyperactive niece, my uncle was Captain Barry Melbourne Hussey of the Argentine navy, a dedicated, lifelong navy man. (In a huge historical irony, thirty years later, in 1982, Captain Hussey was a key negotiator in the surrender of the Falkland Islands to the British.)
On weekends, my mother and I would visit her parents. They lived in the English quarter of the city, in a lovely little house that sat snugly on a corner surrounded by hedges and tall trees. I loved spending Saturdays in the garden with my grandfather, watching frogs leap from hedge to hedge.
On occasion, my brother and I would visit my father. I do have some sweet memories of him. Sitting on a vinyl-covered, steel-tubed kitchen chair with his shirtsleeves rolled up, he would speak in hushed tones about the beauty of tango or the simple pleasures of country living while I sat listening, lulled by the rhythmic way he rocked Drew from side to side, cradling him in one arm.
By 1954, though, the situation had become too hard for my mum. Between working for minimum wage and looking after two small children, she was riven with anxiety, faltering from stress, and deeply unhappy. Something had to change. Our aunt and uncle, wonderful and committed as they were, had their own families, and my mother felt it was unfair to burden them further. She decided to enroll my brother and me in boarding school.
I know that writers from Dickens to J.K. Rowling have sent their fictional children to boarding schools, and countless actual children have loathed or adored their experiences away at school. I was a little girl used to a tiny apartment in the suburbs of Buenos Aires; the idea of being sent away, separated from my family, was absolutely terrifying. I thought the school would be a cold and lonely place, full of mean, uncaring people. Worse, I thought, as children do, that my brother and I were being sent away because we weren't loved anymore. I was right on the former but so wrong on the latter.
All I remember of the first few months at school are the nights I spent wandering around dark hallways, looking for my brother — he had been placed in a separate wing, far from me. The nights I did manage to find him, I would climb into his little bed and cuddle up close, crying softly into the back of his head.
Mum would come every weekend. I remember her walking toward us one hazy gray morning, through the school's huge steel gates. She was wearing a red, white, and blue dress. She took us up in her arms and told us, "I love you both more than anything in the whole world." Pressed against her cheek, I tasted her sea-salt tears.
"But I can't take you home just now," she went on. "There's no one to look after you." Her arms were shaking. "I have to work. But you'll both be home soon."
We stayed for three years.
I was seven when we left Argentina. Mum had had enough: enough of being separated from her children, enough of struggling day by day, enough of a city that held nothing for her. In the fall of 1957, she had a plan: She would ask our father's permission to take us to visit relatives in England.
Though they never saw one another, Mum and Dad were still married, and Argentinean law gave the father full control of the children. One of the only images I have of them together is of the day my father signed the papers to allow us to travel.
A few weeks passed. My and my brother's simmering excitement began to bubble. This would be our first overseas trip; our first trip anywhere. We were visiting relatives in London, Mum would say; we planned to be there for two months. Naturally, we would miss our family — our dad — but no school for two months? Heaven. We would get to meet new family! We would see London!
Finally, the day came. Standing on the dock with our bags, we said good- bye to Auntie Linni, Uncle Bungie, my cousins, my granny, and my father, who had come down to see us off. All I could focus on, however, was my new white shoes. They were fancy dress-up shoes, shoes for a special occasion, and they were much too tight. They squeezed and pinched my toes painfully together and squeaked when I walked.
"Stop fidgeting and give your auntie a proper good-bye," my mother said.
"But my shoes hurt."
"Just do it, Livi."
We boarded the ship, and as it slowly slipped away from the dock, I turned around and saw my father waving up at us. He looked so sad. I concentrated on my shoes, on the pain in my feet — a child's way to block the sadness in her heart. I looked up at Mum; she had started to cry. I thought, "Don't cry, Mummy, we'll be back soon and see everyone again."
But Mum had kept her real plan secret from everyone. To this day, I don't know where she found the strength to follow through with it. We were going to visit relatives in England, she would say — but in reality, we were never coming back.
Under a Slate-Gray Sky
I love English television. My idea of a perfect evening is to sit curled up on my couch — surrounded by my daughter; my dogs; and, depending on the week we've had, my husband — watching British television: detective dramas, tongue-in-cheek comedies, period pieces with a touch of the macabre. I love their quiet confidence: They know how to take their time. The older ones are the best, I think. And what wonderful actors! Some — David Warner and Angela Lansbury, for example — I know, while some — like James Nesbitt and Helen Mirren — I admire. Others I know and maybe don't admire. But I could sit for hours and just soak them all in.
I also have, or so I've been told, a very English sense of humor: self- deprecating, leaning to the ironic. I swoon over deadpan lines. Give me Rowan Atkinson's forever frustrated Blackadder, or Edina and Patsy wrestling luggage on the airport conveyer belts in Ab Fab. I laugh out loud when life doesn't go Judi Dench's way in A Fine Romance, and tears roll down my cheeks every time Richard Wilson gives one of his curmudgeonly reactions to the modern world.
I mention my English sensibility and sense of humor because, fifty-eight years ago, when my mum, my brother, and I stepped off the ship under a slate- gray sky, I was Argentinean. My first language was Spanish. I had grown up with the sun and the heat and the warm winds that blow south of the equator. Here, everything was cold and damp.
We arrived almost penniless and not knowing a soul (good grief, this reads like Angela's Ashes). Our first few months were miserable. It was a time of tiny rooms and locked doors, endless tube rides and constant moving. We met a series of horrible, pasty-faced landladies who seemed to have stepped out of the pages of some dark fairy tale. Witchlike, they would stare down at my brother and me, their pale, distrusting eyes a warning that we were not welcome.
Before we left Argentina, my mum had arranged for us to stay with a distant cousin of hers, who turned out to be awful; she loathed us, and couldn't wait to see the back of us. We stayed long enough for Mum to meet another wretched woman who had two small rooms for rent in the house she owned. Mum found a job at the Argentinean consulate; she had legal-secretarial skills and was fluent in two languages. But to make ends meet, she also had to work evenings as a waitress.
As far as I can remember, there was nothing swinging about the London of the late '50s and early '60s. Thirteen years after the war, parts of the city were still a confusion of rubble and burned-out buildings. I remember the "Rag & Bone men" trolling the streets for discarded clothes and scrap metal and rubber to resell. Food rationing had ended only four years earlier, and the food we had was bland, simple, and colorless — the postwar cuisine for which Britain would become infamous. The city and its people were exhausted, and money was tight.
Working for the Argentinean consulate did have advantages. Mummy was able to get wonderful cuts of Argentine beef: vacio, bife de chorizo, and bife de costilla; different types of steak, including T-bone or porterhouse, virtually unheard of in England. They were prime cuts, and they were delicious — or would have been, if my brother and I had ever had a chance to try them. Our landlady, who was supposed to be looking after us while Mum was at work, kept them all for herself. She would simply lock Drew and me in a room all day. At noon, she would bring us a meal of beans on toast and leave again, locking the door behind her.
Her arrangement with my mother was simple: The landlady would take most of Mum's weekly wages as payment on the house. In time, the house would be ours. Indeed, she did eventually move out and we had a home. Then, weeks later, late one night, there was a loud banging at the front door. It was the woman. She had come with the "authorities." Announcing that the house was hers and that we were squatters, she had us thrown out.
Mum was so innocent, so naive. She had been giving away her weekly wages. She had signed no papers. She had been given no contract or title. She'd been conned, and we were out on the street.
My memories of what followed are a series of faded snapshots, images of difficult times: Penge Primary School, Miss Buchanan slapping a ruler across the back of my knees: "Don't think a pretty face will get you through life, Olivia." Slap!
"Yes, Miss Buchanan."
"Because it won't get you anything." Slap!
Earl's Court, central London. Then Wapping, on the north bank of the Thames, a dockland district hit hard during the Blitz. Wapping was like so many port areas, scruffy and forgotten.
Another school. A girl named Libby, who threatened to cut up my face with a knife. More moving. My mum having to get another job cleaning offices early in the mornings.
Through most of this period, I escaped to the movies. I had known that I wanted to be an actress since the age of four, though I didn't start to take my career seriously until I was eight — when, over breakfast one morning, I announced, "I think it's about time I started taking my career seriously."
Mum, bless her, reacted with all the solemnity and sincerity that her little girl demanded. She said, "All right, Livi, now how do we take your career seriously? Let's think."
We decided to begin at the cinema.
I loved going to the movies — I still do. Like children everywhere, I loved to project, to pretend to be those characters up there on the screen. I suppose I never really stopped. There in the dark, with Mum trying to catch a quick nap, I would be Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor or Doris Day in Calamity Jane. I was the great Albert Finney, filling the whole screen with mischief and wild, infectious humor in Tom Jones. I was Glenda Jackson in — everything! Even now, it's me solving the crime in Prime Suspect or standing on the table screaming in Penny Dreadful. Great acting has always had the power to knock me off my feet.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Girl on the Balcony"
Copyright © 2018 Frozen Flame Enterprises, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Rough Start 7
White Shoes 13
Under a Slate-Gray Sky 15
On the Boards 20
The Audition 29
Romeo and Juliet Go to the Movies 38
Cinecittà Studios 46
Temper, Temper 48
Mrs. Mayfair and a Very Sick Girl 51
One-Take Hussey 54
Boobs O'Mina 56
Late Nights 58
Was There Anything Between Romeo and Juliet Offscreen? 62
Roman Holiday 63
Meanwhile, Back on the Balcony 66
Live, to the World 73
Teenage Heartbreak 75
Last, but Not Least 76
The End; Now Comes the Work 78
The Tour 84
So I Became a Movie Star 96
Christopher Jones 101
The End of the Long Beginning 124
Vegas, Dean, and a Wedding 130
Back to Work 143
An Apple and a Flower 163
You Have to Go There to Come Back 179
My Mary and My Vice 183
Death on the Nile 197
What's My Line? 218
Japan with the Toad 223
Long-Distance Love 234
Up Up, and Away 246
Let the 80s Be Over 257
A Song, a Harley, and That Hair 267
Under Siege 285
Mother Teresa 289
Taking a Backseat 310
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Olivia Hussey has led a life that is incredibly different from mine. It’s fascinating to read of the actors she met: Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, David Nivens. It’s amazing to think she earned only $3,000 for playing Juliet. Born in Argentina, she and her brother were taken at a young age to England by their mother, who had her ex-husband’s permission for a trip that she never intended to return from. In effect, she stole the children from her husband, and turned them against him. Olivia did speak to him on the phone in later years, but it’s unclear if she actually saw him again. That’s sad. She moved to Los Angeles while still in her teens without clear goals or means of support. She jumped into marriages with Dean Paul Martin and Japanese singer Akira that, not surprisingly, failed. So many of her decisions that seem well thought-out, and she did end up with bad managers, at least twice, who took advantage of her. While her life is an interesting story, sometimes it’s better not to know so much about celebrities’ feet of clay.
Although I have a penchant for celebrity biographies, I knew nothing about the subject of this one, actress Olivia Hussey. All I knew was that she was famous for playing the iconic lead role in Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo & Juliet" back in the sixties. I have never even seen the movie! However, after seeing her lovely smiling countenance as Juliet on the book's cover (when she was barely sixteen), I was drawn into wanting to find out more about her life over 50 years later. This is a very free-flowing and fast read, such is the wonderful writing and interesting content. Ms. Hussey was born in Buenos Aries, Argentina, the product of a British mother and Spanish father...but the marriage didn't last. As a result, Olivia and her younger brother Drew grew up with a single mom who had to work and struggle to keep a roof over their heads. To alleviate burdening family and unable to handle caring for two young children while working, the kids were sent away to boarding school for a few years. Eventually, the family emigrated to London to join other relatives that were living there. Olivia knew she wanted to be an actress since the age of four, so her Mom sent her to a nearby drama school for an interview. A precocious and serious ten-year old Olivia plead her case for admission: "Oh, Miss Conti, we don't have money, but if you just give me a chance I can really act." Within just a few year's time she snagged a role in the theatre production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" starring Vanessa Redgrave. The show toured throughout England to packed houses, even attended one evening by the Royal Family. Performing as a part of this traveling troupe for two years was the best acting education Olivia could have received. Playing Shakespeare's Juliet was the defining role of Olivia Hussey's life. Of Romeo & Juliet Producer Franco Zeffirelli Olivia states, "the most talented person I've ever known feels, somehow, too small for him." When someone asked Franco many years later if he had ever loved a woman, he replied, "Yes, once. With Olivia when we worked together during Romeo & Juliet." Olivia cried when she heard that. They had a wonderful understanding with each other like Olivia was Franco's muse. There is much more to the story of Olivia's life after Romeo & Juliet. She relocated from England to Los Angeles. Incredibly, she lived for four years in the California home where the Sharon Tate murders had occurred only 5 weeks prior to her moving in! Within a short time she married the son of Dean Martin, Dino Martin, and had their son Alex. She married twice more, both to musicians, and had two more children. Over the years she starred in other iconic roles such as playing Mary in "Jesus of Nazareth" and also Mother Teresa. On a personal note, Olivia also triumphed over the occasional battle with severe agoraphobia. This was a very honest, interesting and well-written autobiography of British actress Olivia Hussey...highly recommended! Thank you to the publisher Kensington Books for providing an advance reader copy via NetGalley.