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Jan 11, 3:48 PM EST

Son denies molestation allegations against Franco Zeffirelli

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MILAN (AP) -- The son of Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli has issued a statement denying sexual molestation allegations against his father from actor Johnathon Schaech.

Pippo Zeffirelli said in the statement Thursday that the allegations appeared to be "a true and proper vendetta," and he questioned the timing of lodging them at a moment when the 94-year-old director is unable to defend himself because of his failing health.

Schaech wrote in People magazine that he was 22 years old when he went to work on the film "Sparrow" in 1992, and that Zeffirelli had tried to seduce him from the start. Then, while filming in Sicily, the actor said Zeffirelli got a key to his room and let himself in, molesting Schaech in his bed.

The allegation is part of a wave of sexual abuse allegations in Hollywood, media, politics, business and elsewhere that began in October when movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

In his statement, Zeffirelli's son said that the director had given Schaech his first break, but that the young actor was furious when he decided to dub his voice because of a throat problem that had made it difficult for the actor to speak. That, Pippo Zeffirelli said, was the source of the vendetta.

The son's statement said Schaech has been in contact with the family in recent years, and inquired about the elderly director's health last month. About a week later, People magazine inquired about the accusations, he said.

Zeffirelli has been out of the public eye due to his poor health, failing to show up this summer for the opening of a foundation in his native Florence that honors his life's work as a theater and film director. His film credits include "Blue Lagoon" and "Tea With Mussolini." He was nominated for two Oscars, for best art direction for the 1983 film "La Traviata," and best director of "Romeo and Juliet" in 1968.

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