‘People like to hear that Brooke’s childhood is taken away from her,’ says Mom. ‘It isn’t’
“Brooke is a gift from God.”
Midway through her wrenchingly beautiful film, Pretty Baby, Brooke Shields is auctioned off in a New Orleans bordello. She plays a child prostitute with a disconcertingly angelic air: Her Toulouse-Lautrec pout is sensual, ethereal, mesmerizing. Yet her body—later seen naked—is a child’s, thin and gawky. “I can feel the steam,” she whispers to her successful bidder, mimicking coquettishness, “coming through my dress.”
On May 31 Brooke will be 13 years old. Tall for her age at 5’4″ (her father is 67″), Brooke is blessed with the most stunning new child’s face in movies since Elizabeth Taylor. The skin is flawless; eyes deep blue; lashes black; hair silken. The direct gaze is full of ambivalent sexuality. Now her scandalizing role in the R-rated film has plunged the former child model into an international furor. Pretty Baby has been banned outright in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan. No less a moral arbiter than Rona Barrett solemnly advised her TV audience that the movie is “child pornography.” Others have attacked its French director Louis (Lacombe, Lucien) Malle as a combination of Humbert Humbert and Roman Polanski.
He gets off lightly compared to Brooke’s divorced manager mother, Teri Shields, 44. “The press has referred to me as a stage mother, a frustrated actress living through Brooke and even a one-woman film-wrecking crew,” Teri admits. On the set Brooke is sweet; Teri is salty but clearly a favorite with the crew. She can also be meddlesome and was briefly banned from the set of Pretty Baby. “They can say what they want about me,” Teri explains. “But Brooke can’t fight back. That’s why I’m here. I’m not a stage mother. I’m Brooke’s mother. The most important thing is that I love Brooke, and it’s fun to make her happy.”
Brooke seems to have kept her perspective over the Pretty Baby uproar. “It’s only a role,” she explains. “I’m not going to grow up and be a prostitute. If I were in a Walt Disney movie people would never ask me if the part would affect my life. That’s so dumb.” For all their shock value, Brooke’s “nude” scenes were shot with her wearing a body stocking, with one exception. When Violet (the role Brooke plays) chastely poses naked for the photographer Bellocq (Keith Carradine), Malle closed the set to everyone but himself and cinematographer Sven Nykvist. “I knew it would be tasteful,” says Teri. “Anybody who calls it child pornography has not seen the damn thing. Rona Barrett is a fool. I don’t mind Brooke being called a sex symbol. But nymphet and Lolita rub me the wrong way.” Malle, who picked her over 300 auditioners, admiringly calls Brooke “a natural. She carried the entire picture on her shoulders.”
Unlike the precocious likes of Tatum O’Neal, Brooke has remained surprisingly unaffected. “Somebody with her background should be a monster, a little robot,” says Malle. “But Brooke has managed to stay very natural, very close to her childhood.” She is a movie star who thinks being a script girl would be “sooo neat” and who admits she is an only recently reformed thumbsucker. Brooke still has an imaginary friend (“I talk to her about my problems”). She plays football in Central Park, watches TV (“even though I know Charlie’s Angels is corny”) and collects wooden dolls and glass knickknacks. Brooke loves movies, though Mom recently indexed Coma. As for Pretty Baby, “I wouldn’t go see it alone,” Brooke exclaims. “Gross!”
Still really a child (“I don’t even have my period yet”), Brooke attends Mass every week with her mother. Boys? “Sometimes they’re really stupid, but other times they’re okay.” Until recently, Teri would allow Brooke only to double-date, though she can now go out alone. “But I don’t want to go steady. My mom doesn’t like it. I’m just not ready yet.” Brooke shrugs off sex—”I knew all about that when I was 2. Mom told me.” When Playboy asked her what “good in bed” meant to her, Brooke nonchalantly replied, “When I’m sick and I stay home from school propped up with lots of pillows watching TV and my mom brings me soup—that’s good in bed.”
The most intense relationship in Brooke’s life is with her protective mother. They secretively exchange notes as well as hugs and kisses. When Teri goes out with her companion of 10 years, Bob Karsian, a New Jersey oil man, Brooke admits, “I get jealous.” “She hasn’t had to deal with my having a lot of boyfriends,” says Teri. “Recently Brooke’s been more possessive because she’s going through puberty, and it’s worse than menopause. She’s becoming interested in boys and she feels maybe I’m going to feel the same way too. She asked, ‘Promise me you won’t get married.’ I said, ‘That’s a tough promise. How about if I don’t get married until after you do?’ She liked that.”
Occasionally the intimacy between mother and daughter turns into anger. “Oh, Mommy, you’re so dumb!” Brooke complains. Teri, offended, snaps back, “I don’t have to take that crap!” and storms out of the room. “That’s my worst habit,” Brooke admits. “I talk back to my mom. But it’s not like we start punching each other.” Teri, who likes to take her vodka with a beer chaser, adds, “If the press is really concerned about my drinking and fighting with Brooke, they should hang around for a couple of months and tune in.” Susan Sarandon, Brooke’s prostitute mother in Pretty Baby, says, “I don’t think Teri is exploiting Brooke. Both wanted this stardom. There’s a lot of love and a lot of hate, as in any close, complicated relationship.”
It began when Teri, a cosmetics saleswoman, met Frank Shields, handsome son of Francis X. Shields, a top-rated U.S. tennis player in the 1930s. Brooke was conceived five months before her parents married—and quickly split. “He was very young,” says Teri, then 30 to Frank’s 23, “and he wanted to be adventuresome. I didn’t mind.” The marriage certificate arrived in the mail the day they were divorced.
“When she was born Brooke looked like a beautiful doll,” Teri recalls. “I couldn’t believe she was mine.” At 11 months Brooke was paid $25 to pose for an Ivory Soap ad—and her professional career was launched. She has worked for such prestige clients as Breck, Band-Aids and Colgate.
Today Brooke has a pink-and-white bedroom and her own bath in her mother’s four-and-a-half-room Manhattan apartment. She tries to spend one weekend a month with her father, a vice-president with Helena Rubinstein, and his second family on Long Island. Shields does not approve of his daughter’s career—but does nothing to stop it. “By the fact that I’m divorced,” he says, “I’m an absentee ballot.” He sent flowers opening night but has not brought himself to see Pretty Baby, explaining, “I’ll wait until it comes to the local theater.” Although obviously much closer to her mother, Brooke says of Shields, “I like him because he’s a real man. He’s always got a nice suit on and he smells good.” Then she adds, “But he doesn’t spend much time with his kids.”
Pretty Baby is pushing Brookie (as her friends call her) into dizzying financial brackets. She got $27,500 for three months’ work in Pretty Baby before Teri hiked her contract to $62,500 for 12 days in the forthcoming King of the Gypsies. That rose to $150,000 for this summer’s Wanda Nevada with Peter Fonda. Teri recently turned down a $300,000 bid from Warner Brothers. “We weigh each offer,” she says, “to see if it’s beneficial to Brooke.” The money, handled for the Brooke Shields Co., Inc., is being held until she’s of age. Her only fee that hasn’t inflated is for babysitting—still $6 an evening.
Teri fends off the more lurid offers (a Swedish lesbian movie, for example) though she did approve a quickie paperback—a collection of pictures, poems and old schoolwork—that Brooke thinks is “stupid.” A seventh-grader at a private school in Manhattan, Brooke is tutored three hours a day on the set. Teri insists that she be permitted to bring along a friend when she is working.
This fall Brooke comes out in her first top-billed role, a G-rated pinball saga called Tilt. The thought of going to next year’s Academy Awards—not to mention being a contender—already has her ecstatic: “Oh, boy, how will I have time to get every star’s autograph?” If a palm reader on the set of Gypsies is right, there is little Brooke will not get in time. “You will have many romances before you marry, then you will have three children,” the gypsy told her. “You are one of the people that was born to be.”