Brooke & John: Just Buddies?
In a darkened screening room in mid-town Manhattan, blue-eyed Brooke Shields and blue-eyed John Travolta—almost matching in red tops, bottoms by Calvin—are sitting by themselves. The only sounds as the final credits of her eighth movie skim across the screen are the whir of the projector and Brooke’s muffled sniffles. “It’s such a sad story,” she says, weeping into a tattered Kleenex. “Tragic,” John agrees. Three rows forward, the other two-thirds of Brooke Shields & Company, her mother-manager, Teri, 47, and her godmother, Lila Wisdom, 43, dab away tears. It is a private screening of the final version of Scott Spencer’s acclaimed 1979 novel Endless Love, Shields’ summer box office smash and, not incidentally, her most erotic film.
Still sweet at 16, Brooke continues to waltz through her charmed life unwittingly sparking controversy. Whether she disrobes as the 12-year-old prostitute in Pretty Baby or frolics in a loincloth through The Blue Lagoon or shimmies into Calvin Klein jeans, she raises hackles among real and would-be censors. Can the poor girl do nothing right? Well, yes—and with Endless Love, which grossed a torrid $4.3 million at the box office during its first weekend, she has shown once again that nobody does it (or fakes it) better. The Motion Picture Association of America was so taken with her soft-core performance it threatened an X-rating. Brooke’s father, Frank, who had never seen his daughter’s previous movies, came away from this one concerned. “I thought Brooke was really good,” he concedes, “but I didn’t think she should be watching it.”
Her father needn’t worry, though, and neither should Brooke’s summer flame John Travolta. To hear Brooke tell it, the set of Endless Love was like a cold shower. “The love scenes were no big deal,” she says matter-of-factly. “I tried to do it the way I’d seen it in the movies. It’s always the same—the eyes meet and stuff. It’s not something you think about after it’s over. You just go to lunch and forget it.”
Perhaps understandably, her co-star, novice actor Martin Hewitt, 20, felt constrained by that attitude. “When we were acting, she snapped on and off easier than I did,” he says. “Since Brooke was 15, I felt if I kissed her with my tongue I’d be violating her space.” Hewitt confesses to having wished for “an unknown, closer to my age, thinking maybe here’s my chance for a steamy affair.” Brooke, as usual, had a body double—the sound man’s daughter, Christine Jacobsen, 27. “When I was with the double, it was closer to actually making love,” says Hewitt. Brooke, in contrast, counted on the ingenious inspiration of director Franco Zeffirelli for her close-ups in lovemaking scenes; he stood off-camera and squeezed her big toe until her pain produced a look that could pass for ecstasy. “Brookie and I became good friends,” Hewitt says, “but we’re not close.”
The same is not said, needless to say, of her relationship with John Travolta, which publicists have stirred into the gooeyest romantic wallow of the summer. And small wonder: The same public relations firm handles both Endless Love and Travolta’s film Blow Out. Brooke’s mother, Teri, admits to being the matchmaker, arranging their first meeting late one night last May at the studio of photographer Patrick Demarchelier. For the principals, if not their seconds, the event was something more than publicity. “I was terribly intrigued,” says John. “I wasn’t disappointed,” Brooke says with a mischievous grin. Teri Shields explains helpfully: “It’s a 16-year-old’s first summer love.”
It is also the most stage-managed liaison since Kermit and Miss Piggy, but once thrown together, John and Brooke seem to have developed a genuine fondness for one another, even if it is just platonic. What does a 27-year-old man see in a teenager who still lulls herself to sleep by “dreaming of my horse”? “There are lots of women with physical beauty,” John explains. “But Brooke exudes goodness. She’s untainted. You don’t want anyone to hurt her or say the wrong things, because she’s special.” Teri points out that her daughter, a New Jersey private school junior and cheerleader, is just at the stage for crushes and, in fact, has three: “One is at school [a basketball player], one is at her stable [a trainer], and one is in Hollywood [Travolta].” But John may see something in Brooke that the others cannot. “She’s strong, like me,” he says. “People didn’t think I’d come through it all. But when you’re a survivor, you survive. Some of the real world will hit her, but you can tell by her personality that her mother’s done a good job.”
In Teri, Travolta admits, he sees a likeness to his own protective mother, who died in 1978. “I’d like to have him as a son,” says Teri, claiming not to be bothered by the fact that he is 11 years older than her daughter. “He seems younger,” she says, “and Brooke has totally forgotten he’s John Travolta the movie star.” Teri did worry about their first date, when John picked Brooke up at school in a chauffeured limo. But what really got her was that they came home so early—at 7:30 p.m. “I felt sick,” she recalls. “I thought one of them didn’t like the other.” As it turned out, she says with a laugh, “Brooke said they had a lovely Chinese dinner and she told him she had schoolwork, so he brought her home.”
For several weeks after that first date their courtship was long distance. He surprised her with a Rolex watch on her 16th birthday in May. Then in June Brooke flew to L.A. to promote the film, and John became part of the itinerary. One night he took Brooke and her entourage to Superman II, and the next evening, as Brooke arrived back at her hotel after a grueling day of photo sessions and TV interviews, he welcomed her in the parking lot with a kiss on the lips. John, Brooke and the rest gathered in Teri’s suite and feasted on room-service delights until well past midnight, after which John remarked, so the story goes: “Gee, I really like you all, and I hope you approve of me.”
Next afternoon he put the group aboard his Cessna and piloted them to his ranch in Santa Barbara. He and Brooke picked artichokes from his garden, and Brooke, a skilled equestrienne who boards two horses in New Jersey, gave him riding tips. A week later he flew to New York and took Brooke to a Bruce Springsteen show, her first rock concert. To elude the paparazzi planted outside Shields’ Manhattan apartment, they returned afterward to John’s hotel room, where Teri picked up her daughter at 3 a.m. That night, Brooke curled up on Teri’s bed and amused her with details of the outing. “The things John says are so sweet,” Brooke reports. “He’s thoughtful about other people. Also, with a celebrity I have something to talk about right away. At school a lot of guys around me are intimidated and won’t ask me out. I have to make them feel comfortable.”
Not many 16-year-olds, after all, command more than $500,000 annually in commercial fees (from Calvin Klein and Wella Balsam), up to $10,000 a session for modeling and $1 million per movie, plus points. (Teri began taking a salary two years ago, but the bulk of Brooke’s fortune is being kept in trust until she turns 21.) Even so, mother and daughter rarely display the trappings of wealth. Brooke’s father, Frank, 40, an executive recruiter for Handy Associates, credits his daughter’s stability to Teri, a reformed alcoholic from whom he was divorced five months after Brooke was born. Now remarried and living on Long Island with his second wife and children, Shields says: “The nuts and bolts are pretty good, but Brooke’s been marinated properly.”
When Brooke returns from Rome this week after modeling the fall fashions for Italian Vogue, she will find a pile of scripts waiting. But her big hope for the fall is not a new movie or a quickening romance but college board scores high enough to get her into Princeton in 1983. Marriage is way off—”in my 20s,” she figures—and offscreen love scenes are, for now, unthinkable. “I’m too young,” says Brooke. “I’m not ready in my mind.” Director Zeffirelli agrees: “Brooke is a baby, but she is very together mentally and morally. She shouldn’t be rushed. She wants to take her time.” But can Teri take the suspense? “Brooke is changing from a girl to a woman,” she says. “I get a vicarious thrill when I see her becoming interested in boys. But I’m not going to push her. I want her to do all the normal things: fall madly in love, get married, have children. And then,” she adds with a grin, “I can make them big movie stars.”