Too Much, Too Young?
Hollywood wags are tagging it “The Lagoon Is Blue,” and no wonder. Not since Pretty Baby, in which 12-year-old Brooke Shields frolicked nude in a New Orleans brothel, has a movie aroused such furor over juvenile sex as The Blue Lagoon. Curiously, the jailbait standard bearer is again little “Brookie,” who’s sprouted to 5’10” at sweet 15—thus making this her second R-rated movie she can’t legally attend without an adult. Barely clothed in what appear to be artfully shredded dinner napkins, Brooke and her novice co-star, Christopher Atkins, 19, play two shipwrecked innocents on a South Sea island who discover grown-up delights amid the flora and fauna.
Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel inspired an earlier, chaste British film version with Jean Simmons in 1949. This time, though, the passage through puberty and childbirth is done more explicitly and often au naturel (Brooke had a nude stand-in, though Chris exposed all for his art). Publications from Parents magazine to the New York Times clucked their disapproval of its adolescent sexuality. Even Rona Barrett groused that “it borders on kiddie porn.”
What Lagoon’s detractors failed to reckon with is the film’s shrewd mix of teens and titillation. Unlike the resolutely adult Pretty Baby, which never escaped the art-house circuit, Lagoon has tapped a large and lucrative audience of moist-palmed prepubescents. “It’s an R-rated film I hope parents take their kids to see,” says director Randal (Grease) Kleiser. Judging from the box office so far ($13.9 million in three weeks), Kleiser is getting his wish.
So is Shields. After six film fizzles, Brooke is enjoying her first box office jackpot—her take is around $300,000—plus a percentage (Chris earned a tenth as much). So her manager, mother Teri Shields, 47, has lately hiked Brooke’s price to $500,000 per film. After Pretty Baby, Mom had called a brief moratorium on love stories. But now Brookie is ready for romantic leads of all kinds, including starring in the tabloids with her bronzed and blond co-star.
At least that’s what was supposed to happen. Last June, two weeks before Brooke’s seaplane splashed down on the Lagoon set (the island of Nanuya Levu in the Fijis), director Kleiser taped a photo of Brooke over Chris’ bunk. The two had never met. “I wanted him to look at her every night before he went to sleep,” says Kleiser. “Naturally, by the time she arrived he was in love with her.”
Teri Shields was also anxious for the two to hit it off. For the first few nights of filming she suggested that Chris move from his beachfront tent to the extra cot in the Shields bungalow. “I invited him to stay,” explains Teri, “because I thought they should get to know each other.” Recalls Chris, “I kissed them each goodnight before I got into my own bed.”
During the first week, Teri says, “they were in love—all goo-goo. I think they brainwashed themselves.” “We were so built up for one another,” observes Brooke, “by the time we met I was too embarrassed to say, ‘So you’re the one I’ve heard so much about—stand there, I want to stare at you.’ ” Chris was equally intimidated. “She was one of the most beautiful girls I’d ever seen,” he raves. Kleiser broke the ice by taking them around the island. “Brooke would turn around and ask me questions,” Chris remembers, “and suddenly we were talking like friends.”
Chris soon nicknamed her “Patches” for the way the sun freckled her lovely legs. He taught her to scuba dive, and at night they danced with the crew at their makeshift disco in a thatched hut. On Sundays Brooke and Teri air-boated to a nearby island for Mass (both are practicing Catholics). “Brooke and I had long talks,” Chris reports, “and gave each other advice.” One of the subjects, dating, soon became one of the problems. It seemed Chris has a steady girl back in West-port, Conn., Ford model Cindy Gibb (no relation to Andy). “I was sad when Chris went away,” admits Cindy, 17. So she started sending pointed missives to the island, including a collage that spelled out: “DON’T INDULGE YOURSELF—TABOO.”
But stars will be stars, and in less than two weeks Brooke and Chris’ tentative infatuation evaporated. “They were fighting like cats and dogs,” Teri reports. “Brooke got tired of me,” sighs Chris. “She thought I took acting too seriously. I was always trying to get into a mood while she would be skipping off to joke with the crew.” Brooke agrees their acting styles (neither has ever taken a lesson) conflicted. “I wouldn’t suffer and carry on for days,” she says. “That doesn’t mean I’m a bad actress, I hope.”
Kleiser capitalized on their uneasiness by shooting all the scenes requiring tension first. He saved the most intimate takes for the final weeks of shooting. Then it was Brooke’s turn to be nervous. In Pretty Baby, she remembers, “I was not very developed, and I didn’t care much about taking off my clothes. Now I do.” Kathy Troutt, 33, a platinum-blond Australian diver, had been hired as her stand-in for nude takes, but Brooke was still faced with the first real love scenes of her career. During shooting on the closed set, Brooke wore “buppie pads,” her name for the flesh-colored pasties taped to her breasts. Part of her long wig was glued to each pad. “She had been hurt by publicity from Pretty Baby and did not want to feel exploited,” says Kleiser. “It was the first time she was kissing a boy. Chris, of course, was more experienced.”
Chris worked hard to create a romantic atmosphere, no easy trick since Brooke and Kathy had to keep switching places for the more explicit entanglements. “I tried everything I had to turn her on,” Chris reports. “I touched her softly. It felt good. We weren’t acting.”
Chris returned home to Rye reeling from the experience. For Brooke and Teri, it was business as usual. Since the age of 11 months, Brooke has been facing the camera with the approval and applause of her mother, Teri, who married and divorced Brooke’s father, Frank Shields, a Manhattan executive recruiter, during the same year Brooke was born. Though Shields lives on Long Island with his second family (Brooke visits monthly) and keeps a distance from his daughter’s career (he hasn’t seen Lagoon), he has resolved his doubts about her career. “People tend to expect the worst,” he admits, “but then they are taken aback by the fact she is well adjusted.” The credit, he adds, is Teri’s. “I only sired her—her mother is to be complimented.”
Mother is a formidable deal-maker as well. Already this summer Brooke has finished a Muppet show, a Circus of the Stars TV special, a commercial for Calvin Klein jeans and a fall fashion layout for Vogue. There is also talk of three new films. However, at home in their 4½-room Manhattan apartment or the 14-room Tudor-style house near Englewood, N.J., Brooke remains remarkably stable. She takes time from studying to watch her favorite sitcom, Three’s Company, dreams of working as a stewardess “for a month or so” and longs for John Travolta’s autograph. She is restricted to a $10-a-week allowance and a 10 p.m. curfew.
At home in Rye, Chris Bomann (Atkins is his middle name) also is a homebody. His parents divorced when Chris was 5 (Dad lives down the block) and mother Bitsy, 44, now a science teacher, married Tony Nebauer, 48, a marketing executive. Chris dreamed of a baseball career, but a knee disorder (chondromalacia) benched his ambitions, and a fourth operation left a seven-inch scar coiling around his right knee. He had planned to enroll at Ohio’s Denison University after teaching sailing last summer. But during the spring he walked into the Ford model agency at a photographer’s urging and was hired immediately. “I came home on cloud nine,” recalls Chris, who later modeled for Macy’s, Good Housekeeping and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. “Then that night my stepfather announced I had an interview for a lead in a new film. They had to throw water to revive me.”
His only acting experience had been a five-minute skit in high school, but after a screen test in a bathing suit and curly blond wig (his straight hair was permed for the film), he won the role over 2,000 contenders. Except for a $100 pair of water skis and new stereo, his Lagoon earnings have gone directly into a savings account. Chris is taking a realistic view of his future. Last week he registered for the draft and muses, “If people think I’m a lousy actor, I’ll just go to college.” He would study sports medicine at UCLA.
Though Cindy is his favorite girl, Chris dates others, like former Miss USA, Mary Therese Friel, and confesses to a crush on Kelly Collins, 20, Bo Derek’s little sister. Still, he admits he’d like to see Brooke more, too. “Something changed after we returned to the States,” sighs Chris. “She became very businesslike toward me.” It’s not surprising. In Hollywood’s juvenile sweepstakes, a son whose mother wondered “why they picked him” is hardly a match for a daughter whose mother coos, “Brooke is going to be a legend.”