Sunday 22 July 2018

Mom, me and the price I paid for stardom

Brooke Shields was a child star and teen sex symbol who was driven by an alcoholic mother who loved but nearly destroyed her.

Brooke Shields during her modelling days
Brooke Shields during her modelling days
Brooke Shields and her mother and manager Teri Shields
Brooke and Christopher Atkins on the set of the 1980 film ‘Blue Lagoon’

Debbie McGoldrick

Brooke Shields was the most celebrated - and controversial - teen star in the pre-internet world back in her 1980s heyday, a stunning young actress/model with trademark thick eyebrows who posed provocatively for Calvin Klein, starred in racy films and discoed the night away with the likes of Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol at hot clubs like Studio 54.

However, as is often the case, the outward fabulousness masked a harsh reality. From the time she was a precocious toddler Shields was forced to cope with her mother Teri's raging alcoholism that defined every aspect of their relationship, right up until Teri's death from dementia in 2012.

Shields, now 49, lays bare her often private pain in her new memoir There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me, which has just been released in the US.

The 400-page book generated plenty of headlines for unsurprising reasons - she tells of how George Michael broke her heart after a brief flirtation, losing her virginity at the age of 22 to Superman actor Dean Cain, and a whirlwind romance with Liam Neeson which ended after he proposed to her without an engagement ring.

But at its core, There Was a Little Girl describes in intimate detail the often shocking but consistently loving relationship Shields shared with Teri, the world's original momager.

Teri came from humble beginnings in the hardscrabble New Jersey town of Newark, a stone's throw away from the glitz of Manhattan, where she headed at the earliest opportunity and quickly started mixing with an artsy crowd.

On one boozy night she met a dapper young gentleman named Francis Shields; they embarked on a whirlwind romance which resulted in the May, 1965 birth of Brooke - despite monetary offers to Teri from Francis's tennis pro father to abort the child.

The brief marriage between Teri and Francis proved disastrous, but the rupture hardly devastated mother and child. They formed a tight bond that was sweet in the beginning, but imagine taking your four-year-old child out clubbing?

That wasn't a problem for Teri Shields, and little Brooke happily headed for the piano and sang some tunes. When she was eight Brooke learned how to shoot pool at another of mom's favourite haunts.

The older Brooke got, the more aware she became of her bar-hopping mother's growing problem with alcohol. At the age of eight, her recollections are startling: "I remember thinking that I wished I knew my mother only in the mornings.

"She was never drunk before school. She may have been hungover but I never knew it … come 3.00 I knew I'd find her in an altered state.

"If Mom wasn't at home for some reason and I had been at a friend's apartment, I knew where to find her. There was a bar at 73rd and First Avenue … called Finnegan's Wake. I could locate her there or farther down Third Avenue."

As Brooke grew older and her star rose - thanks in large part to her mother's constant promotion - so too did Teri's addiction, which included DUI busts and encounters with police.

Brooke became globally famous - or infamous - after the release of the 1978 R-rated film Pretty Baby, in which she played a pre-teen prostitute. There was a brief topless scene, and critics in the pre-Kardashian/Cyrus era were appalled that a mother would allow a child be filmed in such a fashion.

Teri, Brooke writes, never failed to fight for her daughter's rights on set and insisted on tutors and normal working hours, but was nonetheless slated for being an unfit mother.

"Mom was crucified for permitting [nudity], and in many ways I understand the criticism now that I'm a mother. But the world and the industry were markedly different back then," writes Brooke.

"I was always worrying about Mom's safety. I never wanted anything to happen to her and I felt I always had to protect her," Brooke writes of her mother, who was always on set to advocate for her precious only child - almost always while loaded.

At 13, the teen star was forced to stage an intervention. "I was getting scared both for her and of her.

"Her drinking seemed to be incessant and her mood swings acute. She had gotten sloppy. I had begged her to quit so many times but to no avail. I knew it was still up to me to do something. I had taken care of her in various ways my entire life and this was just another task."

Brooke and some family members shipped Teri off to rehab, but after release she retreated to old habits.

"I was devastated at Mom's inability to stick to the programme and her failure to stay clean," Brooke writes. "She would never issue forth any apology or justification. She just did what she wanted to do. I'd yell at her when she was drunk and told her I hated her, but she knew I loved her so she let the insults roll off her like water."

The dysfunction continued for years - Brooke graduated from Ivy League university Princeton - and only began to end when Brooke embarked on a relationship with tennis star Andre Agassi, himself the product of an overbearing father. Agassi and his team urged Brooke to dump Teri as her manager, and cut financial/professional ties.

"I explained to mom that I felt we were becoming polarized as people because of her drinking and expressed my dissatisfaction with the way my career was going," Brooke writes.

"I said I wanted to try and salvage the mother-daughter part of our lives. I told her the only way I thought that could happen would be for me to separate from her professionally… I added that I really wished she would quit drinking for once in her life."

The Agassi team changed the locks on office space and fired people who had worked for Brooke. Brooke was on board with the changes, and makes clear that Agassi's influence helped jumpstart her career, but their subsequent marriage eventually collapsed due to varied interests and jealousy.

Brooke gets her shots in on former suitors, including Liam Neeson, who she said "wooed me with his brogue, his poetry and his shitty choice of cheap pinot grigio wine."

Their brief romance received Teri's seal of approval. ''She flirted and welcomed him home. It did not get as creepy as it could have, since Liam hungered after any female attention, but none of it was healthy or real," Brooke writes.

The three of them spent Christmas together, but things went awry shortly after when Neeson flew to LA to check on a flood in his home - after asking Brooke to marry him, sans engagement ring. "I told him to phone me when he arrived. 'Oh, it'll be late, darlin'. Well, I won't fall asleep until I know you are safe. And you did ask me to marry you, so you can tell me the plane was safe''.

But the relationship wasn't to be and Brooke eventually found bliss with writer Chris Henchy, who she married in 2001 and shares two daughters with. It's not a stretch to say that she's still deeply affected by Teri's 2012 death.

After a "scathing" obituary about her mother in The New York Times, Brooke decided to set the record straight. "Almost immediately, I knew what I wanted to do. It was time to tell our story - my mother's and my own."

Sunset over Dingle bay... and a ring

Brooke Shields is no stranger to Ireland. The dalliance with Liam Neeson aside, her husband Chris Henchy is Irish-American and whisked her off to Ireland early in their relationship for a surprise. "I nearly passed out when he showed me the box while we were overlooking Dingle Bay on the last sunset of 1999. He saw the look of terror and pressure on my face and quickly said it was only a promise ring," Brooke writes.

The first time she sang in public came at a St. Patrick's Day concert when she was a youngster, at her local Manhattan church.

"I sang When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and was so nervous I twisted the bottom of my green velvet dress into such a balled-up knot that I showed my white big-girl pants to the entire congregation. I won first prize, but I will never be sure if it was for the song or my early attempts at strip-tease."

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