Brooke Shields Looks Ahead
On Her Mom and Her Marriage
Recently Shields moved her mother close by, to an assisted-living facility in Manhattan. The illness has affected not only her but also her daughters, Rowan, 6, and Grier, 3. "My oldest is uncomfortable because she knows more," Shields says. "One day she said, 'Mom, are you gonna be crazy like Toots when you grow up?' I was like, Oh, God." When Shields speaks of her mother today it is with both profound exasperation and profound love. She suggests, without a shred of self-consciousness, that all she has, she has because of her mother.
Teri Shields came from a working-class family in Newark, New Jersey. Determined to improve her station in life, she read Miss Manners and began hanging out at the see-and-be-seen New York clubs in the '60s. Soon she was involved with a Park Avenue swell named Frank Shields. Given the differences in their backgrounds, "he was ashamed he was in love with her," Brooke says. And when his girlfriend became pregnant he insisted she "take care" of the problem. Teri refused. He felt compelled to marry her, though the couple divorced five months after Brooke was born.
"When I was little my mother would wait outside his building with me in my stroller. He'd be like, 'Jesus Christ, what are you doing here?' and she'd leave me with him, saying, 'Just hang out with her.' Talk about balls -- Mom had a huge set," Shields says, laughing. "But she never got alimony. She just asked that my father pay for my education, which he did."
Of course, early on, when 11-month-old Brooke got her first modeling gig (as an Ivory Soap baby), Teri didn't need money; she was Brooke's manager, and Brooke was well paid. As the years went on Teri gained and lost Brooke's earnings many times over. If Brooke is resentful today she doesn't show it. Quite the opposite. She remembers her mother's fierce love ("she slept with me on her chest because she was afraid of sudden infant death syndrome") and her epic fights on her daughter's behalf. She seems able to look back on the darker times -- like her mother sitting in the kitchen, getting plastered -- with perspective. "She was charismatic, but she was like this flame...you got too close and you got burned."
Shields was not allowed to be a child, so it is not surprising that in her early relationships she was drawn to men who shared that experience. And who shared it more than her friend Michael Jackson? When Jackson died last June, Shields again found herself in the news. Her eulogy was the highlight of his memorial service. "Both of us needed to be adults very early," she told the mourners as she wept. "But when we were together we were two little kids having fun."
Shields never believed the rumors that Jackson was a child molester. Those sleepovers with boys, Shields suggests, were really sleepovers, though she would tell him, "Michael, the world's not going to get it." And Shields was devastated but not surprised by Jackson's death. "He thought he was dying already," she says. "They were killing him, the people and the press."
Shields and Andre Agassi bonded over dysfunctional childhoods as well. They met in 1993, when Agassi was 23 and Shields was 28. Agassi, like Shields, had an overbearing parent who decided he was going to be a tennis star. Their courtship took place largely by faxed letter, since Shields was out of the country making a film; when she finally returned to the United States she had to have a serious operation on her feet, and Agassi camped out on the floor of her hospital room.
"With Andre it was like, 'Please be the adult. Please take care of me,'" recalls Shields. "And he did."
Though their two-year marriage was annulled in 1999, Shields still speaks with good feelings towards her ex -- which is surprising, considering what he had to say about her in his recent autobiography, Open. The book is a fascinating vein opener in which he discloses not only his hatred for tennis but also his distaste for his first marriage, to Shields. He paints an unflattering portrait of a shallow starlet who was career-obsessed.
She brushes off much of it with a wave of her hand. There is a scene in the book where Shields, guest-starring on Friends (where she stalks Matt LeBlanc's Joey), is required to lick LeBlanc's hand. Agassi, watching off-camera, becomes so incensed he runs home and smashes his Wimbledon trophies. The story ends there.
"Does he mention I spent the next three years replicating those trophies?" Shields says. "He doesn't say that, does he? Of course not. That'll be in my book!" Still, says Shields, Agassi helped her break away from her mother. And she needed that help. Sometimes -- even with her mother as sick as she is -- she still does.