Getting Past the Momager: Talking College with Brooke Shields (In Spite of Her Mother)

Brooke Shields is not the most celebrated, or even the most interesting, celebrity I have ever interviewed. Bigger names such as Dustin Hoffman, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Cher, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Placido Domingo spring to mind.

Still, a long-ago interview with Shields brought with it an unexpected challenge: Her mother, Terri Shields.

The year 1982 marked the release of the movie Sahara, starring then-18-year-old Brooke Shields, disguised as a man, posing as her late father in a 1927 car race through the desert.

This description sounds no worse than the movie actually was. “An old fashioned B-grade romantic adventure, directed in pedestrian fashion by Andrew V. McLaglen, Sahara is lamentably low on excitement, laughs and passion,” wrote Daily Variety.

At that time, the word “momager” had not yet been invented. But according to years of press reports, if anyone had been cursed with a control-freak momager, it was Brooke.

Terri Shields was chastised for allowing Brooke to portray a child prostitute in Pretty Baby (1978) when she was just 12 years old. She appeared nude in 1980’s Blue Lagoon. Also in 1980, CBS famously banned a Calvin Klein jeans commercial in which Brooke purred: “You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

Brooke and mother Terri Shields spent a few days at a press junket in Philadelphia to push Sahara. My Detroit Free Press editors sent me to the junket, but with a different idea. The story was for our lifestyle section, not the entertainment pages, and my editors wanted me to talk to Brooke about her latest role: As a freshman at Princeton.

My interview, like many before and after it, took place at a hotel suite. As soon as I asked about college, the first stern words out of Terri’s mouth were something to the effect of: “She’s here to talk about the movie.”

I agreed wholeheartedly, and then began asking questions about the part Brooke played in Sahara, not bothering to write down her answers. Then, I recall steering the conversation toward college by inquiring about the inconvenience of taking time off to publicize Sahara. Then, of course, it seemed only natural to ask how things were going on campus — since, as a fairly recent college grad myself, I could certainly identify with the challenges of freshman year.

During the interview, the dazzlingly beautiful Shields kept her eyes focused on her mother, who did not hesitate to answer for Brooke whenever she chose. But slowly, Brooke began to open up about her security detail, homesickness, roommates, and first dates with nerds with all eyes watching her.

Good. I was getting the answers my editors I wanted about college. But, personally, I wanted to know what it felt like now, as a young adult, to read accusations that her mother had exploited her as a sex object when she was a child.

A sensitive question, to be sure. But I used my favorite trick – I blamed it on somebody else. “I’m sure people often ask you whether or not you think you were exploited as a child,” I asked, eyes wide with sympathy. Of course, I felt her pain. What kind of miserable, manipulative media monster would ask about a thing like that?In many ways, my sympathy was genuine, even though I was also aware that it would probably trigger the response I was looking for.

She took the bait. This time Brooke looked at me, not at Terri, as she exclaimed: “The press has always said, ever since I was a little girl, that I was pushed into all of these situations…I wanted to scream, I’m very happy with what I’m doing, can’t anybody understand that? I’m here because I want to be here…it’s so easy for me to say ‘No, I don’t want to.’ ”

My editors ended up using that as the pulled quote when the story was printed, and it felt like the truth. On my way out, Terri gave me a long look that wavered between distaste and admiration.

“You got your interview, didn’t you?” Terri Shields said.

NOTE: This story was written at the request of the Release team. Assignment: What was your most  interesting celebrity interview, and how did you get the story?




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