Who Is Brooke Shields?
Brooke Shields is an American actor and model best known for her roles in the controversial films Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon, and Endless Love from the late 1970s and early ’80s. Her starring performance in the 1990s television sitcom Suddenly Susan earned her two Golden Globe nominations. Shields has authored several books and is the creator of the wellness lifestyle brand Beginning is Now.
FULL NAME: Brooke Christa Shields
BORN: May 31, 1965
BIRTHPLACE: New York, New York
SPOUSES: Andre Agassi (1997-1999) and Chris Henchy (2001-present)
CHILDREN: Rowan and Grier
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Gemini
Brooke Christa Shields was born on May 31, 1965, in New York City to Frank and Teri Shields. Her parents divorced when Brooke was only 5 months old, though Brooke maintained a close relationship with her father throughout his life (Frank Shields died in 2003). Raised by her doting yet alcoholic mother, who was also her manager, Shields started working as a model at 11 months old. Her first appearance was in an ad for Ivory Snow soap, shot by legendary fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo. Agent Eileen Ford began representing Shields in 1975 and said she started the children’s division of her eponymous agency after signing the young model.
Finding Superstardom: "Pretty Baby" and "The Blue Lagoon"
Teri was determined to make her daughter a star, carefully curating the young Shields’ career and image. Shields’ role in Louis Malle’s film Pretty Baby (1978) launched her into the cultural zeitgeist. Shields was just 11 years old when she was cast as the daughter of a prostitute (played by Susan Sarandon) who was forced into prostitution herself in the red-light district of World War I-era New Orleans. Despite winning a prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival and a nomination for a Palm d’Or, critics called the film “kiddie porn” and Shields “the next Lolita,” due to its subject matter and nude scenes with the child actor. (The film was banned in parts of Canada and Australia.)
Two years later, 14-year-old Shields starred opposite Christopher Atkins in The Blue Lagoon, a coming-of-age film about two cousins in the Victorian era, shipwrecked on a tropical island in the South Pacific, where, without the structures and mores of society, they freely discover the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty, skinny dip in the ocean, and fall in love. Controversy about her fully nude scenes, which were performed by a stunt double, and topless scenes when Shields’ hair was glued to her chest to prevent her breasts from being exposed, raised cries about the film’s indecency. However, moviegoers embraced the film, which grossed nearly $48 million in the United States in 1980, more than The Shining and Raging Bull.
Modeling Career and Calvin Klein Ad
Soon, Shields became the most recognized face in America, quickly morphing from a cute toddler to a sexualized American girl. The youngest model to appear on a Vogue cover at age 14, Shields’ trademark thick eyebrows, cascading brunette hair, and refined features, seemed to be everywhere, from shampoo ads to fashion couture.
In 1980, fashion designer Calvin Klein recruited Shields for an overtly sexy television and print ad campaign for his new line of super-tight jeans. Shot by Richard Avedon, a writhing Shields, appearing much older than her 15 years, utters the now iconic line, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” The ads were banned by ABC and CBS; however, the negative publicity only amplified the brand’s marketing efforts, cementing Shields in the pantheon of supermodels and launching Calvin Klein’s career.
"Endless Love" and Nude Photo Lawsuit
Franco Zeffirelli cast Shields in his 1981 film Endless Love, a romantic drama about teen sex and parental disapproval. The movie’s sex scene stirred even more controversy for Shields and her mother, who was accused of profiting off the sexualization and exploitation of her daughter.
Critics also pointed to nude photos of 10-year-old Shields that were taken in 1975. The Ford Model Agency arranged the photo session with photographer Garry Gross. Teri sold the rights to her daughter’s nude images to Gross for $450, giving him use of the photos, which appeared in a Playboy Press publication. In the early ’80s, a teenaged Shields attempted to stop the use of those images in court by claiming invasion of privacy. Ultimately, in a 4-3 ruling announced in March 1983, the New York Court of Appeals sided with Gross; the photographer retained his rights, as long as he did not sell them to pornographic publications.
Attending Princeton University
Shields survived the enormous and often inappropriate demands of the television, film, and modeling industries, navigating a very adult world as a child, often on her own. She credits her ability to break free of—and in fact, to survive—the intense, often toxic, spotlight of the film and modeling industries, to her experience at Princeton University. Princeton was a personal awakening for Shields. There, she learned to think for herself, which, she told The New York Times, led to a “rebellion” against her overbearing mother. It was also during this time that she discovered her love of comedy and dance.
In a 2022 interview with Glamour, Shields said: “the ability to say I graduated with honors from this esteemed place, coming from the entertainment industry, it enabled me to have my own opinions. And I don’t think I had them before. It was just, ‘Oh, she’s the pretty one. That’s the model,’ or whatever. It was all very surface, which is fine. I had a blast. But I knew I needed to develop intellectually so I wouldn’t become a victim to the pitfalls of the industry.”
Shields graduated with honors from the Ivy League school in 1987, with a degree in romance languages.
Never far from the public eye, Shields has appeared in more than 100 TV series and movies, as well as several Broadway musicals. Despite its controversies, her early film work won over fans, as exemplified by the five People’s Choice Awards she received. She took home the Favorite Young Motion Picture Performer four consecutive years, from 1981 through 1984.
Her fifth People’s Choice Award came in 1997, when Shields won Favorite Female Performer in a New Television Series for her starring role in the sitcom Suddenly Susan. The show ran from 1996 to 2000, and Shields’ performance also garnered her two Golden Globe nominations.
Shields has been open about her struggles with infertility and the crippling postpartum depression that followed the birth of her daughter Rowan, which she wrote about in her book Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression (2005).
In the book, Shields revealed she used antidepressants to cope with her postnatal depression. In an interview with Matt Lauer on the NBC show Today, actor Tom Cruise, whose Scientology faith rejects the use of psychiatric drugs, criticized Shields for taking medication to treat depression. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Shields fought back, writing “I feel compelled to speak not just for myself but also for the hundreds of thousands of women who have suffered from postpartum depression,” adding that “if any good can come of Mr. Cruise’s ridiculous rant, let’s hope that it gives much-needed attention to a serious disease.”
Shields wrote about the complicated relationship she had with her alcoholic mother in her second book, a memoir, There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me (2015). She has also written two children’s books.
Marriages and Children
Shields married tennis pro Andre Agassi in 1997 but divorced just two years later. In 2001, she married Chris Henchey, a TV writer, director, and producer. Together, they have two daughters, Rowan and Grier.
In 2021, Shields founded Beginning Is Now, a lifestyle apparel brand and online platform aimed at women over 40.
The documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and arrived on Hulu in April 2023. It follows the meteoric rise of Shields as a child star, her exploitation in an industry that fetishizes youth and feminine sensuality and, on a broader level, American culture’s sexualization of women and girls. In the documentary, Shields revealed for the first time her own #MeToo moment; in her 20s, she was sexually assaulted by an unnamed powerful Hollywood executive in his hotel room following a business dinner. The documentary is ABC News’ most-watched Hulu debut ever.
- I went to an ordinary school in New York City with no other actors. I learned to compartmentalize different parts of my life. I was one person at home and then another person at work and for that reason my career didn’t challenge my family life.
- It was my mom and I against the world. We lived in New York in this bohemian lifestyle where an extended group of artists and photographers were like my aunts and uncles.
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Kimberly Manning is a writer and communications professional with a passion for storytelling. Life artists and underdogs inspire her. Kim published her first piece, an essay on women’s empowerment, at age 9. An avid reader and fiber enthusiast, when not thinking of her next knitting project, you’ll likely find her hiking in the outdoors.