First published in November 2014, Brooke Shields’ There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me (Dutton) shot straight up the bestseller lists. This was almost two years to the day after the obituary for Brooke’s mother, Teri Shields, ran in The New York Times.
Brooke, who had written the obit, was infuriated and saddened by the “scathing” copy that was altered without her knowledge or approval (according to Brooke). The changes painted her mother, who was also Brooke’s manager during her formative years, in a nasty, negative light. That’s when she decided to write her true story of “Teri Terrific” and of their relationship, while not glossing over her mother’s serious alcoholism. The resulting book, There Was a Little Girl, is no Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford’s harrowing memoir of the abuse she suffered as the adopted daughter of Joan Crawford, but it doesn’t put Teri on a pedestal either.
The memoir continues to draw readers, judging by the attendance and the long lines at Bridgehampton Library’s Fridays at Five summer series. Brooke, who has a house in Southampton, was on hand to speak about the genesis and content of the book in an interview with Kathleen Marshall, the Tony Award-winning producer who worked with Brooke on Broadway in Wonderful Town. (Kathleen is the daughter of Ann Marshall, President of Friends of the Library.)
Although Brooke spoke about her mom pretty much as she does in the book, those who attended the event got to see an attractive woman, now 50, totally relaxed, who handled herself with poise, humor and sensitivity. Brooke did, however, well up a bit when she spoke about the pain she felt from constantly setting up interventions and “perpetually hoping” that her mother would quit drinking.
Ambivalence is a theme in the book, but Brooke also spends time disputing the charges frequently leveled against her mother—namely, that Teri controlled Brooke’s life, living vicariously through her beautiful, compliant daughter. It’s often thought that Teri forced Brooke into being a baby model, then into posing for sexy ads and into taking on sensational roles—like playing a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby when she was 11. But Brooke insists that Teri was no “Mama Rose,” forcing her onstage or before a camera.
Certainly, however, Mom was aggressive in taking initiatives and following up, setting schedules and even managing her daughter’s admission process to Princeton (Brooke graduated with honors with a degree in French literature). She does admit that Teri could be a foul-mouthed verbal puncher, a volatile and unpleasant alcoholic and a liar. As the narrative moves on in time, sadness and anger mix more frequently as Teri’s bouts get uglier and more embarrassing.
Finally dementia sets in. Throughout, however, Brooke celebrates her mother’s seductive beauty and extraordinary charm and humor (she once dated Woody Allen, among many prominent men). Teri must certainly have charmed Francis (Frank) Alexander Shields, Jr., a wealthy socialite and businessman with royal lineage and deep roots in Southampton. Frank Shields, a man nine years Teri’s junior, became her husband for a short time and fathered Brooke Christa Shields. Teri made sure her daughter had a relationship with her father and his support for education. Brooke writes fondly of her dad and of her step-family—her parents divorced when Brooke was an infant.
At Bridgehampton Library, Brooke was asked about Pretty Baby—“the best movie I’ve ever been in”—and responded that she didn’t feel she had been scarred, though she said she would not permit such a role for either of her own daughters. On the other hand, she was indeed hurt, she says, when her friend Tom Cruise openly criticized her for encouraging the use of medication as therapy for postpartum depression, an issue she devotes time to as part of an abiding interest in women’s issues. Shields suffered with depression after the birth of her first child.
She also conceded that her “divorce” from her mother—when she fired her mother as her manager—was overdue, and though Brooke fell off the Hollywood radar, she feels she’s found her true niche as a comic television actress. The memoir has is a heartfelt tribute from a famous daughter to a difficult, but ultimately loving mother.
Purchase There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me by Brooke Shields here.