8 biggest revelations from Brooke Shields’ Pretty Baby documentary
“The entirety of my life, it was, ‘She’s a pretty face,’ over and over and over and over,” Brooke Shields recalls in the opening of the trailer for her upcoming two-part documentary, Pretty Baby. “And that always, just, seared me.”
Throughout her childhood Shields was disturbingly oversexualised by the film industry, and in a post Me Too landscape it’s hard to believe any of her movies were allowed to be made. Having landed her first job at just 11 months old for a soap advert, she posed naked in Playboy aged 10, starred as a child prostitute in controversial movie Pretty Baby aged 11, where she was forced to seductively kiss co-star Keith Carradine, then 27, while a role in teen blockbuster The Blue Lagoon shot her to international stardom aged 15. Film critic Pauline Kael wrote of the film about two shipwrecked teens discovering their sexuality at the time, “All we have to look forward to is: When are these two going to discover fornication?”
As well as modelling in a series of lecherous Calvin Klein adverts (“You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” In 1981 she posed on the cover of Time magazine with the tagline, “The ’80s look” when she was only 16 years old. “I was on the cover of Time magazine as the face of that whole era. Who decides that?” she asked in the trailer for the upcoming doc.
Critics and fans alike have chastised her mother, Teri Shields, a working class single mum who suffered with alcoholism her whole life, for not protecting her daughter from the creepy gaze of the film industry – one top agent described the teenager as “so beautiful that strong men forget to flick their cigar ash”.
Yet, the 57-year-old actress has always defended her mother, insisting that she enjoyed working and was never forced into any of her roles. In fact, she praised her mother for always accompanying her to interviews and parties (she was a regular at Studio 54 as a teen) and, as a result, she didn’t lose her virginity to college boyfriend Dean Cain until she was 22. A fact she divulged in her college advice book On Your Own, which transformed her into a symbol for chastity. Now in this upcoming documentary Shields concedes she doesn’t “know why she thought it was all right”.
Although Shields has previously written two memoirs and had been approached about making a documentary before and said no, she believes now is the right time to share her story. With the guidance and support of Ali Wentworth – who produced the documentary alongside her husband, Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos — the tell-all will feature never-before-seen archive footage and interviews with close friends Drew Barrymore and Laura Linney.
Directed by Lana Wilson (who also made the Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana), the limited series will premiere on April 3 on Hulu. It will also look at her doomed marriage to tennis star Andre Agassi, her friendship with Michael Jackson and her infamous public quip with her Endless Love co-star Tom Cruise who attacked Shields for using an antidepressant drug, Paxil, on the basis of his Scientologist belief that psychiatry is abusive, spitefully asking: “Where has her career gone?” To which Shields fired back, saying he should “stick to fighting aliens” in reference to his Scientologist beliefs.
Here are the eight biggest revelations from Pretty Baby.
1. She was raped in her early 20s by an unnamed man in the film industry
The most shocking revelation in the upcoming documentary is that she was sexually assaulted by a “friend” who was a big film executive at the time. In 1987 the two met for dinner following her graduation from Ivy League university Princeton to discuss possible film projects.
Afterwards he invited her to call for a taxi from his hotel room, which is where the incident took place.”He was right on me. It was just like wrestling,” she says of the traumatic experience. Shields also says she ‘froze’ and didn’t fight back for fear of being killed: “God knows I knew how to be disassociated from my body. I’d practiced that.”
She admitted that she didn’t process the attack for a long time, and at points even blamed herself. “He said to me, ‘I can trust you, and I can’t trust people.’ It’s so cliché, it’s practically pathetic,” she said. “I believed somehow I put out a message, and that was how the message was received. I drank wine at dinner. I went up to the room. I just was so trusting.”
2. She told Jackson he was ‘pathetic’ after Oprah interview
Shields famously befriended pop god Michael Jackson in 1981, when she was 13 and he was 20, after bonding over their shared experience of being child stars. They regularly attended awards shows as each other’s dates, with Shields telling the Sunday Times: “He was so famous and I was so famous, and we could laugh at everybody, like little kids.”
In 1993 he told Oprah Winfrey that the two were in a relationship, to the bewilderment of Shields. The 1980s icon rejected the claims, saying that he had asked her to marry her and adopt a child together but she had refused. In 2001 Jackson told another interviewer: “We dated a lot. Her pictures were all over my wall, my mirror, everything.”
In her new documentary, she describes her relationship with Jackson as “childlike” and in a subsequent interview she shared more on the days following Jackson’s Oprah interview.
“I called him up and I think I said, ‘This is kind of pathetic that you need to do this. I am having a shot at normal life – you cannot drag me into crazy town’.” When questioned if they ever dated – even once, Shields replied: “No! There was one moment when we were in the car and the cameras were there and he grabbed me to kiss me, and I said, ‘No! Stop! We are just friends and you need me as a friend.’”
3. She was shocked about the multiple allegations of child sexual abuse against Jackson
Considering their closeness, many wondered what Shields thought about the multiple allegations of child sexual abuse and child molestation Jackson faced between 1993 and 2005. In the documentary she conceded that she did not know “how to think about it” because “it’s so hard to believe”.
“I wish I knew the truth. Then I could figure out how to structure the narrative in my head. But I’m as shocked as I think the world is,” she added.
4. Her children view her early acting as ‘child pornography’
Shields has two daughters, Rowan Francis, 19, and Grier Hammond, 16, with her husband, television writer Chris Henchy. Both of whom appear in the documentary for one particularly emotional moment. In the clip Rowan says: “It’s child pornography! Would you have let us [do that] at the age of 11?”
To which Shields immediately replies “No” before breaking down into tears. Recalling the conversation, in an interview, she said: “That was hard for me, to not justify my mom to them, but when they asked, I thought, ‘Oh God, I have to admit this.’”
She continued: “I mean, I could say, ‘Oh, it was the time back then,’ or ‘Oh, it was art.’ But I don’t know why she thought it was all right. I don’t know.”
5. Shields reveals her mother Teri ‘used the system to have a better life’
Despite historically deflecting any blame faced by her mother – saying that she would threaten to “cut off your b***s and make you eat them” to anyone who looked at Shields the wrong way – in the documentary, she confesses: “We both used that system to have a better life.”
She continues that she felt the pressures of being a young breadwinner and took more gigs in order to care for her mother who was an alcoholic.
In one unearthed TV interview Teri says: “Brooke is like a work of art. And like any beautiful painting, the world should view Brooke and enjoy her” when defending her decision to enrol Shields into the spotlight from such a young age.
6. She’d never kissed anyone before her controversial on-screen kiss with Keith Carradine in Pretty Baby
In the documentary Shields reveals that she had never kissed anyone before Carradine. While filming the scene, Shields reportedly gave a repulsed face and was yelled at by the director – but her mother didn’t step in.
Instead it was Carradine who had to reassure her, telling Shields: “This doesn’t count. It’s pretend. It’s all make-believe,” Carradine reassured her. In the documentary she explains that she got through the awkward moment on set by separating the sleazy on-screen version of herself from the real her. “I learned to compartmentalise at an early age. It was a survival technique.”
7. Her mother’s drinking meant she wasn’t ‘present’ a lot of the time
During an interview with Variety Studio at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where the film officially premiered, Shields spoke about losing her mother in 2021. “You don’t ever recover from losing a parent,” she said. “It’s a primal thing. You learn to put it in a different place in your heart. I also said goodbye to her every time she drank. She wasn’t present. I knew who she was capable of being because it was in there … I feel sad that she’s missing out on this. She’s probably looking down saying, ‘I didn’t get enough screen time.’”
8. Franco Zeffirelli twisted Shields’ toe during a sex scene
In 1981 she starred alongisde Tom Cruise in the movie Endless Love, which was also about teen sexuality. In one of the sex scenes director Franco Zeffirelli, whose 1968 Romeo and Juliet leads are currently suing Paramount over their underage sex scenes, reportedly “twisted” Shield’s toe.
During an interview with New Yorker Shields explained: “He wanted, evidently, for me to have a look of angst, or I guess ecstasy, on my face. It was so funny, because (a) it didn’t hurt and (b) it felt stupid. It would have been easier if he had taken me aside and said, ‘Maybe you haven’t experienced ecstasy, but I’d like you to just think of blah, blah, blah.’ When he did that, I thought, Really? How about directing?’”