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Brooke Shields’ Stardom and Trauma Recounted in Documentary ‘Pretty Baby’

Photo Credit: Zamolxes / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Zamolxes / MovieStillsDB

Brooke Shields has been a household name ever since she burst onto the Hollywood scene at the beginning of the 1980s. With her sweet disposition and cheery smile, she was instantly a fan favorite. Despite what it seemed, her early career was anything but glamorous. In recent years, she’s revealed the horrors that she faced in the industry. Shields’ 2023 documentary Pretty Baby recounts these traumas in even more detail.

Before the fame

Brooke Christa Shields was born on May 31, 1965, to Frank and Teri Shields. Her father’s family was against the pregnancy, but the couple got married and had Brooke anyway. When she was only five months old they got divorced, and Brooke went to live with her mother full-time. An actress and model herself, Teri was determined to get her daughter into the industry. She once said, “She’s the most beautiful child and I’m going to help her with her career.”

Young Brooke Shields sitting on a couch smiling.
Brooke Shields at the Cannes Film Festival, 1978. (Photo Credit: Gilbert Tourte / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

She did just that. At only 11 months old, Shields landed her first modeling job, an Ivory Soap ad campaign. Soon after, she was signed as a model with the well-known agent Eileen Ford. Although her first credited film was Pretty Baby, Shields actually had her first role in the 1977 movie Annie Hall – it was just cut out during the final edit. The next year she was cast in Pretty Baby. She was only 12 years old.

Child star

This was an incredibly controversial film, as Shields played a child escort. Regardless, it was what helped her make a name for herself in the world of acting. In 1980, she became the youngest cover model for Vogue and was featured in numerous ads for Calvin Klein jeans. In the early ’80s, she continued working in film, going on to star in the movies The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love.

Young Brooke Shields in a black sparkling dress with her hair up.
Brooke Shields attends the 40th Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards at the Fashion Institute of Technology, September 23, 1982. (Photo Credit: Peter Carrette Archive / Getty Images)

By the time she was only 16 years old, Shields had become recognizable throughout the world as both an actress and a model. Although she was incredibly successful at both, she decided in 1983 to take a step away from this work so that she could attend Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Romance languages. It wasn’t until the 1990s that she went back to working as an actress, after some much-needed time away.

Later in life

Aside from her role in the drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Shields primarily took on comedy roles. She starred in the sitcoms Suddenly Susan, Lipstick Jungle, Mr. Pickles, and Momma Named Me Sheriff. Although she moved primarily into TV acting, she didn’t leave the film industry completely. Shields held many less popular roles in the movies What Makes a Family and The Misadventures of Margaret. 

Brooke Shields smiling with a black top and bright red lipstick.
Brooke Shields attends the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, March 12, 2023. (Photo Credit: Leon Bennett/ FilmMagic/ Getty Images)

The biggest shift away from her earlier acting was her move into Broadway theater. Throughout the years, Shields has been in many popular productions such as Cabaret, Grease, Chicago, and Wonderful Town. Most recently she took on the role of Morticia Addams in The Addams Family on Broadway. Later in life she also took to writing, publishing Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, and There Was a Little Girl. 

Hollywood horrors

Years removed from her early career, Shields has been outspoken about the horrors that she experienced as a child in the entertainment industry. One film she focused on was the controversial The Blue Lagoonwhere at only 14 years old she had to be unclothed on set alongside her much older co-star. To make matters worse, the young actors were encouraged by the production team to fall in love in real life.

Young Brooke Shields on a tropical island in a white tank top.
Brooke Shields as Emmeline in a publicity still for The Blue Lagoon. (Photo Credit: Zayne / Columbia Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

While details regarding the production of The Blue Lagoon might be shocking, it was nothing new. Shields was also forced into similar scenes in Pretty Baby when she was only 12. Another horror she recounted was when her mother allowed her to do an undressed bathtub photoshoot with Playboy photographer Garry Gross when she was 10. She was involved in a court case over the photos between 1981 and 1983, which was ruled in favor of the photographer because she was a “performer,” not a model.

Pretty Baby

Named after the movie that first brought Shields fame as an actress, the two-part documentary Pretty Baby focuses on many of these later-in-life revelations. Award-winning director Lana Wilson focuses on Shields’ time as a child star and the exploitation she experienced while trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood. It touches directly on three of the actress’s most controversial films, The Blue Lagoon, Endless Love, and Pretty Baby. 

Young Brooke Shields in a white dress holding a bouquet.
Young Brooke Shields as Violet in a publicity still for Pretty Baby. (Photo Credit: murraymomo / MovieStillsDB)

Instead of simply talking to Shields, Wilson tells the story by interviewing many people from the past and present to give their testimony on the experience. Rather than focusing on the past, Shields talks about how she found herself again later in life.

More from us: Julia Roberts Was Originally Cast in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and Ended Up Costing the Studio $6 Million

In the trailer, an older Shields reflects, “I was struggling to find my own voice. I wasn’t told it was important to have agency. I found my confidence and thought, ‘I can have my own opinion.'” Pretty Baby will release on Hulu April 3.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.