“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields”: The 10 most heartbreaking revelations from the Hulu doc

Life in front of the camera began at a very young age for Brooke Shields. In fact, it began way before she took her first steps.

From then on, it didn’t take long for Shields to become a household name thanks to her striking looks, which stole the hearts of millions of Americans and thrust her into the dark underbelly of Hollywood. Her glamour, it turns out, came with a hefty price: incessant sexualization and a loss of agency.

At just 11 years of age, she secured her first major film role as a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s infamous 1978 film “Pretty Baby.” At 15 years of age, she starred in the coming-of-age film “Blue Lagoon” opposite Christopher Atkins, who played both her cousin and lover. And at 16 years of age, she starred in the 1981 romance film “Endless Love,” which initially received an X rating from the MPAA before it was re-edited to receive an R rating.

The tale of the overly sexualized teenage star is, unfortunately, not an uncommon one. We’ve seen it with Shields. We’ve seen it with Drew Barrymore. We’ve seen it with Mara Wilson. And, more recently, we’ve seen it with Millie Bobby Brown and Billie Eilish.

As for Shields, the ’80s icon is now retelling her story in “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” a new ABC News documentary that’s named after the 1978 film of the same name. Directed by Lana Wilson, the two-part feature chronicles Shields’ tumultuous life and career through extensive archival footage along with interviews with Shields herself, her close friends and culture reporters and film historians.

“The entirety of my life, it was, ‘She’s a pretty face. She’s a sex symbol,”’ Shields says in the series. “Over and over and over and over and over. And that always just seared me.”

From Shields’ first kiss at the age of 11 to her bombshell relationship with Michael Jackson, here are the 10 most heartbreaking revelations from “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields”:

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

Shields was born in Manhattan, New York, on May 31, 1965 to former model Teri Shields and Revlon executive Francis Alexander Shields Jr. In 1966, Shields began modeling after her mother’s close friend, Francesco Scavullo, photographed her for a television spot for Ivory Soap.

“I always knew she was beautiful,” Teri said in an old interview featured in the documentary. “The moment I brought her home from the hospital I just knew she’d be a star. A star.”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

Shields revealed that her very first kiss was with “Pretty Baby” co-star Keith Carradine — who is 16 years her senior. While filming the scene, Shields struggled to not react with disgust when kissing Carradine, who later stepped in to help calm her nerves.   

“Keith was the one who asked to have a word with me and said to me, ‘Hey, you know what? This doesn’t count. It’s pretend. This is all make-believe,'” Shields recounted.

Following the film’s release, Shields said everything then changed for her:

“I was no longer just a model who was an actress. I became a focal point for so many things — good and bad.”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

When asked about Shields’ nude scenes with Atkins in “Blue Lagoon,” director Randal Kleiser said, “It’s real. She’s going from child to a woman during the filming.” Shields was 15 years old while Atkins was 18 years old.

“They wanted to make it a reality show,” Shields said. “They wanted to sell my actual sexual awakening.” 

The irony of it all was that Shields wasn’t even familiar with her own sexuality at the time. Growing up Catholic, Shields said sex was a forbidden topic in her household and one that was tied to both shame and guilt.

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

In one of her most famous ads, a 15-year-old Shields wears a brown button-down shirt that exposes her midriff along with a pair of slim-fit Calvin Klein jeans. Her gaze is fixed on the camera, and her right leg is kicked up while she balances on her arms, albeit uncomfortably. Accompanying the ads is the tagline, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing” — insinuating that the underage Shields was not wearing underwear.  

“There was nothing in me that ever had the idea that it was sexual,” Shields said of the commercials, which were subsequently banned from being shown on CBS and ABC in the U.S. 

More recently, Shields reiterated her lack of understanding on Dax Shepard’s podcast “Armchair Expert,” saying, “I didn’t think it had to do with underwear, I didn’t think it was sexual in nature. I would say it about my sister, ‘Nobody can come between me and my sister.'”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

In 1981, Shields’ mother sued fashion photographer Gary Gross on the grounds of selling nude photos of Shields that allegedly destroyed her reputation. The photos show a 10-year-old Shields, naked and covered in oil and makeup, standing suggestively in a marble bathtub. 

At the time of the photoshoot, Shields’ mother signed a contract that allowed Gross to take the pictures of her daughter.

In the documentary, Shields said that when she made her court appearance, a man who was across the room from her came on to her by locking his eyes with hers and running his tongue across his lips. Shields was 16 years of age at the time.

Shields and her mother ultimately lost their case after a New York Court of Appeals ruled that Gross could continue to market the photos as long as he did not sell them to pornographic publications.

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

Shields revealed that “Endless Love” director Franco Zeffirelli became literally hands-on when he was displeased with the faces she made while filming her sex scenes.

“Zeffirelli kept grabbing my toe and, like, twisting it so that I had a feeling — so I had a look of — I guess, ecstasy, but it was more angst than anything because he was hurting me,” Shields said. “You know his thing was, ‘The look on your face — it has to be ecstasy.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ I didn’t want to appear stupid or untalented, so I just dissociated.

“They paid me. I did the thing. They sold it. Everybody’s happy. You know, it was transactional.”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

Although many speculated that Shields and Michael Jackson were dating, Shields asserted that they were only friends. Their “very child-like” friendship began when Shields was 13 and Jackson was 20.

“We both were quite juvenile in some ways and quite mature and experienced in others, so we were just really friends, but he always wanted to be seen with me,” Shields said.

In one instance, Jackson suggested to her that they should “adopt a child and raise a child together.”

The friendship eventually fell apart after Jackson lied and told Oprah Winfrey in a 1993 television interview that he was dating Shields. Shields said she felt hurt and “eventually sort of lost touch with him.”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

In the documentary, Shields reveals for the very first time that at 22, she was raped by an unnamed Hollywood filmmaker. 

“He was right on me,” she said of the incident, which took place following a dinner that she believed was a work meeting. “It was like wrestling. I didn’t want to. I was afraid I would get choked out or something.”

Shields continued, “I didn’t fight that much. I didn’t. I just absolutely froze. I thought my one ‘no’ should have been enough. And I just thought stay alive and get out. And I just . . . ‘voomp,’ just shut it out. And God knows I knew how to be disassociated from my body. I had practiced that.”

Afterwards, when a friend told Shields that she had been raped, Shields said that she wasn’t willing to believe that:

“I believed somehow I put out a message, and that was how the message was received,” she said. “I drank wine at dinner. I went up to the room. I just was so trusting.”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

Shields said that she and her husband, film director and screenwriter Chris Henchy, experienced difficulties when trying to conceive. Shields decided to try in vitro fertilization (IVF), which was unsuccessful, and later, experienced a miscarriage three months after she got pregnant for the very first time. When recounting her journey, Shields said she thought she was being “punished.”

“I was like, something’s wrong with me. I’m not meant to be a mother,” she added.

After trying six more times for a child, Shields eventually became pregnant and gave birth to her first daughter Rowan in 2003. Shortly afterwards, Shields experienced postpartum depression and began taking antidepressants. Her medical decision was criticized by Tom Cruise, her former “Endless Love” co-star, who said on the “Today Show” in 2005 that she didn’t “understand the history of psychiatry” when she wrote in her memoir that antidepressants had ultimately saved her.  

Shields shot back at Cruise in a New York Times op-ed titled, “War of Words.” In it, she wrote, “If any good can come of Mr. Cruise’s ridiculous rant, let’s hope that it gives much-needed attention to a serious disease. Perhaps now is the time to call on doctors, particularly obstetricians and pediatricians, to screen for postpartum depression.”

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (ABC News)

Shields explained that her relationship with her mother was incredibly co-dependent. So much so that at one point, she “used to believe that if my mother died, I would die.”

At just 13 years old, Shields staged an intervention for her mother, whose alcoholism made her “emotionally abusive” towards Shields.

“You never know what to expect with an alcoholic,” Shields said. “It wasn’t abusive, but it was emotionally abusive because I felt sort of abandoned every time she wasn’t herself.”

Shields’ mother initially agreed to stop drinking, solely for Shields’ sake. But that promise was short-lived. Her alcoholism worsened over the years, and in 2012, Shields’ mother passed away at the age of 79 from dementia. 

“I had sort of said goodbye a long time ago,” Shields said tearfully.

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” is currently available for streaming on Hulu. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:

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