Best known as the mother of actress Brooke Shields, Teri Shields was desperate to make her daughter famous — and would do anything to make it happen.
In the 1978 film Pretty Baby, a 12-year-old Brooke Shields played a child prostitute who seduced and shared an on-screen kiss with an adult man played by then-29-year-old Keith Carradine. The role was shocking and controversial in its own right — but more shocking is the fact that young Brooke’s manager was none other than her own mother, Teri Shields.
In fact, Pretty Baby was just the first of several controversial film roles and modeling jobs that Teri allowed Brooke to accept. Shortly after, at 14, the actress appeared in The Blue Lagoon, in which she was nude for a significant portion of the movie. And at 15, she posed for a series of suggestive Calvin Klein ads with the tagline: “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins.”
And throughout each of those jobs, Teri Shields was there, giving her stamp of approval and guiding her daughter’s choices. That is until Brooke started managing her own career in her 20s and the two had an intense falling out. Brooke would later speak openly about Teri’s alcoholism — which left the young actress feeling that she was actually the caretaker in their relationship.
This is the controversial story of Teri Shields, the mother and manager of one of the biggest actresses of the 1980s.
How Teri Shields Went From Her Newark Roots To A New York Socialite
Theresia Anna Lilian Schmon was born on Aug. 11, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. According to The New York Times, she spent the first 30 years of her life there working as a hairstylist, makeup artist, and model. But she discovered her true calling in 1965 when she gave birth to her daughter, Brooke.
As Brooke Shields later wrote of her mother, “It was then that Teri found her career.” Brooke’s birth was the end result of a short-lived romance between Teri and a wealthy New Yorker named Francis Alexander Shields. His family never approved of his relationship with Teri, and they had even tried to pay her to terminate her pregnancy. She didn’t, so Frank proposed.
They divorced just five months after Brooke was born.
“He was very young,” Teri Shields told People in a 1978 interview. At the time, she was 30 and Frank was 23. “He wanted to be adventuresome. I didn’t mind.”
Six months later, when Brooke was just shy of one year old, Teri booked her daughter’s first modeling job: an ad for Ivory Soap. The gig only paid $25, but it opened the gates to other opportunities with big brands like BAND-AID and Colgate.
As more jobs and money came in, Teri Shields made herself known amongst New York’s upper class while simultaneously playing the parts of mother, manager, and socialite.
By the time Pretty Baby came out, however, Teri had also developed a serious addiction to alcohol. Brooke tried to stage several interventions without success.
“I grew up in an alcoholic household,” Brooke told The New York Times in 1994. “I’m the caretaker who wants to make everything better, and you can just do that for so long, or so I’ve been told.”
Teri’s addiction, along with several poor management decisions, ultimately caused a rift between mother and daughter. In the early 1990s, shortly after Brooke graduated from college, the young starlet made the decision to manage her own career — and let her mother go.
The Strained Relationship Between Brooke Shields And Her Mother
Teri and Brooke Shields had a complex relationship. From the outside, it could be easy to say that Teri had exploited her daughter for money and fame by allowing her to star in sexually provocative roles at a young age. In fact, she responded to this criticism on a live television interview with Bill Boggs a few years after Pretty Baby came out, effectively saying that she felt people were just jealous.
She also spoke candidly about why she felt Brooke appealed to so many people.
“They see total innocence, which is totally there,” she said. “And… they have the sexy child too, they have the sexy person — that appeals to them.”
Brooke Shields has also maintained that her early roles didn’t cause her any “distress or humiliation,” and that her mother acted as a protector who kept her away from the sorts of dangerous situations that have affected other Hollywood actresses over the years.
At the same time, however, there was Teri’s alcoholism.
How Teri Shields’ Struggles With Alcohol Impacted Her Daughter’s Life
“I was preoccupied with [my mother’s] drinking,” Brooke Shields once said in an interview with Stuff. “I understood I needed to take care of her. She was my life source and it made me be less concerned about myself and therefore less confident. I was always trying to anticipate situations and be ahead of the game. It took away the ability for me to ever really relax.”
By the time Brooke was in her 20s, her mother was deep in the throes of alcoholism, which influenced her decisions both as a mother and as a manager. This ultimately led to a dramatic split between the two in 1995.
Over a single weekend, Brooke, her then-husband Andre Agassi, and his team emptied out her mother’s office in Norwood and canceled all of the company credit cards that Teri had access to, per NJ.com. For a time, the two didn’t speak. When they did ultimately patch things up, it was clear that Teri’s drinking had only gotten worse.
In fact, when Brooke married her second husband, Chris Henchy, in 2001, the police had to be called to the wedding when Teri got drunk and became disorderly.
“My mother loved me, but the bottle always won,” Brooke wrote in her memoir, There Was a Little Girl, which explores her relationship with her mother. “There was not one major moment or birthday celebration during which she could remain sober… I ran out of ways of asking her to quit. Tears didn’t work, rage didn’t work, pleas when sober didn’t work, and letters didn’t work. Other people tried and I prayed.”
When Brooke Shields had children of her own, she hoped that becoming a grandmother would act as a catalyst for Teri to stop drinking. Unfortunately, Teri’s addiction was replaced by another disease: dementia.
“It was shocking and nothing could have prepared me for it,” Brooke said. “The person literally disappears. They are there in front of you and you can’t reach them. And there was absolutely nothing I could do.”
When Teri Shields ultimately passed away, her daughter wrote a short obituary for her in The New York Times. Shortly after, the Times published an article that painted Teri Shields as a desperate mother who forced her daughter to be a model and star in Pretty Baby. That article prompted Shields to write There Was a Little Girl, almost as if to set the record straight.
In the end, it’s difficult to pin down who, exactly, Teri Shields really was. Her story shows, perhaps more than anything else, that humans are complex and multi-faceted — and sometimes at war with themselves in a way they can’t ever seem to escape.
After learning about Brooke Shields’ “momager,” Teri Shields, read about Hedy Lamarr, who was referred to by many as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Then, go inside the death of Hollywood starlet Audrey Hepburn.