There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me, Brooke Shields, review: A child star’s reckoning with an imperfect parent

The lives of mother and daughter are entirely intertwined

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The Independent Culture

Brooke Shields was prompted to write her memoir after reading a New York Times obituary for her mother, Teri Shields, which she felt was scathing and venomous. The obituary stated that Teri, who died in 2012, had pushed her daughter into working as a model and had allowed her to be cast as a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s controversial Pretty Baby (1978).

Shields’s book makes it clear that Teri wasn’t just the stereotypical, Cruella de Vil-like "stage mom", ruthlessly driving her daughter’s career. In fact, Teri took a laissez-faire attitude toward Brooke’s work. "We kind of just kept rolling with whatever came our way," is how Brooke recalls it.

The main problem wasn’t with Teri’s role as Brooke’s manager; it was with her formidable drinking. Teri was an alcoholic: a functioning one who helped turn her daughter into one of the most recognisable faces of the 1970s and 1980s, but an increasingly bitter and erratic figure.

There Was a Little Girl is an uneven and sometimes repetitive book, pitched between conventional autobiography and psychological case study. It is at its strongest in its early chapters. Shields writes vividly and humorously about her mother’s life growing up in Depression-era Newark; her days as a flirtatious coat-check girl and her short-lived marriage to Brooke’s father, Frank Shields, who came from aristocratic stock. In the 1960s and early 70s at least, Teri cut a glamorous and very colourful figure – "a five-nine blonde beauty with legs like Cyd Charisse, the attire of a well-bred New Yorker, and a riveting wit."

As a kid being brought up by a single mom, Brooke knew that Teri was most likely to be found in the local bar. Repeatedly, Teri embarrasses Brooke or behaves with drunken malice. Even so, the lives of mother and daughter are entirely intertwined.

Brooke herself can be caustic. She is clearly still sore at some of her treatment on the set of Pretty Baby when, as an 11-year-old, she was forced to work very long hours in period-era shoes that made her feet bleed.

The book takes us through Brooke’s years at Princeton, her affair with Liam Neeson ("a tall Irish actor and a drunk who was 13 years my senior"), her first marriage, to tennis star Andre Agassi (kindly but controlling), and the ups and downs in her professional career. However, she is more interested in her mother’s story than in her own. The book reads like a parent’s heartfelt and exasperated lament – but the irony here is that her mother is the one behaving like the problem child.

Dutton Press, £17.99. Order for £15.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030