Princeton’s Big Woman on Campus tries to lead an ordinary life as a star among stargazers
November 5, 1984
In the Bahamas filming Wet Gold, Brooke Shields kept the body beautiful with exercise. She’ll give tips in an upcoming book.
Just look at her. Everybody else does. Brooke Shields, at least when a camera records her, is a walking billboard for beauty. She nearly stalled the opening ceremonies at the L.A. Olympics when the world's perfect bodies stopped in their tracks to ogle her. And in her first TV movie, ABC's Wet Gold, a treasure‑hunt epic that aired last Sunday, the camera never misses a chance to leer. Brooke plays a Florida waitress juggling two men. "It was her first adult role," says mom‑manager Teri, who got Brooke top dollar ($700,000) for the project. "It was a chance to sell Brooke Shields in a bathing suit," counters Wet Gold coproducer Larry Sanitsky. But, hey, let's stop blaming Mom. At 19, Brooke Shields is a Princeton sophomore with a mind of her own. If she wants to come off as a hot number, that's her business.
But don't confuse the packaging with the goods. Any Princeton man on the make is doomed to disappointment. Off‑camera, Brooke is not selling anything. And don't mix her up with the sexed‑up, drugged‑out model played by Nicolette Sheridan on TV's Paper Dolls. Brooke and Teri get a big kick out of that one. Sure, Brooke has dated John Travolta, but the attraction there was mostly publicity. And Michael Jackson? The Gloved One's religion demands virginity until marriage. Try friendship. Even Princeton grad Tim Murdoch, a recent Brooke favorite, appears to be more of an escort than an endless love.
So what kind of date is Brooke now that she's started her second year at Princeton? Nothing, certainly, that Joan Collins would try to emulate. But maybe she shouldn't. Brooke is the kind of coed who can rhapsodize for five minutes on the Princeton cafeteria. "They always have really good granola," she says. "You can also have eggs any way you want and juice and coffee. Breakfast is really good. I always have granola and it's the best granola I've ever had."
It's hard to imagine old Princetonians like Adlai Stevenson and F. Scott Fitzgerald carrying on in quite the same way. And it's easy to imagine why Brooke might be guarded. Raised in an ultraglamorous fishbowl, Brooke has to work at just acting normal. That's one reason her social life, which often begins when studying breaks at 7 p.m., is confined to what she calls "group dates." Brooke wants to fit in. "She and her friends will go out for pizza and a movie," reports Teri. The trouble is Brooke hardly ever eats pizza. She has to worry about her diet. On the Nassau set of Wet Gold this summer, Brooke sampled a smidgen of ice cream. Later Teri showed Brooke pictures of herself. "Oh, my legs look really big," said Brooke. "Now do you want that ice cream?" asked Teri. Brooke shook her head.
Most college kids don't worry about the odd pound or two, and doing so sets Brooke apart. So does her celebrity. Brooke remembers her arrival at Princeton last fall. "No one would talk to me," she says. "They didn't want to be overly impressed, so they went the opposite way." Peter Maruca, a friend and classmate of Brooke's, concurs: "A lot of students, men and women, are jealous and would like to see her mess up. She hasn't. She's been very tough. She's risen above it very well. "
Though outwardly open and friendly, Brooke remains wary. If she comes on too strong, she's an egomaniac; if she plays it cool, she's standoffish. The fact that Brooke didn't get along with her three freshman‑year roommates only exacerbated the situation. "I'm very neat," says Brooke, "but two of them were so messy it drove me crazy. I had this idea of how great it would be to have roommates and what fun it would be when we all got together, but I didn't like any of them as people."
Many of her classmates like to gossip; Brooke dismissed the talk as trivial. "I thought all the pettiness and the fighting and whatever girls bicker about would be all over in college and we would be adults. I got there and found myself having the same conversations that I thought I was finished having, like, 'I can't believe she wore that today!' Who cares?" A model since the age of 11 months and a veteran of 10 movies, Brooke was raised in world peopled by professionals. "On the set you deal with major problems where money and jobs are involved," says Brooke. "It's so big. And then you get to school and see people getting upset about things that seem small."
Brooke put a brave face on it but inside she was seething. "I was so miserable," she says. "I cried all the time. I felt like such a baby. I was calling my mother on the average of four times a day and crying, 'I want to go home. Please come and get me.' She had to sit there and think, 'My daughter, whom I love more than anything, is crying, but I can't give in to her.' " Teri refused to take Brooke back to their home in Bergen County, N.J., a little over an hour from Princeton; Now Brooke is glad she didn't.
Instead, Brooke charged into her studies. A French major, she earned A's in all her courses, save for a B in philosophy. She is especially proud of the A she received in her first college exam, in psychology. "I studied really hard," she says. She knew her first grade would be in the spotlight. When the scores for the test were posted, Brooke says, "everybody looked at two grades ‑theirs and mine." She came out near the top among 300 students.
Her second victory, a social one, was getting up the nerve to audition for the school's musical‑theater group, the Princeton Triangle Club. "I was just so nervous," she recalls. She sang Cabaret and Body and Soul and got a part in a comedy revue. "I walked in there and nobody was supporting me," says Brooke. "I had to prove myself, just like everybody else." Teri Shields calls it the "best thing that ever happened to Brooke. She didn't need a big‑mouthed mother, a manager, an agent, nothing."
That was the breakthrough. Kids in the Triangle Club became chummy and Brooke began to find a circle of friends. But she remained careful about downplaying her star status. Teri bought her a red Mercedes sedan, but Brooke has never taken the car to school. Most teenagers who spent their summer vacation making a $3.5 million TV movie would be eager to talk about it. Not Brooke. She turns off on anyone, she says, "if there is one little bit of them that is impressed with being my friend because of, you know, who I am. Knock on wood, I've never really been fooled."
Naturally that suspicion makes dating difficult. A guy asks a question about her movies and Brooke is immediately on guard. He asks about her car, her friends and her horses (she owns three) and he might be a fortune hunter. As a result, Brooke's movie-and‑pizza group dates are often with socialites. Sophomore Peter Maruca says her taste in friends "leans to the rich and beautiful people on campus. I think she feels more comfortable with them."
These days Brooke is feeling more comfortable about most things. "I find myself dealing with problems and answering my own questions," she says. Jokes Teri: "We can't tell her anything now." Though Brooke's father, executive recruiter Frank Shields, who was divorced from Teri when Brooke was 5 months old, pays his daughter's $10,200 annual tuition, Brooke relies totally on Teri and godmother Lila Wisdom for career guidance. "I'm not doing any major breaking away," says Brooke. "I'm no dummy."
Still, Maruca notices that Brooke seems a little looser now. Guys are not intimidated any longer as far as asking her for a date, he says. "A lot of guys would like to be that steady guy." Teri thinks Brooke "probably wants a boyfriend. But she's not ready to settle down: She'll be in the library and a couple of boys will pick her up and walk her home. That's about it."
Wet Gold co‑stars Tom Byrd (left) and Brian Kerwin admire their leading lady. "She's pretty neat," says Kerwin, 34.
Brooke seems determined to keep her dates at arm's length. Perhaps one reason for her reluctance to form an attachment is that it might distract her from a career that remains the most important thing in her life. "I love to make movies so much," she says. Astonishingly, she is already talking about aging. "I'm sure I'll be soon striving ‑let's not say fighting‑ to look young," she says. "I always used to be the youngest model and the youngest face and now the hot models are 16."
Brooke doesn't want or expect the men she dates at Princeton to cope with those concerns. So she shuts off conversation about the things that distress her and tries to fit in where she can. But romance, for the moment, is a difficult hurdle to cross. "The idea of a boyfriend is really exciting and pleasurable to me," says Brooke, "because I've never really felt that happiness with someone." But there's no question the idea also scares her. "If I really had a serious distraction," she says, "I'd go crazy." Right now, Brooke Shields' greatest challenge may be finding a satisfying way of playing herself.