Brooke Shields Talks Growing Up in the Hamptons
by dan abrams
Every man of a certain age will never forget their two first loves, those special women who defined our transformation from boys to men. From the age of about 11 through high school, we felt their eyes watch our every move and we returned the broad smiles and focused stares with a cursory glance back and sometimes more. At times much more.
Farrah and Brooke. No last names necessary. Farrah, of course, was our first. The toothy smile, colorful bathing suit, and amiable, yet sexy glare emanating from the poster that adorned so many of our walls. She was that woman we all shared. Brooke was different, particularly for those of us who grew up in Manhattan. She went to parties at friends of friends’ homes and attended a private high school we all knew. In addition to being at the most fabulous places with the most fabulous people, she appeared to be just one degree of separation away... almost... somehow... attainable. Smart, seemingly grounded, incredibly successful, and stunning.
I never met Brooke Shields back in the day, despite the fact that we were just a year apart at rival-ish New York City area high schools. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think about her. A lot.
I remember the day Princeton rejected me, smarting from the reality that I would never be schooled at the institution that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald, the college where Woodrow Wilson walked the halls for years as student and professor. But just as important, I was being deprived the opportunity to call Brooke Shields my classmate. Ah, the study groups we could have joined, the notes we could have shared, and maybe, just maybe, we would have become friends....
DAN ABRAMS: What is it that you like about coming to the Hamptons?
BROOKE SHIELDS: I grew up coming out here. My mom was divorced from my father, but she wanted me to live his lifestyle. She was from Newark; he was from the East Coast, and he spent all his summers in the Hamptons. As a tennis player, my grandfather—he played Wimbledon and the Davis Cup—played mixed doubles at the Meadow Club. He got me my first racquet at the Meadow Club. I would spend the days going to the beach club—that’s where I learned to box step, that’s where I learned to swim....
DA: Who was the first guy you danced with?
BS: Drew. I forget his last name, but I had such a crush on him. We were 7. He asked me to dance, and I was so happy, [but I found out] he only asked me to dance so that he could step on the other boys’ feet, and he knew I wouldn’t complain.
DA: So he used you; you got used at age 7.
BS: My first crush. I went over to Drew’s house, and everybody had servants and house staff, and we didn’t. My mother rented a room above Hildreth’s; they were oneroom apartments, and you had to lift up the countertop to take a bath—that’s how small they were. When I went over to Drew’s house, I brought my dishes to the sink because that’s what I was taught to do. And his mother called my mother the next day and said, “Would you please tell your daughter that we have people who do that? She doesn’t need to bring her dish to the sink.” My mom said, “Well, we don’t have people, and that’s what we do in our house, so to stop this from happening, she won’t be coming over anymore.”
DA: It’s clear that the Hamptons has a lot of meaning to you.
BS: Yes, it does. The smells. The sound of the crickets. It was always a time for my mother and I—and I get a little moved by it—but she was vibrant here. There are all these pictures of Lyda [my childhood friend—and friend to this day] and myself: My mother’s throwing us on the beach with lilies over our diapers and everything is ahead of us and in front of us, and it was fun, and there was joy. Those years are so imprinted on me. The weirdest thing, too, is [my husband, Chris Henchy, and I] looked everywhere [for a house], and the fact that we ended up right smack where I started is amazing to me.
DA: Is there a store or a restaurant in the Hamptons you would like to own?
BS: I secretly want to buy the Penny Candy Store [in Water Mill] and open it up again, but my husband says I’m crazy and won’t support me on that. He’s like, “It’s going to be a money pit; it’s going to be a disaster. No one has done it yet. Why hasn’t anyone done it yet?” But the Penny Candy Store, I just do love. My husband loves the Sip ’n Soda.
DA: You are obviously an incredibly recognizable person. Is there anything different about that for you in the Hamptons?
BS: Growing up, there’s a social register, but I got taken off the list when I did Pretty Baby. My father almost got taken off the social register because my mother got pregnant before they got married. In Southampton [where we live now], I know everybody. They’re all mister and missus so-and-so, and they all talk about my dad. But I go to the beach club and the Meadow Club, and nobody bothers me. If I go into any other country club in the country, people ask me for my picture, autograph. The minute I get on that single lane [of Route 27] I take such a sigh of relief.
DA: How is it different being a public person today versus, let’s say, in the ’80s?
BS: There’s a layered answer to that because I’m so different. [The ’80s] were decadent, and I was in the middle of all of it. But I was protected, meaning that I would go to Studio 54 for every event, but I was home at 10. Fame didn’t seem as hostile as it does now; now it feels unsafe. Maybe it was because I was so naïve; it’s very possible that it has always been the same thing or [maybe I am just] more cognizant, but I think social media has really changed it. There used to feel like there was an etiquette, but I didn’t know enough to resent it then, and it also didn’t occur to me to fight for my privacy. But now I’m so sensitized to my privacy for my kids.
DA: Looking back on your career is there a favorite project or something you’re most proud of?
BS: The thing I am most proud of and the thing that is my favorite are different. Suddenly Susan was literally the best four years—well, three years, the fourth year was not good because my best friend [David Strickland] died and he was on the show with us—but it was three of the most fun, happiest, living in comedy all the time, everyday, where your day is about making people laugh and finding the best way to do it and having to think on your feet.... It’s such a hybrid between film and stage, and I just loved that show. I loved sitcom. It was such a joy to me. Wonderful Town on Broadway was the piece that I was the most proud of accomplishing.
BS: The learning curve was incredible. The amount of singing and dancing, the schedule.... [The role] was tailor-made for me. And Rowan was my little stage baby—she was coming backstage with me; she loved it, and they loved her. All the pieces fit—it was just really nice.
DA: Let’s talk about the projects you’re currently working on.
BS: I’m finishing up the seventh season of Army Wives—I’ve only been in it this season—and we don’t know if we’ve gotten picked up [for season eight] yet. I play an airlift wing commander, and I’ve had to learn all of this information. I’ve had to go fly a simulator; I’ve gone to their mini flight school; I’ve had to learn all the protocols; I’ve had to learn all the language; I’ve had seminars with these major decorated three-stars and four-stars. I’ve never walked onto a set that was so cohesive. The material is good, and everybody cares about it. The grip cares about the character; the electricians have read the script; ever ybody’s kind; they’re happy.
DA: Is that different than what you’ve found on other sets?
BS: A lot of other sets people are just punching in the time cards, people are griping a lot, and there’s attitudes with actors—you can feel tension. [In Army Wives], the leads are lovely and it just trickles down from there. I’ve done so much work with the USO; we did an [Army Wives] autograph session and two Air Force guys came up to me and showed me a picture that I had taken with them when I was 15 at Fort Bragg and then we took a new one. There’s a sense of real tradition. You ask these women pilots what makes them say not just, “I want to be a pilot,” but “I want to be in the Air Force.” They all say duty to their country. In the entertainment world, you don’t see that.
DA: In the past year or two, it seems that your name is constantly coming up as someone to possibly host a talk show. Is that something that you would consider doing?
BS: I was vehemently against it years ago. I’ve cohosted The View a couple times—and they haven’t asked me to join the show—but what I loved about it was the homework, the forcing of myself to become a bit schooled on a topic that I would not care to sit down and read about, or I was intimidated by, or was too busy for. Realizing that I had an opinion was the first time that I ever thought, Oh, this is enjoyable. It’s an area that I get to use my education and use the actress part of me—it’s a good melding. I used to shy away from the idea because I thought that it was saying that I was giving up on being an actress. I’m so passionate about acting I was so afraid that would be the message. I also think I was intimidated by it because I don’t enjoy confrontation and I always see both sides of every story. I thought if I’m not vehemently on one side then I’m just vanilla, and I’m not that interesting. I’ve always been afraid I don’t have an opinion or I’m nervous about offending somebody. Then I realized I’m perfectly comfortable offending people.
DA: What about your upcoming movie, The Hot Flashes?
BS: It has a limited release; it’s coming out in LA, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. This man wrote a story about his mother, who was dying of breast cancer. The story is about a group of women who reassemble their old high school basketball team, challenge the current high school team to play two out of three, and all the money that they raise goes toward a mobile mammogram unit. Susan Seidelman, who directed Desperately Seeking Susan, assembled [our] very diverse group: Camryn Manheim, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, Wanda Sykes, and myself. And we have a surprise coach—but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.