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Teri Shields dies at 79; controversial stage mother of Brooke Shields

Teri Shields guided the actress' career from infancy and drew criticism that some of her daughter's movie roles were too sexualized for her age. They later parted professionally.

November 07, 2012|By Rebecca Trounson, Los Angeles Times
  • Teri Shields poses with her daughter, Brooke, after the actress' graduation from Princeton University in 1987.
Teri Shields poses with her daughter, Brooke, after the actress'… (A\ssociated Press )

Teri Shields, who began promoting and managing the career of her daughter, actress Brooke Shields, when she was an infant and later earned criticism for allowing her to be cast as a preteen prostitute in the 1978 film "Pretty Baby," has died. She was 79.

Shields died Oct. 31 in Manhattan after a long illness linked to dementia, said Jill Fritzo, a spokeswoman for the actress.

Teri Shields' single-minded promotion of her daughter's career began when Brooke was 11 months old, when her mother arranged for her to be showcased in an advertisement for Ivory soap.

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Decisions that were more controversial would soon follow.

By the time Brooke was 10, her mother had allowed the strikingly attractive child to be photographed nude for a Playboy Press publication, although she and her daughter later tried unsuccessfully to suppress those photos. Two years later, Brooke starred as the child prostitute in "Pretty Baby," directed by Louis Malle.

Her mother also consented to a Calvin Klein jeans commercial, in which Brooke, then 15, famously proclaimed that "nothing" came between her and her Calvins, and to other movie roles that critics considered too sexualized for her age.

In 1981, a New York Supreme Court justice, in dismissing a lawsuit filed by Brooke Shields and her mother over nude childhood photographs of the actress, took the occasion to lecture the mother for choices she had made for her daughter.

Teri Shields was trying to be "maternally protective but exploitative at the same time," Justice Edward Greenfield said, according to news accounts at the time. "She cannot have it both ways."

Theresa Anna Lillian Schmon was born on Aug. 11, 1933, in Newark, N.J. After graduating from high school, she worked at a brewery, then as a hairstylist, makeup artist and model, according to a statement released by her daughter. In 1964, she married Francis Alexander Shields and Brooke, an only child, was born the following year.

Teri and Frank Shields divorced when their daughter was 5 months old. "We were very much in love, but he was 24," Teri Shields said in a 1983 interview with The Times. "He had just graduated from college. He wanted to see the world and taste life, not be tied down by a wife and child."

Teri Shields managed her daughter's career until 1994, when the actress decided to turn elsewhere for professional guidance and representation. The decision strained their relationship for a time, Brooke Shields told The Times in a 1996 interview.

"It's not the drama that you would anticipate," she said. "It's just very deep confusion. There's a sadness. I don't feel as if I made any mistakes, but I do feel that I have hurt her, without intention. It was just my need to really do this on my own and figure out what my capabilities were."

Nonetheless, the pair remained close, despite those issues and her mother's longtime struggles with alcohol.

"My mother was an enormous part of my life and of who I am today," the actress said in the statement released by her spokeswoman. "I loved her, laughed with her, and respected her. And although she had her share of struggles, she was my mom."

In addition to her daughter, Teri Shields' survivors include two granddaughters.

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