This post pains me. I am a long-time admirer of Brooke Shields. She navigated the perilous waters of child stardom as well as anyone, survived an overbearing (and often unethical) stage mother, and managed to turn her childhood and teen super-modeling career into long and variegated show business success that included several Broadway shows and a successful TV sitcom, all while appearing to maintain at least the appearance of sanity and good sense. However, during a recent interview with Dax Shepard on his “Armchair Expert” podcast, Shields decided to attack legendary broadcast journalist Barbara Walters for an interview she did of the then-15-year-old in 1981.
The podcast was following the trail of an October interview the current version of Shields, the one that is 56, did for Vogue. In that one, Shields expressed anger at the famous Calvin Klein ad that immediately preceded her intense cross-examination by Walters, the naughty TV spot that had the leggy teen clad in skin-tight jeans saying provocatively, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
In Vogue Shields said of the ad, “I was very naive. I didn’t think it had to do with underwear. I didn’t think it was sexual in nature. I’d say that about my sister, nobody could come between me and my sister… they didn’t explain [the double-entendre] to me.” As for the interview discussing the ad with Walters, Shields described her questions probing Shields’ sexuality as “practically criminal.”
A consistent theme in Ethics Alarms is the unethical nature of “late hits,” allegations and attacks against prominent individuals that occur years and even decades after the events in question occurred (think Christine Blasy-Ford), if in fact they did. Whatever the reason for the delays, these allegations are usually so distant that they can’t be definitively proven, and are often triggered by either the appearance of vulnerability by the accused, or an opportunity for benefits to the accuser.
In this case, there is no question about what occurred in the interview; its on tape. However, Barbara Walters is 92 years old. It is understandable that 15-year-old Brooke Shields didn’t have the confidence to call out Walters in 1981, but what about in 1991 (when the photo above was taken) or 2001, when Walters was active and could defend herself?
I get it: Shields has two teen-aged daughters now, so her perspective is different. It doesn’t excuse criticizing a very old woman who is far from top form and hasn’t appeared in public for six years.
This late hit was even worse than that, however. The individual responsible for allowing both the Calvin Klein ad and the Walters interview was Brooke’s mother, manager and guru, Teri, who died in 2012. She set up the deal with the jeans company. She was present at the Walters interview and had the job of protecting her child. Of course, this was the woman who allowed Shields to appear semi-naked and play a child prostitute on screen in “Pretty Baby” at the age of 12. Now that was “almost criminal.”
Brooke Shields had a complex relationship with her mom, who raised her alone after a divorce, and it is understandable that she doesn’t feel comfortable criticizing the parent who made her a celebrity. That doesn’t excuse transferring her complaints to Barbara Walters, who can’t defend herself.