in Actors, Models, and Directors

Brooke Shields: The Prettiest Baby of All

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Brooke Shields is of my generation. As the most famous teen of the 1980s, she was many a boy’s crush. Although “Pretty Baby” (1978) never screened in the Philippines, the premise of a 12-year-old girl’s virginity sold by auction taboo to our Catholic conservatism, we did get “The Blue Lagoon” (1980). Male actors may have predominantly fueled my fantasies, but it wasn’t Christopher Atkins that riveted me. It was she. The publicity blitz focused on the 5’10”, 15-year-old, woman-child who, consciously or not, enthralled the world with her polarizing aura of virginity and sexuality. Philippine magazines ran articles reporting that a body double had been used for the nude scenes and that a ditch had been constructed for Shields to walk in when filming occurred with her co-star because she was taller than he. All this coincided with my growing fascination for fashion models, those static and silent images of female perfection. Had I been a girl, I might have both resented Shields and been threatened by the media’s idealization of women. They embody an impossible standard of beauty. But being a boy, I never saw them as role models, and since my sexual predilection leaned towards the same sex, neither did I lust over them. They captivated me on an aesthetic level the way a Klimt portrait does. And with Shields, that she was close to my age filled me with wonderment at the rank of celebrity she was able to reach simply for being a stunner. They say that looks aren’t everything. Bull shit. So beautiful was Shields that she gained the favor of Imelda Marcos. (

In 1983, the second Manila International Film Festival was held. Then First Lady Imelda Marcos had commissioned the project a year prior in her ambition to make the city a film capital on the par of Cannes. Jeremy Irons, Sir Richard Attenborough, and Peter O’Toole were among the luminaries invited. From four continents, countries that included Japan, Australia, the United States, and Italy competed, submitting for consideration of the top prize films now considered classics such as “Frances” (1982) and “La Traviata” (1983). Of all the attendees who could boast a cachet that consisted of knighthoods and France’s Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, Shields was the showstopper. Not so strange in a country obsessed with beauty and beauty contests. A local couturier rushed to present her with a terno – our national costume of cinched waist and sleeves cut in the form of a cathedral dome – and reporters queried her mother for an opinion on young Brooke appearing in bold (our word for sexy) movies. Reporters especially thought it cute that Shields, with all her prominence in the echelon of glamour and high fashion, was in disbelief that the diamonds sewn into Mrs. Marcos’s black gown were real. 25 years later, Shields would have fond reminiscences of that event, telling a reporter to the American edition of a Filipino newspaper, The Inquirer, on an interview to promote “Lipstick Jungle,” a TV sit-com in which she was the main star: “I’ve had as much fun cutting the ribbon at that festival as I was excited to come here today to celebrate a new chapter in my life.”

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Those were heady times, to be sure, not only for Brooke Shields, but also for us Filipinos. Although nobody could have known it then, the second Manila International Film Festival would be Imelda Marcos’s last hurrah. Since its inception, the festival had already been shrouded in a cloak of controversy. The Manila Film Center, which resembles ancient Egypt’s Temple of Derr, cost $25 million ($60 million in 2015 currency rate) to erect, a fortune in a country where floods rise waist-high during monsoon season due to poor infrastructure. The lobby was built in 72 hours – a job which would normally have taken six weeks of toil – and in the rush for completion, a scaffold collapsed, sending 169 laborers to the construction pit. Rumors buzzed that the first lady ordered cement poured on the trapped men, whether dead or alive. On opening night, attendees reported incidences of haunting – voices in empty spaces; furniture moving on their own; a projection screen buckling. Little would Shields realize a year later that she could have been treading a mass grave. Entering glass portals with Mrs. Marcos by her side, green eyes dreamy amid a combustion of camera flashes, she was the vision of a fairy tale princess in a waltz with darkness – Sleeping Beauty under Maleficent’s spell.

Eight months later – on August 21, 1983 – the opposition leader to the Marcos administration, Benigno Aquino, Jr., was assassinated, triggering a revolt against the government that would culminate in the first family’s exile to Hawaii. There would never be another Manila International Film Festival, and the center would be left abandoned until the second millennium, a decaying monument to the sins of grandiosity.

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As for Brooke Shields, she never set foot in the Philippines again. She would move past adolescence, get a degree from Princeton University, marry twice, and start a family. She would break ties with her mother on account of the latter’s problems with alcohol, and she would have a public row with Tom Cruise ( over treatment for postpartum depression. Like any other human, she has experienced life’s highs and lows. Shields is soon to turn 50. Of her crow’s feet, she says, “I’ve earned these.”

However, no matter how greatly Brooke Shields has matured, I still see in her the nubile nymph whose beauty so mesmerized the Filipinos during a volatile episode in Philippine history that she has become ingrained in our collective memory. And every time I hear Lionel Richie and Diana Ross croon the title song to another famous Shields coming-of-age romance, “Endless Love” (1981), I am that 14-year-old boy once more, calling the neighborhood betamax store to deliver the latest starring my favorite supermodel.

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