Three years after Brooke Shields uttered those famous words, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,” she was logging hours taking care of animals at the San Diego Zoo.
She had selected the venue as the location of a school-required off-site internship in her last year of high school. She worked there in various departments during the month of May 1983, explaining to UPI at the time that she worked from 6 am to 3 pm on weekdays.
“To be honest, the thing I did the most was prepare food and clean up poop,” Shields tells Yahoo Entertainment. “That was the majority of my tenure at the zoo.”
The model and actress, who had already starred in Pretty Baby, Blue Lagoon and Endless Lovealso bonded with her charges.
“I worked with the first golden monkey that was born at the zoo, and I used to have to carry her around in a little… almost like a pouch that was right over my heart, so she could feel the warmth and feel my heartbeat, Shields recalls. “She had been born very small.”
There were others that Shields remembers by name.
“There was a little chimp named Victor,” she says. “And his nasal passages had been blocked, and so he couldn’t nurse.” Zoo workers helped him to heal, so he could be reunited with his mom.
When asked if she bonded with her late friend Michael Jackson over their love of chimps, Shields says, “You know what, Bubbles didn’t really like me. I’m not quite sure why. But I didn’t get to spend , really, almost any time with Bubbles.”
Despite the snub, Shields never lost her affinity for animals — or the San Diego Zoo — and this month she’s going back there as it opens the Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, a section dedicated to immersing visitors in animal habitats. The idea is that people, especially the youngest ones, will leave inspired conservationists looking out for their furry friends. Shields will be part of a VIP event Thursday night, and the Basecamp will be open to all zoo ticket holders the following day.
“What I think is really great now is they’re teaching people sort of how [animals] interact… [And they] learn from their experience,” Shields says. “And having that kind of empathy is very different than just being a voyeur of an animal, you know. [The zoo is] really trying to teach kids and people that are experiencing Basecamp to really understand, ‘Oh, this might be what they smell. This might be what they hear.’… And I think that that type of empathy is really what you come out of the Basecamp with.”
Empathy for animals is what Shields says she got from the zoo. She had always enjoyed them — she remembers befriending any animal handler who was on The Tonight Show At the same time she was and she did charity work for the ASPCA — but she was already committed to acting, so she never considered being a zookeeper as a profession. She was also committed to college, which she began the following September. (She famously graduated from Princeton University in 1987.)
As an adult, Shields has continued to support her former employer. She says the new Basecamp is somewhere she would have liked to take her girls, 18-year-old Rowan and Grier, 15, when they were younger.
“I mean, as a kid,” she says, “I would’ve been filled with wonder.”