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Tuesday, March 30, 2004



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RONEN ZILBERMAN / RZILBERMAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Brook Lee, former Miss Hawaii and Miss Universe, was in town for last week's WorldAsia Television events in Waikiki.





On being Brook Lee

The former Miss Universe
shares thoughts on life, love
and surrendering the crown



CORRECTION

Thursday, April 1, 2003

>> Brook Lee was a Miss Hawaii USA winner. A story on Page D1 yesterday indicated that she was Miss Hawaii, which is a different pageant.



The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at fbridgewater@starbulletin.com.

A few months after Brook Mahealani Lee had fulfilled her year-long reign as 1997's Miss Universe, the fledgling actor had a chance to play her beauty queen self in "Miss Congeniality," starring Sandra Bullock.

"I could see the casting people looking at me funny," Lee recalls. "Then someone says, 'You're not Miss Hawaii!'

"Uh, yes I am. I have the picture and crown to prove it."

Then another casting person told Lee, "Sorry, you just don't look Asian enough."

That's about the time Lee, who returned to emcee WorldAsia Television events last week, decided to quit trying to be an actor. "If I can't even play myself, then this is the way wrong profession for me," she said.

Lee is 33 now, wiser, still beautiful, and seems more comfortable in her own skin than as Miss Universe. She admits it was "very hard" to step away from fame and even more difficult to decide what she wanted to do professionally and personally.

A long-term relationship with a Hawaii man ended months after she stepped down. A 3 1/2-year relationship with a Thai director ended last June, and she's now seeing a stunt man.

"I'm reinventing myself," says Lee, who moved to Santa Monica. "I would like to work more behind the camera, but I'm being interviewed for a lot of TV hosting spots."

She spent some time in Singapore honing her TV skills. "Maybe I will become the Emme Tomimbang of Asia Network or whatever," she said.

Lee hasn't lost her sense of humor, quick wit and in-your-face honesty.

"I was never the most glamorous girl onstage," she says. "I wasn't the gorgeous Polish girl who wowed you with her attributes. I wasn't the swimsuit winner. But I was the girl with the witty comebacks. ... I could quip onstage -- boy, could I quip, brainy and in a bikini.

"God, it was really very crazy and I was crazy, but I'm not as crazy now," she says. "Or am I?"

When producers wouldn't allow her to cut her hair before she crowned the new Miss Universe before a hometown crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center, Lee did it anyway. "Uh, you said what, Mr. Trump? Fire me, please.

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STAR-BULLETIN / 1997
Brook Lee gets a hug from her cousin upon returning to Honolulu after being crowned Miss Universe.





"I was ... being sort of ornery at the end. But if you had worked for Donald Trump for 18 months ..."

Trump has described Lee as a dark horse no one believed would win. "I would see him occasionally at an event, and he would say, 'Wow, you're a lot prettier than I thought you were,'" said Lee, who learned early that Trump favored "blonde Slavic types."

"I went to Trump's Florida estate for an event, and I came in and out the servant entrance, but Miss Florida and her mom stayed upstairs in one of the bedrooms," she said.

FOR THE MOST part, Lee said serving as Miss Universe was "a wonderful experience."

"I saw a lot of things I would never had seen and met a lot of great, interesting people, but the ramp back to the real world is bumpy," she said. "I was more optimistic about my post-Miss Universe future than I should have been.

"But you don't really know what you want to be or do after it's over. You don't even really understand what you were. You can't be that thing anymore, and you can't be what you were before that thing because you still can't shop at Foodland without five people asking you questions."

Lee describes that period as "the gray area of the un-dead ... almost still famous."

She returned to Hawaii to live with her mom for six months.

"It was six rocky months," Lee said. "No one here had seen me for 18 months, and everyone wanted to. I got offers to be a weather girl, support political candidates, even run for governor. If I went to a bank to cash my Oprah residual check, usually the tellers would make a big deal out of it."

But Lee believes it was more difficult for her ex-fiance.

"When I came back, he thought it was over for me in L.A. and I was going to go back to being that girl who had graduated from Chaminade and danced hula at the Hilton," Lee says. "But so many people in Hawaii wanted my time and attention, and I believed they deserved it. It caused serious problems for us."

Even after her most recent breakup last June, Lee says, "My phones aren't ringing off the hook by guys asking me out.

"There are two kinds of girls in the world: Veronicas and Bettys from 'Archie' comics," she says. "I'm a Betty and Bettys pursue; they don't get pursued. I'm just not so good at pursuing."

Lee says she's been called to auditions not because people are really interested in signing her, but because they want to see what a Miss Universe looks like. There have been a few who have been shockingly rude.

"I saw a couple of very bitter women who I guess didn't get to be prom queen, but they had to tell me I didn't strike when the iron was hot," she says. "They say, 'And you know there's a new Miss Universe in town now, and she is very hot and younger.'

"Like I don't know that!"

Lee laughs again. "Have you not picked up that I'm bitter, jaded, hard-hearted?" she says.

"I don't have the stuff I thought I would have in place by now: the career, the big house, the Kahala shirt-wearing husband, Waialae Country Club, model-turned-wife popping out kids," she said. "What I do have is a great perspective of what is really important, like very, very good friends."

She doesn't know when she'll move back to Oahu, where she owns a house close to mom. "I know I'll end up here, but I have to run my course first," she said. "Jason (Scott Lee) told me years ago I'll be in L.A. until I know it's time to come home like he did.

"I'm not there yet."



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