Legally Brown

You've seen Legally Blonde, but did you know Elle Woods really grew up in Paradise Valley?

You almost certainly had no idea that Amanda got more than just inspiration from another old friend. Brigid Kerrigan Thomas isn't here tonight. She lives in Virginia. But even if she did live in Phoenix, it's doubtful she'd be nibbling on a piece of pink cream cheese toast and giggling with the other blondes, waiting to get a stack of books signed. Brigid and Amanda go way back. Mike Kerrigan, Brigid's father, ran Jack's failed campaign for Congress in 1972. But, clearly, the girls have been in touch since, because Brigid's name shows up on the copyright for Legally Blonde, Family Trust and even some unfinished projects Amanda claims as her own, including one called The Perm that's a parody of life at Brown and Bain.

No one's talking. Mike Kerrigan says he'd love to, but there's a non-disclosure agreement. There are rumors that the girls had a falling out and that Amanda paid Brigid $20,000 to go away. Amanda's not saying what she's made from her burgeoning empire, but the first Legally Blonde movie grossed more than $40 million in the first 10 days after its release.

That doesn't count the royalties from Legally Blonde Barbie. Et cetera. It's enough to turn any blonde's hair green with envy. But more on Brigid Kerrigan Thomas later.

Barbie is on top of both the Legally Blonde book and DVD.
Barbie is on top of both the Legally Blonde book and DVD.
Barbie admires  Amanda Brown, pictured in the 1987 Arcadia  High yearbook.
Barbie admires Amanda Brown, pictured in the 1987 Arcadia High yearbook.


Photographs by Jeff Newton

Whether she actually wrote the book or not, Amanda calls the story only semiautobiographical, and says Elle Woods reminds her more of her mother than herself. But clearly, we're meant to think that Amanda and Elle are one and the same. And that's ironic, because Amanda Brown is no Elle Woods. Elle is ditzy and obsessed with nail care, for sure. But, unlike Amanda, she's no quitter. And she's super-nice, to use the Legally Blonde vernacular, which is more than some of the folks in the crowd tonight say of Amanda -- albeit from behind guarded smiles and those stacks of her books.

Tonight is not about such ugly talk. Tonight is all about Gerber daisies and strawberries dipped in pink-tinted chocolate -- and the continuation of the Brown empire.

Amanda's not done signing. A woman approaches the table, points to a blonde toddler racing by, and asks if that's Alexandra.

The author looks up. "My daughter? No, my daughter is the one in the ruby slippers and a tiara."

Alexandra likes fancy things, so Amanda booked three rooms at The Phoenician. The Brown entourage includes Alexandra's nanny, Amanda's personal assistant, her publicist, her hair-and-makeup guy flown in from Los Angeles, and her mom, Suzanne.

The evening before the book party, Amanda graciously agrees to give a tour of her own private Phoenix. The idea had been to drive past a few Brown landmarks and settle at a favorite old hangout like Durant's or El Chorro to conjure some memories. But after a pass at Phoenix Country Day School and her parents' former home in Paradise Valley, Amanda chooses the well-appointed bar at T. Cook's, which wasn't around when she was growing up.

Amanda considers a lemon drop but settles for a Diet Coke, leaning forward in her seat to check out the crowd. She's always been an astute observer of others, she explains -- it's the writer in her.

Friends recall that, when she lived here, she dressed a lot like Elle Woods, but there's no pink in her wardrobe this time. Amanda looks very San Francisco tonight in jeans and an oversize black shirt. She's got great dark eyebrows, bottle-blonde hair and a few freckles. Her only accessories: a wedding ring -- looks very Cartier -- and a tote bag featuring a blown-up photo of her Wheaton terrier, Gomez. (The tote, it's later revealed, retails for about $300. Amanda has another with a picture of Underdog, her Bichon Frise.)

Amanda was born in Phoenix in 1970. She's the youngest of four siblings -- by a lot. A "wonderful unexpected dividend," her mother calls her. Suzanne has been estranged from her other children since Jack's death. Amanda doesn't speak to them, either, saying they were never close. The stories -- including some told by Suzanne herself -- are apocryphal, and very sad. Incidentally, at least one was trained as a lawyer. Abigail graduated from ASU's law school in 1994.

Jack and Suzanne were in their 40s when Amanda was born, both heavily involved in their careers. Jack is remembered as a guy who had trouble turning on a computer, but who pioneered the practice of intellectual-property law in the United States, representing IBM and Apple in high-profile cases. Suzanne started the first contemporary art gallery in Scottsdale. Amanda was raised in fancy restaurants, and on big-business trips. She can recall going with her mother to meet her dad at Durant's for dinner. Afterward, he'd go back to the office. Those who know the Browns well say that Amanda was terribly spoiled, to make up for the lack of attention.

Suzanne remembers that Amanda was always smart, although it wasn't always apparent at school. "When she was in Montessori, the teacher told me she was one of the very best bead stringers," Suzanne says. "That was a sign of intelligence -- I hung onto that one for many years. Whenever she didn't get the grades she should . . . I went back to the bead stringing."

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