By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
The blondes are out in force for Amanda Brown's book party.
On a hot Phoenix evening in late September, hundreds of people are crowded into Borders Books & Music at Biltmore Fashion Park. White-blonde toddlers in fancy dresses mix with aging frosted-blonde socialites in pantsuits, snacking on crustless peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches shaped like butterflies, and salmon canapés. But the blondes drawing stares are wearing black designer halter tops, open-toed heels and late-summer tans with their perfectly straight, ponytailed hair. They gather in the middle of the room, and every time someone they know walks by, they all look at each other, throw up their hands and shriek, "Hi!"
Just like in the movies. For real. Because this particular gaggle of blondes provided the inspiration for Legally Blonde -- a film that begat a cultural icon, the character Elle Woods, who, in her own halter top and open-toed heels, navigates the halls of Harvard Law School with a heart as big as Gucci and no small amount of panache.
Turns out that panache is Arizona-grown, honed at Arcadia High School, where accessorizing is practically a required subject.
Elle Woods is a household name. She's in the New York Times crossword. There's a Legally Blonde 2 movie, a Legally Blonde Barbie, and this summer the deal was signed for Legally Blonde: The Broadway Musical.
In certain Phoenix circles, the name Brown is almost as celebrated. The late Jack Brown, who founded the law firm Brown and Bain, was the king of intellectual-property law. His wife, Suzanne, was the queen of the Scottsdale contemporary art scene. Which makes their fourth child, Amanda, a princess -- not to mention the creator of the character Elle Woods.
Amanda, 33, and her husband, Justin Chang, now live in San Francisco with their 4-year-old daughter, Alexandra, but the crowd tonight shows how tied to Phoenix the Browns still are.
Amanda's a girl who clearly wouldn't be caught dead with her own arms exposed -- she's attractive in a more mature way than her cheerleader-pretty friends in the middle of the room -- but her own open-toed heels peek out from beneath the hot pink cloth over the table where she's furiously signing copies of Legally Blonde and her new novel, Family Trust, the tale of a Wall Street workaholic, a trust-fund preppie and an orphan who brings them together. There are no blondes in Family Trust, but the book has already been optioned for a movie by Universal Studios, with the actors Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe lined up to produce it.
This is not your typical book reading. Actually, it's not a reading at all. Amanda figures people can read to themselves, so she speaks for just a few minutes -- tells the audience her favorite authors: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and Candace Bushnell -- then gets down to the business of selling books. (Some proceeds will go to the Phoenix Public Library, one of her dad's favorite charities.)
No one seems to mind. Their arms loaded with books, old friends of the Browns wait patiently in a line that snakes out the room and through the store. It's a remarkable scene, because these are people who are not used to standing in line for anything. Mixed in with the ponytailed blondes are some high-powered legal types, including Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Justice Mary Schroeder, congressional candidate Chuck Blanchard, current Tempe mayoral candidate Hugh Hallman, and Patricia White, dean of the Arizona State University law school.
It's tough to picture such great minds curling up with a copy of Family Trust, a, um, fast read that has been hailed in women's magazines as a fine specimen of "chick-lit" (the subgenre spawned by Bridget Jones's Diary). The novel didn't merit a mention in the "New and Noteworthy" section of the New York Times Book Review.
And it's hard to believe that these elite members of the legal community have deigned to rent Legally Blondeat their neighborhood video store.
But nobody's here for cultural enrichment. Even years after his death, Jack Brown still commands such respect that a federal judge will come out on a weeknight to a party where the hors d'oeuvres are color-coordinated. (Pink, of course.)
And some of Jack's former colleagues make it known -- in whispers, around the stacks of books they carry -- that they're not exactly happy to be here tonight. Amanda wasn't always the most popular girl around Dad's office. But anything for Jack, who's alternately remembered as an imperious dictator and a wonderful human being.
The Browns are a lot of things, but they're not simple people.
Anyone who knows anything about Amanda Brown and Legally Blonde knows that Jack and Suzanne's daughter dropped out of Stanford Law School after two years to write a novel based loosely on her experiences. The pitch: Valley Girl meets and beats The Paper Chase.
But you probably didn't know that the characters of Serena and Margot, Elle's lovable, bumbling sorority sisters, are based on two of Amanda's best girlfriends, Serena Churosh (née Kaiser, Arcadia High School Class of 1986) and Kris Wolfswinkel (née Walton, Xavier '86). Wolfswinkel's the one with the lucky scrunchie.
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.
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."
By third grade, Amanda was bored at Madison Meadows, a public elementary school in north central Phoenix, so her parents transferred her to Phoenix Country Day School. She could have stayed there 'til college, but Amanda wanted a bigger social setting, so she went back to public school, at Arcadia High. Many years earlier, another Jew who would go on to make it much bigger in the movies attended Arcadia. But as he's revealed in several interviews, Steven Spielberg doesn't share Amanda Brown's fond memories of the place.
Amanda gushes about Arcadia. This is where she first experienced the Greek life (at the time, the high school actually had its own sororities, complete with rush activities) and refined her taste for frillier things. She fondly remembers her Hello Kitty calculator, which she lost junior year.
Her sunny perspective on Arcadia contrasts with the back-stabbing, bitchy place -- the Petri dish for the "Mean Girls" syndrome now widely examined by sociologists nationwide -- that others remember.
Amanda found it one of the friendliest places she'd ever been, and even says the atmosphere there spawned Elle Woods' sunny disposition.
"Elle's whole character is inspired by growing up here, because what makes her appealing and makes people able to relate to her is basically that she doesn't judge anybody," Amanda says. "She's a warm, open person, and she's someone who really believes, you know, that the world is great, she's great and nothing's going to change that. Not the circumstances, not the way she's treated. She's not above anybody, she's not beneath anybody. She's an individual, and she takes each person as an individual."
To hear some tell it, Amanda didn't stand out in high school as much of an individual; she wasn't even particularly popular. "She was the girl who would go and stand next to the popular girls, hoping people would think she was popular," one catty Arcadia grad recalls.
Other former classmates don't remember Amanda herself as much as they remember the huge parties she threw at her parents' house -- a rambling affair off Palo Cristi Road with a view of the Goldwater mansion (which is probably why the popular girls let her stand next to them).
For her part, mom Suzanne has nothing good to say about Arcadia, or about Amanda's experiences there.
"She wanted to be popular. She wanted to be in these sororities. I said, It's such a bunch of nonsense, Amanda, because underneath it all, you're really a nerd.'"
Amanda set her heart on the University of Southern California, and got in. She set her heart on Delta Gamma, and got in there, too, but neither lasted.
"I'm such not a joiner, I de-pledged twice. . . . I would go through rush week, and I would get in, and then I wouldn't go," Amanda says, explaining that she hates meetings.
She was home within the year. Amanda says she dropped out of USC because they changed the math requirement.
That math requirement (she jumps on this topic in interviews; it's so Elle Woods) plagued her until she finally graduated from ASU in 1993. She says she took math every semester and every summer, shopping the Maricopa County Community College District for the easiest class. Finally, she says, an instructor at ASU took pity on her when Suzanne begged him to pass her daughter.
At the same time, Amanda had decided she simply had to go to law school. She figured it was the best way to help abused women and children. It sounds like a way to please Daddy, but this was her idea, not her father's, Suzanne confirms. Others agree.
"Jack was the sort of person [who] figured that, by the time that you were 10, you should figure out what you should do," the widow recalls. "He just said, Don't ever marry anybody boring.'"
Suzanne wasn't so magnanimous. She told her youngest daughter she wasn't cut out for the law. And she should know. Amanda reminds Suzanne of herself, the older woman says. Suzanne was in the second class at Harvard Law that admitted women. Even beat Jack by two points on the LSAT. But she couldn't stand it, and dropped out. During logic exercises about a man and his chickens, Suzanne says, her mind wandered -- she worried about the chickens.
Amanda wouldn't listen to Suzanne. Or anyone else.
Serena had tried to warn her friend that there wouldn't be a lot of dating potential in law school, reminding Amanda of the experience they'd already had with the legal crowd.
"Amanda and I would go to the Brown and Bain functions, and her dad would make us take out the rookie lawyers, and Amanda and I would just die," Serena recalls. "We'd be, like, What a bunch of dorks!'"
Amanda applied anyway.
"I took every LSAT class in the history of the world, and applied to like 25 schools and said, I'll go to the best one that takes me.'"
Arizona State's law school didn't take her, even though both Jack and Suzanne had been big supporters (he with Indian law programs, she with donations of artwork) for decades. But Stanford Law School did. Paul Eckstein, managing partner of Brown and Bain and an old friend of Jack's, insists there's no way anyone played favorites to get Amanda into law school, even though Brown and Bain had offices in Palo Alto at the time, and strong ties to the school.
Stanford Law School vs. ASU Law School.
You do the math. Amanda can't.
And speaking of numbers, Jack Brown's daughter says she can't recall what she got on the LSAT. In any case, much like Elle Woods, who drives from Los Angeles to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her Chihuahua, Amanda Brown packed her bags and moved to Palo Alto with Underdog. (One of her few disappointments with the original Legally Blonde is that the Bichon became a Chihuahua named Bruiser.)
Immediately, both Amanda and Suzanne knew it was a big mistake. For one thing, the place was super ugly.
"My mother said, I can't leave you here in this aesthetically demoralizing environment,'" Amanda recalls, dead serious.
"When I went there and saw it, I was in shock. You should have seen the people there," Suzanne says with equal gravity. She remembers a gathering area on campus.
"Never have I seen an uglier room. Broken Naugahyde on the furniture and a terrible green. It was yucky."
The students were equally gross, Amanda says, recalling that many didn't shower. She didn't like the students who had come from Ivy League colleges, and had even less respect for the Trekkies -- this was back in the early '90s, when Star Trekwas still hot among the pocket-protector crowd.
With her designer wardrobe and pink legal pads, Amanda did not fit in. Nor did she care to, she insists, but that doesn't mean her feelings didn't get hurt when there were no invitations to slumber parties and keggers.
"I remember one day in the bathroom, hearing two girls -- Sarah and Claire, as they're known in the book -- and they're talking to each other and saying, I cannot believe that I spent four years at a prestigious undergraduate institution to be cast in the same intellectual cement with that talking Barbie.'"
In the movie Legally Blonde, after a similar experience (anyone who has cable and watched reruns of the movie all summer knows the scene with the bunny costume by heart), Elle Woods marches to the computer store and buys herself a laptop -- an orange iMac, natch. In real life, Amanda Brown didn't even bother to buy the books for class.
She didn't pay attention at all. Instead, she sat in class with fluff-topped pens and pink paper and wrote letters to Serena, documenting her law school experience.
"I couldn't believe it," Amanda says now. "It was literally like an anthropological study."
Suzanne sent Amanda care packages with more pens, to cheer her up, and Amanda looked for a club to join. The Ivy League-only study group wouldn't take her, she says, so she tried a meeting of The Women of Stanford Law.
There, Amanda says, she met a woman who wanted to change the group's name to the Ovarians of Stanford, with the mission of changing the word "semester" to "ovester," because she felt semester sounded too much like semen.
The letters were such a hit that soon Amanda found herself overnighting copies regularly to several friends, who clamored for more. Serena teased her that she was blowing her inheritance on Federal Express bills, but Amanda couldn't wait for someone to feel her pain. She recalls that one friend, in medical school at the time, started throwing parties for her friends, centered on the letters.
When she wasn't writing letters in class, Amanda read magazines, and her favorite, Elle, was the inspiration for her original book title, One Elle. It was a play on Scott Turow's One L, an account of the lawyer/novelist's own first year at Harvard Law.
The schoolwork wasn't so hard, Amanda recalls. In contrast to Harvard, where the screenwriters ultimately set the movie, Stanford is described as a "kinder, gentler" law school -- no Socratic method, and you can take classes pass/fail. Amanda stocked up on canned outlines, and she liked the logic games where you pretended to plan a dinner party.
After her first year, Amanda came home to clerk at Lewis and Roca, a topnotch Phoenix law firm. John Frank, the managing partner and an old friend of her father's, got her the job, she says. She calls the experience "ill-fated."
"I was so miserable and so, just, not psyched," Amanda recalls. "John was the reason that I went there. He was amazing, and a friend of my dad's, and I just felt like I wasn't right for it. I felt horrible, and I felt like I was failing him. I just, I shouldn't have been there. . . . I got out of it pretty quickly."
So why, after so much heartache and displeasing surroundings, did Amanda Brown return to Stanford for a second year?
"I didn't know what to do. I've never quit anything," she says. "I will finish anything."
More likely, given the history of quitting she's recounted in this interview, Amanda went back to look for more book material.
Either way, by the end of her second year, she'd had it. She was engaged at the time -- she met Justin Chang, who does investments, not law, on a blind date (in real life she didn't have a Warner to follow to law school) -- and was planning her wedding. Bride magazine had replaced Elle for preferred classroom reading.
Amanda remembers leaving class one day.
"This one particularly horrible Trekkie was coming in as I was going out the door, and he knocked everything out of my hands, and there were Vera Wang sketches on the floor and, of course, he didn't help me pick anything up, so I'm down on the ground picking it up, and for the first time in two years, he said something to me. He said, Why don't you just leave and get married like you're supposed to?'"
So she walked to the registrar's office.
"I said, You know, I'm leaving. I need the form to fill out so I can quit.' And [the registrar] said, You can't do that. We don't have that form.' I said, What do you mean?' She said, No one's ever done this before.' And I said, I just want to leave.' And she said, Well, you can't do that, you have to petition to do that. And, in fact, you would have to petition to petition to do that.' And I was like, You see, that's the whole problem here. That's it. I quit!'"
She thinks she might still be enrolled at Stanford Law, which always gets a laugh in media interviews.
For years, Amanda couldn't go anywhere near Stanford without getting physically ill, but now she is finally able to go to her dermatologist, whose office is just outside Palo Alto.
Amanda says she wrote Legally Blonde after a literary agent advised her to turn "One Elle," which she envisioned as a book of essays about her law school experience, into a novel. She says she took a community college writing class, put together a manuscript, and shopped the book with no luck. She was pregnant with Alexandra when she decided to send out the manuscript again. She used pink paper to attract attention. No book agents bit, but the movie people went nuts. Suzanne remembers the day of the bidding war. She figured Amanda would be lucky to get $10,000. The final figure was much, much more. Amanda won't say how much more.
Jack Brown didn't live to see the movie Legally Blonde, but he read the manuscript and returned it covered in notes, in his typical fashion. Amanda says she couldn't read his legendarily bad handwriting.
Suzanne pauses, when asked Jack's opinion of Legally Blonde.
She finally says, "He thought it was funny. His view of the law was a little different than hers."
Amanda did make one friend at Stanford Law School, a brunette named Alexis Bircoll who was an academic star of the class and the inspiration for the character Eugenia (Elle nicknames her "Eugenius"), who didn't make it from the book to the movie. Now married, blonde and living in Los Angeles -- and not practicing law -- Alexis Bircoll Martin describes Amanda as "a keen observer of people," and says the film "really did capture certain individuals, who I will not name. Reading it, it was a blast for me, having been there."
Amanda had nothing to do with Legally Blonde 2, but she does have a sequel in mind, "The Perm" -- à la The Firm -- based on Brown and Bain.
"That one my dad was not thrilled about," Amanda says, laughing. "He knew about that, because as soon as I had Elle I was like, She has got [to get] to Arizona.' And some of these characters are just hilarious -- some of the lawyers in my dad's office just make me laugh."
The idea is that Brooke Vandermark, Elle's sorority sister who is wrongly accused of murdering her husband in Legally Blonde, gets remarried and moves to Arizona.
Elle moves, too, because "every day's a good hair day," and joins a law firm. Bizarre things happen involving Indians. Amanda says she's about 90 pages in.
So can she share specifics about where she's getting inspiration?
"No, no, no, I definitely cannot! There are a lot of lawyers with bad perms. It could be any number."
Along with The Perm, Amanda has several other projects in the works. There's Family Trust, of course, which may soon be a movie. Amanda envisions a series of young adult books based on Elle (like Elle of the Ball, in which Elle travels to England), similar to The Babysitter's Club series. The beauty of these, Amanda explains, is that she could just sell someone else the ideas. She's at work on a children's book. She's pitching a show to HBO called The Mommy Diaries. And, of course, she's raising Alexandra. The Brown-Chang family splits their time between San Francisco -- the swank Russian Hill section, to be exact -- and Malibu.
Throughout the interview, Amanda is pointedly nonchalant about the trappings of her success. She could barely be bothered to set foot on the set of Legally Blonde, doesn't really care much for the movies. But she just can't help but offer a sidewise peek at her glamorous life. Waiting for the valet outside T. Cook's, talk turns to child-rearing, and Amanda steers the conversation around to the fact that Alexandra is desperate for a bunny.
After all, she remarks, Hilary and Chad practically have a petting zoo at their house.
Amanda is up at dawn the next day for hair and makeup, and on the road before 7, packed into a rented Camry with her publicist, personal assistant and makeup guy. They all turn off their cell phones as they walk into KTVK's offices, for the first of three television appearances this morning.
Amanda is very understated again today, in a black blouse and khaki pants. In contrast, her publicist wears tight jeans and a tank top. The makeup guy's in shorts and Burberry flip-flops. He moves a chunk of hair away from Amanda's face with the handle of a makeup brush. The author schmoozes Tara Hitchcock, co-host of Good Morning Arizona. Turns out Tara rooms with Penny Goff, who's a good friend of Serena's.
Like, omigod! Small world.
Everyone seems pleased with the interview, and the entourage travels to the local ABC affiliate, where Amanda has an appearance set on Sonoran Living.
Again, cell phones off, everyone.
After that interview, the publicist rushes to Amanda, and they whisper furiously. Finally, they finish, both serious. "Okay, so I should put it behind my ear?" Amanda asks. The makeup guy nods gravely.
The interview went so well -- again, Amanda found someone who knows someone she went to high school with -- they invite her back to do a segment for the news.
Quickly, Amanda and Co. head over to AZTV, for an interview on the Pat McMahon Show. Until now, the assistant, a pleasant young woman who explains that she moved to San Francisco from North Carolina to work for Amanda, and seems to have the sole task today of driving the Camry, has been almost silent. When the group enters the small waiting area at AZTV, the receptionist asks if anyone wants coffee or water.
Amanda's assistant asks for a Diet Coke. The publicist immediately shushes her. "No, for her," the assistant says, pointing to Amanda, who's on the phone with her mom. The publicist backs off.
Turns out, all they have is Diet Pepsi.
"No!" the assistant, publicist and makeup guy say, in unison. They decide on two waters, which come in coffee mugs and go untouched.
Inside the studio, McMahon and Amanda reminisce. Turns out McMahon's wife, Duffy, once showed her sculpture at Suzanne Brown's gallery. Amanda shares a fond childhood memory. She was once a guest on The Wallace & Ladmo Show, the legendary local children's television show that garnered McMahon (who went on to be a radio and television host) his biggest fame as a series of characters including a little boy named Gerald and an old lady named Aunt Maude. The highlight of the show was a studio audience drawing for a "Ladmo Bag," a brown bag filled with potato chips and snack cakes, and Amanda proudly shares the story of the time Amanda's Brownie troupe visited the show. Suzanne persuaded McMahon to rig the drawing so she could win a Ladmo Bag because, as Amanda explains, "I never win anything."
After the interview with McMahon, Amanda is back at the ABC affiliate for the news segment, then running late for a meeting with the dean of the ASU law school. She shows up alone, has a brief chat with Patricia White, and the two walk over to the law library to join a group of students for lunch. The group includes two women in burqas and several blondes. They want to know if anything about the movie bugged her. Yes (for you LB cable fanatics), the "Bend and Snap" scene. And did anyone from her law school class complain after the movie?
No. "They didn't recognize themselves. Everybody thinks he's the smart, good-looking guy."
Dean White advises the students to "just think of yourselves as collecting material."
"Everything's material," Amanda confirms. After signing a few books, she heads back to The Phoenician for more hair and makeup, and a photo shoot. Serena and Kristen Spayd (née Borosky), another blonde friend, join her, as Suzanne, Alexandra and Alexandra's nanny look on.
Serena is six months pregnant, and complaining about it, but she hardly shows in a black tube top, simple black pants and the tiny black heels all the girls are wearing. Kristen accessorizes her black outfit with camouflage pants. Serena and Kristen have those matching purses with their first initials on them that are all the rage in Scottsdale right now. The girls talk about Legally Blonde, and Kristen admits that she never did read the book. Although it wasn't officially published until this year, Amanda self-published it in 2001.
"I sent everybody copies," she insists.
"I wasn't part of everybody' that week," Kristen says to no one in particular, laughing quietly.
A few hours later, everybody gathers at Borders for the big party. Suzanne Brown is lovely in sea-foam green, and even the publicist and the personal assistant are dressed up, but Amanda's wearing the same drab outfit she's had on all day. She looks tired, and her hand must hurt from gripping the Sharpie, but she also looks happy.
Most people would be thrilled to have their book become a movie, but Amanda was always disappointed that no one published Legally Blonde.
"It's very gratifying to see people saying your words, yeah, but I was never a big movie person," she says. "Great, but where's my book?" Earlier this year, a division of Penguin books published Legally Blonde, along with Family Trust, which coincided nicely with the release of the movie Legally Blonde 2. Amanda stakes no claim to the second Elle Woods movie; the credits simply list her as the creator of the characters.
But she insists the rest of her work is all hers -- even though the U.S. Copyright Office might beg to differ.
The copyright for the novel Legally Blonde, filed in 1994, clearly lists the authors as Brigid Kerrigan and Amanda Brown. And there's similar paperwork for Family Trust and The Perm. (The Family Trust materials, dated 2001, list Brigid's married name, Thomas.)
Brigid Kerrigan Thomas lives in Virginia and has an unlisted number. She graduated from Harvard College (where she gained brief notoriety for waving the Confederate flag out her window as a call for free speech) and the law school at the University of Virginia. She clerked for Brown and Bain in Phoenix in the early '90s, which could have been when she and Amanda collaborated, or at least when the daughters of two old friends reconnected -- but neither woman will say so.
Correction. Brigid did say so once. Sort of. In the summer of 2001, she wrote to the alumni magazine at Harvard College:
"As the Harvard Law Bulletin reported in its spring issue, the story of a fashionable blonde turned law student, which I co-wrote in law school with my childhood friend Amanda Brown, is now a movie. Though we did not set the original story at Harvard, its venue has been shifted there for Legally Blonde. Look and you might see yourselves!"
Thomas' father, Mike, a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., won't give out Brigid's number, saying, "I don't think she can give you much. She's got non-disclosure agreements," but does comment that the Wall Street Journal has called about the same subject.
Kerrigan pointedly says there's only one Brown he loves, his old friend Jack.
Amanda has nothing to say about any of it -- although she insists she wishes she could. "I can't talk about it, unfortunately," she says. "It's not a significant person or a part of my life," she says of Brigid and the time they obviously worked together.
"Suffice to say, it's my book, my idea, my baby."
And it's certainly Amanda Brown's party.
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