Longform

Legally Brown

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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.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.