Longform

Legally Brown

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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.

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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.