Just My Blonde Luck
by John Owens
What's the most intense movie you've ever seen? Taxi Driver?
Raging Bull? Maybe Do The Right Thing or White
My choice? It's a no-brainer:
Blonde? Isn't that
the "cute" movie currently in theaters starring Reese
Witherspoon as Elle Woods, the ultimately not-so-ditzy blonde
sorority queen who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School?
The classic Hollywood fish-out-of-water tale, right? You can
imagine the pitch -- "It's Clueless meets The
Perhaps. But it has been lurking
in my background for more than five years, and for one evening,
it held me in the greatest suspense since Geraldo went looking
for Al Capone's vault.
Why Legally Blonde?
Well, what else is there to see this summer besides Shrek?
(Not America's Sweethearts, trust me.) Legally Blonde
is a very entertaining movie, but it held my attention so closely
because it had the potential to tell my story at Stanford Law
No, I'm not blonde (at least
not a chemically altered blonde). I'm not a sorority queen. And
I don't think I'm ditzy. What I am is a classmate of Amanda Brown,
the author of the book upon which the movie was based. You see,
for years my classmates and I have heard rumors that Amanda was
working on a tell-all about our class One Elle,
as the book was supposedly titled. Considering that Scott Turow
and Edward Lazarus had little problem exposing the foibles of
their legal classmates and co-workers, why couldn't Amanda do
the same? Yet, when I checked bookstores for her work, I found
nothing. It was as if the book never existed. I thought I was
Boy was I wrong. Amanda's book
has hit the electronic shelves as an e-book (available at http://www.1stbooks.com/),
and soon will be available in bookstores. And it became a blockbuster
movie -- something not even Turow or Lazarus can claim about
Although the movie is set at
Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School is clearly the true setting.
An early orientation scene in which the law students introduce
their degrees before introducing themselves comes straight from
my orientation at Stanford, as do several of Elle's experiences
with obnoxious law students.
But what about me? On the one
hand, I really wanted someone to play me as the smart and dashing
superstud law student that I've convinced myself that I was.
On the other hand, I feared the embarrassing truth: that I was
a law student who studied too much, and was at times so socially
awkward that I left an answering machine message for one of Amanda's
friends that made the famous answering machine message in Swingers
look like a simple wrong number. Would it portray some of my
greatest triumphs, such as posting "Happy 32nd Birthday,
Dalila" flyers all over the law school, knowing full well
that my friend Dalila was turning only 26? Or my greatest failures,
such as telling one law firm partner during on-campus interviews
that I was looking for a firm where I could work 9 to 5? (What
was I thinking?)
It turns out that the movie
was loosely based on Stanford, with no specific references to
my classmates -- or, more important, to me. Apparently, the producers
concluded that my classmates and I were too boring to justify
two hours of celluloid.
But I was not off the hook
yet -- there was Amanda's book. The book made me really nervous,
as Amanda was its sole source, unsoiled by Hollywood's sausage
factory. In large part, my fear was valid. Many of the book's
characters are composites of several people, including my law
school classmates. Crothers, Stanford's first-year student dorm,
plays an early but important role in the book. And Stanford's
sadistic policy of releasing first-year grades on Valentine's
Day -- the Valentine's Day Massacre -- is accurately depicted.
As for me? I came away unscathed.
Or did I? A character named Johnno appears sporadically throughout
the book. Considering that Johnno sounds a lot like John Owens,
I became suspicious. Amanda describes Johnno as a "square
jawed, bright-eyed, athletic entertainment lawyer." I'll
accept that description, even though the "athletic entertainment
lawyer" might be a stretch. Yet the comparison ended once
I read that Johnno had "a busier social life than most students,
and to talk to him was to discover that he was not the brightest
bulb on the tree." That is not true. I had a busier social
life than all students, if you define social life as hangin'
in the Law Review library with Turbo, my ultra-cool black-and-white
Toshiba notebook computer.
Actually, I had no social life
at Stanford, but more important to me, I'd like to think I was
one of the brighter bulbs on the class of 1996 tree. Was Johnno
Amanda's poetic-license revenge? If so, what did I do to anger
Amanda? Or was this all merely a coincidence? There was only
one way to find out: I went to the source, Amanda. She assured
me that Johnno is based on several people, but not me.
Though I am relieved that I
am not Johnno (or even part of Johnno), I'm also disappointed
that I made such a minuscule impression on Amanda in law school.
Few can say they were immortalized in a movie or book, and I
missed my chance, though I'm sure several of my classmates would
happily switch places with me.
Did I learn anything from this
experience, other than a need to keep my vanity in check? This
experience reminded me of how important it is to respect everyone,
no matter who they appear to be. In Legally Blonde, Elle's
classmates don't take her seriously until she wins the big trial.
The lesson I learned from the movie and the book is not to wait
until the big trial to treat someone well; start at the beginning.
After all, that paralegal you've been tormenting might be the
future law clerk deciding whether to grant your motion for an
extension. Or even worse, she could be a screenwriter. And we
all know how big-firm lawyers come off in movies.
Article previously published
in Legal Times July 30, 2001 edition and reprinted with permission
of Legal Times.
Posted September 14, 2001