Confessions of a Main Line Housewife: Amy Burnham Tells All
“I’M A LITTLE HUNG OVER, that’s why I’m having trouble getting the words out,” Amy tells me over the phone. It’s the day after the Eagles (surprisingly) demolished the Cowboys on national television at the Linc. She sat in a box with banker Richard Green (his ex-wife Marla, she says, “doesn’t talk to me. Whatever”), and was down on the sideline with her friends Jeffrey and Christina Lurie—she and Christina are having tea next week. Amy is very good about making liquid dates—tea, coffee, usually something far stronger. This is just one of the ways you become Amy Burnham in the first place:
You know how to rock a PDA calendar.
She tells me she bumped into Georges Perrier on the sideline and asked how things were, only to have Georges thunder back in his patented Georges way, “That beetch is leaving me!” “That beetch” would be his second wife, another Andrea. Amy also bumped into a high-profile heir whose relationship is evidently going kaput. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she says breezily. “There must be something in the water. Everyone’s splitting up.” She and I are trying to make a lunch date, which with Amy can be difficult, precisely because she’s so adept at it. And if you’re not on a certain level of the Main Line food chain, it can be downright impossible. “I’ll email you some dates, Lovebug,” she says, and I can almost feel the air kiss swirling through the phone. She started calling me this a few years ago—after we first met—for reasons I can’t recall. (I sometimes also get “Puddin’.”) I sort of like it, though, in part because it’s better than a lot of other names I’ve been called, and in part because earning a pet name from Amy Burnham is, in its own way, proof that you’ve edged into her inner circle. And, people, Amy Burnham’s inner circle is so worth edging into.
This is evident when she shows up for breakfast at Parc two weeks later, wearing a leopard-print blouse that shows off those impressive boobs, skin-tight denim (a trademark; the woman doesn’t own a pair of pants she doesn’t have to paint on), and thigh-high bitch boots that make her look like she’s just crawled off the car in a Guns N’ Roses music video. She wears almost no makeup, and just a smear of lip gloss.
She has an appointment today with WIP’s Howard Eskin, to get some advice on how to achieve her latest scheme: breaking into TV. That she has no media experience whatsoever, and that this might prove problematic, seems immaterial to her. She’s producing a series of webisodes about her take on life under the title Skewed View, which she hopes to have on YouTube by the spring; she’s hoping those, in turn, will help her launch a weekly program on Comcast SportsNet called The Extra Point, in which she, her girlfriend Iris Simms (a model on the QVC network) and a random gay guy will pontificate about sports in a decidedly non-sports way. (Think Miss Clairee from Steel Magnolias, opining about whether the new uniforms in Chinquapin Parish are grape or aubergine.) Ed Rendell—whom she speed-dials constantly, and who officiated her 1999 Gladwyne wedding to Alan Markowitz—already got her a meeting at Comcast. “Most people know the struggles I’ve had over the last couple of years with [the divorce from] Alan,” she says in her distinctive husky voice. “And they also know I’ve tried to show good humor. If you can’t laugh at your circumstances to some extent, and you can’t laugh at yourself to a big extent, then you know what? You’re fucked everywhere. Because that’s all you’ve got. And that’s why I’m trying to make a go at something I have, which is looking at the world pretty clearly and calling it like it is.” It’s not that she’s reinventing herself; she’s simply finding new outlets to be herself. “As Ed said to me, ‘You’re not going to make it as a mathematician.’”
The point she’s making—or at least the one worth taking away—is that she has succeeded, and absolutely believes she will succeed again, whether in love or money, by sheer force of will. Amy Burnham is, in many ways, your archetypal Main Line ex-wife: blond, surgically enhanced (though the nose is hers, and she’ll punch you if you suggest it isn’t), stylish, raising kids with suitably precious names (Piper, nine, and Colton, 10) and taking her turn as classroom mom. But she’s also far more than that. In some ways, she’s no less than the new face of the Main Line wife, a woman who is forceful instead of a woman who merely went to the right college, married the right man (or the wrong one), and decorates with the right flair. It’s moxie as the new Main Line currency.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our collective image of the Main Line wife is stuck somewhere with that of breathy Betty Draper Francis, with her chintz furniture and Bryn Mawr diploma. But it’s worth remembering that it was saucy Helen Hope Montgomery Scott whose friendship—and party invites—everyone craved. While many of her neighbors fight over what school committee to land and whether the Coach or the Burberry backpack is the one to buy for the coming school year, Amy Burnham is on the phone with Ed Rendell, swearing and laughing and making plans to elbow her way onto the air and into the halls of the biggest company in town.
“The words ‘Main Line mom’ immediately cause the hair on the back of my neck to go up,” she tells me as she stabs a fork into her bacon, eggs and salad greens. “Because there are a lot of moms out there who are super-cool and super-fun, and they can be the mom out front and can be the bitch in the bedroom, and I don’t think that comes across when you say, ‘Main Line mom.’ I think there’s a whole wild, Harley-H.O.G. group of us out there. We’re all undercover, and you don’t know it yet.”
We’re learning. Since her divorce in 2008, Amy Burnham has been doing something that would have been unthinkable for a Main Line divorcée only a generation ago: not only airing her dirty laundry, but washing it in public and daring anyone to say something. By refusing to set limits on what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t—she emails sex jokes to her friends (in one, a 1950s wife says to her husband, “My gynecologist says I can’t have sex for two weeks,” and her husband replies, “What did your dentist say?”) and has a plaque prominently hung in her kitchen that reads, “I’ll have a cafe mocha vodka Xanax latte to go, please”—she’s done something truly remarkable: become a Main Line power player, throwing out the prim rules of faux civility and resolutely, unapologetically being herself. “She’s a whirlwind, but she’s a good whirlwind,” says Anne Hamilton, who, as the daughter-in-law of one of the Main Line’s most legendary doyennes, Dodo Hamilton, knows a thing or two about the workings of the social strata. “When Amy is in a room, she commands attention. You know she’s there.”
“She’s salty,” says socialite Iliana Strauss. “She’s like Sandra Bernhard, only much better-looking.”
“Amy is not from the Main Line; she married into it,” adds Daniel Kalai, an independent TV producer and friend of Jesse Rendell’s who’s talked with Burnham about her TV aspirations. “I think there are a lot of women like that. There is this stereotype of the Main Line wife, that they’re all quiet, rich women who won’t do anything and who all live in this bubble. I don’t think that’s true. I’ve met some extremely fascinating women on the Main Line: doctors, lawyers, women who run hedge funds. What you find are motivated women with the means to do things.”
Like forge a television career. Amy wants to do it because she thinks she’ll be good at it, yes. But she also wants to do it for practical reasons: to earn her own money (she had a pre-nup with Alan, so she didn’t take him to the cleaners) and, she says, to be a role model for her kids, show them that you can always reinvent yourself, that there’s always another door to open. “You can’t wait for people to give you permission,” she says. “You just have to go in and barrel ahead.”