Confessions of a Main Line Housewife: Amy Burnham Tells All

How a former Saloon waitress used brass, sass and flirting with Ed Rendell to obliterate the image of the suburban wife—and become the unlikely new face of power on the Main Line.

 

Whoosh! A gust of chilly night air sweeps in as the doors open onto the theater lobby on a rainy, bone-chilling­ night that only the most fashionable would battle in order to keep a social engagement. A throng of movers, shakers and those who aspire to be both turn collective heads to see who’s walking in, and the tittering and air-kissing, previously a polite hum, kick up a notch.

The ex-wives of Alan Markowitz have arrived.

Film premieres don’t happen in Philadelphia very often, and while this isn’t exactly a film premiere—just a tidy little gathering in Old City for a hundred or so of the most influential, fabulous and, judging by the pulled and pinned complexions, well-preserved faces in Center City and on the Main Line—it’s close enough. Karen Jacobson and Babs Snyder, two women whose names at the top of an invitation command this sort of attention, have arranged a private screening of the buzzy new silent film The Artist, and the Social Whirl has shown up in force to see it.

Among those mingling are willowy interior designer Barbara Eberlein, power hostess Lynn Shecter and her lawyer husband Howard, Comcast exec Eric Grilly, Barnes Foundation fund-raiser Linda Scribner, and Rittenhouse socialite Wendy Rosen, wife of lawyer-to-the-stars Paul. Also nibbling the free popcorn and candy are Hilarie Morgan, wife of Bryn Mawr real estate mogul and heavyweight Republican fund-raiser Mitchell, developer Craig Spencer and his wife BJ (the daughter of disgraced fashion designer Albert Nipon), Andrea Freundlich, the wife of rheumatologist Bruce Freundlich, and a healthy contingent of Binswangers, always good for a party.

Ann Kiser, who was the first Mrs. Markowitz, dives into the throng, an imposing and elegant beauty who, with her alabaster skin and gamine neck, looks like a cross between a Brontë heroine and actress Elizabeth Hurley, accented with blond hair and artsy John Lennon glasses. Amy Burnham, who was the second Mrs. Markowitz, follows with her own round of glad-handing, though she comes off as slightly less delicate, a politician-on-the-campaign-trail-style greeter. Amy is in a snug gray sweater dress, tights, and Italian suede-and-patent-leather boots, but what’s most immediately noticeable about her are her impressive porn-star boobs, which she alternately calls “the girls” and “the tires,” as in, “I have to go in to have the tires rotated,” a metaphor for a trip to her plastic surgeon. Amy is constantly saying things she shouldn’t, which has made her both a lovable exotic attraction, like a zoo panda, and a popular party guest on the Main Line social circuit.

A graying gentleman nattily dressed in tweed comes up and grabs both of Amy’s hands. “Ann! How lovely to see you! It’s been ages.”

Amy laughs. “Wrong one,” she says, pointing across the lobby to Ann. “The first one’s over there.”

Such confusion is to be expected, perhaps, given that the Lucy-and-Ethel friendship of Alan Markowitz’s ex-wives—who only a few months ago were sunbathing topless together while on vacation in Arizona­—is a novel construct in the tight-smiled cabal of the Main Line. But then, Amy Burnham, the former boarding-school bad girl and Saloon waitress who has used muscular wiles and a sharp tongue to parachute into the lives of some of Philadelphia’s most powerful people, is nothing if not novel.

Amy scurries up to Ann, leaning in to her ear. “Drama!” she whispers. (Turns out a guy across the room is a former flame of Ann’s.) Just before the lights go down to start the film, Amy yells a few times to a woman in front, “Hi, Patty! Good to see you!” The woman waves back. Later, Amy will discover the woman actually isn’t Patty, which she’ll find uproariously funny.

Early in the silent film, the lead characters begin to fall in love while dancing. Onscreen, they’re trying to be serious, but they keep cracking one another up. “Ohh, I love that,” Amy remarks.

“It’s like you and Alan all over again,” I say.

Amy snorts. Another thing, among many, that sets Amy Burnham, 46, apart from other Main Line wives (and ex-wives) is that she’s a big snorter. “If I had been silent,” she deadpans about her marriage, “it might have worked.”

After the film (and yet more air-kissing), Andrea Freundlich, the doctor’s spouse, goes with the ex-wives for a drink across the street at Positano Coast, where, upstairs, Amy bumps into Center City psychoanalyst Anthony Tereo and his wife, who looks like a former Miss Universe. Not to be outdone, Ann dashes around the bar to say hello to several Pacificos, of auto-family fame.

Which leaves me sitting alone at the bar with Andrea, who, as a Dominican woman who married a wealthy white doctor and moved to the Main Line more than 30 years ago, knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be Other in the peculiar caste system that exists along Lancaster Avenue.

She casts a wary eye over at Amy, who’s throwing her head back in laughter—something she does almost as much as she snorts—with Dr. Tereo. “I worry about her,” Andrea says. “Because she is so good, and so kind, and such a wonderful free spirit.” She shakes her head. “And it is very, very difficult to be a free spirit on the Main Line.”

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