FIRST THINGS FIRST. NO, BUBBLES DID NOT CARRY the rings down the aisle.
In fact, as Michael Jackson escorted Elizabeth Taylor to the gardenia-bedecked gazebo where she would take Larry Fortensky as her seventh lawfully wedded husband, the singer’s beloved chimp was nowhere in sight. But what about his giraffe, which was also rumored to be in the wedding party? No. Did former Presidents Reagan and Ford show? No. (Both claimed other commitments.) Madonna? No. (She wasn’t invited.) What about the swan-shaped bridal boat? The hot-air-balloon rides? The antipaparazzi pits teeming with tarantulas? No, no, no!
There was, perhaps, no way the Oct. 6 Taylor-Fortensky union could have lived up to the prewedding buzz, which had hovered about Jackson’s 2,700-acre Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., estate almost palpably, like a swarm of overexcited honeybees. (When the ceremony started at 6:30 P.M.—1½ hours late—that buzz was replaced by the din of about a dozen helicopters hired by some media outlets to spy.) By the time the deeply bronzed bride bade good night in her pale-yellow, $25,000 gown (a gift from the designer Valentino), some of the chosen 160 on the guest list actually felt a tad let down. “People were filled with expectations that didn’t materialize,” reports one guest, who had thought Jackson would throw a wilder party. “Here’s the greatest showman in the world—you would expect some entertainment or glamour.”
Maybe. But Liz, 59, has gone for a solid, earthbound type in Larry, 39, a twice-divorced construction worker she met in 1988 when both were battling drug dependencies at the Betty Ford Center. And though their lifestyle includes cheeseburgers for lunch and a basketball hoop installed in the driveway of her Bel Air manse, there was plenty about their ceremony to remind the world of the bride’s celebrity status. At what other wedding reception could you find Twentieth Century Fox chief Barry Diller and his date, designer Diane Von Furstenberg, bouncing on a trampoline, while Valentino and Roiling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner romped in Jackson’s private amusement park?
For that matter, how many other weddings are guarded by a former Israeli army officer (Moshe Alon) and backed by a 100-man security force? Even then, things sometimes got out of hand. The guards could do nothing to stop a parachuting photographer from landing 20 feet from the gazebo during the ceremony. Nor could they prevent Barbara Davis (wife of billionaire Marvin) from disregarding Taylor’s written injunction against women wearing black. (Yellow was also taboo, because it would match the bride.)
Earlier in the week, as wedding guests gathered in Los Olivos (pop. 250), six miles from Jackson’s Never-land Valley ranch, the usually blasé locals (residents Bo Derek, Cheryl Ladd and Steven Seagal seldom attract much attention) camped out-at Clausen’s Old-Fashioned Deli to monitor the Grand Hotel across the street. Foiled in their attempts to catch any celebs entering the hotel for the post-rehearsal barbecue, frustrated stargazers began chanting “We want Liz!” and tried to sneak into the building. Bystanders were soon joking that Clausen’s had come up with a recipe for a Liz and Larry special: lettuce alone.
But uninvited guests would continue to toss in unwelcome ingredients. As best man Jose Eber, Taylor’s hair-stylist, and matron of honor Norma Heyman, a longtime Taylor friend, took their places and watched Elizabeth take her eighth bridal walk, on the arms of a two-black-gloved Jackson and her eldest son, Michael Wilding Jr., 38, the helicopter racket crescendoed, drowning out renowned soprano Aprile Millo’s “Ave Maria” and alarming the guests. According to Fess (Daniel Boone) Parker, a Jackson neighbor, “Frankly, some pretty stalwart men of the screen felt nervous.”
To those looking on, the words uttered by the couple and Hollywood self-help guru Marianne Williamson, who presided over the nondenominational ceremony (Liz is Jewish; Larry is Protestant), were mostly inaudible. “But you could just look in their eyes,” says Von Furstenberg, “and tell Liz was very happy.” Ignoring all distractions, Taylor and Fortensky exchanged vows and rings (his is plain gold; hers is set with pavé diamonds). After they kissed, Taylor placed a loving hand on her new husband’s cheek.
As dusk fell, the two moved down a tree-lined candlelit walkway to the reception tent. Taylor took Fortensky’s hand for the first dance, during which Michael Jackson and his date, Brooke Shields, cut in. Afterward, Taylor raised a glass of mineral water to her host, who reportedly paid for much of the estimated $1.5 million event. “You’ve been so generous, it makes me want to cry,” she said. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”
Despite the free-flowing Dom Perignon, chardonnay from Fess Parker’s nearby winery, platters of rolled salmon and five tiers of chocolate-mousse cake, a few tongues still found time to wag. Many clucked about the absence of Ronald Reagan—especially since Taylor had moved the wedding ahead a day to accommodate him.
The presence of the Fortensky clan, who declined limo service and arrived in their own cars, caused whispers among those curious about Taylor’s new in-laws. Still, the groom’s family felt comfortable with the glamorous folk from Hollywood and points east. “I thought they would be snobby,” says Larry’s stepsister Wendy Lacy, a teacher’s aide from Modesto, Calif., “but not at all.” The family was touched when Liz’s assistant, Jorjett Strumme, toasted Taylor’s mother, Sara, and Larry’s grandmother Mary McGill and then mentioned how unfortunate it was that Larry’s mother, Dot Lacy, had died in August and could not be present. “It was really, really nice of her,” says Larry’s sister Linda Mitchell, who works in a brewery in Irwindale, Calif.
At about 10:30 P.M., the newlyweds sauntered off to Jackson’s ranch house, where they spent several nights before a scheduled two-day tour to promote Taylor’s new White Diamonds perfume—after which they were to honeymoon in a secret location. As the party ended, there was endless musing about the couple’s future. Syndicated newspaper columnist and veteran Taylor watcher Liz Smith, the only journalist invited to report on the wedding, was optimistic and found nothing incongruous about the star beginning life with a man whose background could hardly be more remote from her own. “It will be fun for her,” says Smith. “After all, Elizabeth is no snob. Under the high gloss of her facade, she is really an ordinary woman who has led an extraordinary life.”
So it is fitting that Taylor found love again at an extraordinary place—Betty Ford—with a man who has seen her at her most human and vulnerable and whom she has seen at his. According to Williamson, who counseled the couple before the wedding, “There is obviously a very deep place within them where they connect and share a lot of love.”
JEANNIE PARK, with bureau reports from Los Olivos and Los Angeles