Welcome to the remaking of Apocalypse Now.
—Sean Penn, addressing his wedding guests
From above the bluffs of Point Dume, Malibu, a half-dozen choppers filled with photographers sent down a windy backwash and a constant din. Below, at the huge wooden gates fronting real-estate developer Dan Unger’s $6.5 million home, blue-blazered guards oversaw an I.D. check of all who entered, while inside others prepared for the evening ahead by arming themselves with infrared binoculars to scan the perimeter for intruders. One interloper—an Italian photographer in camouflage gear and blackened face who had been hiding in the shrubbery since 1:30 in the morning—was ejected and his pictures of the blessed event were destroyed.
That event was the marriage of Madonna Louise Ciccone and Sean Penn, perhaps the oddest couple since Marilyn Monroe was blown away by Arthur Miller’s cerebellum. What did they see in each other, this gifted but reclusive film star who shuns publicity the way bats shun sunlight, and this sexy rocker who crafted her dare-to-tease image in the photographers’ flash? But here was the former at the media event of the summer and the latter dressed in antique tulle and bustle like any other blushing bride.
Except for the airborne intruders, this wedding would be done in private before about 220 friends, family and professional associates. Among the guests were the bride’s seven brothers and sisters, her 73-year-old grandmother, the groom’s family and a coterie of chums, including Rosanna Arquette (Madonna‘s Desperately Seeking Susan co-star), Christopher Walken, Carrie Fisher, Andy Warhol, Diane Keaton and Tom Cruise.
They had been arriving for more than an hour, filing past a legion of reporters at the gates, past the elaborate security checkpoint, and moving out to the poolside setting overlooking the Pacific. Finally, shortly before 6:30 p.m. the principals themselves appeared, Sean in a double-breasted $695 Gianni Versace suit he had bought off the rack one week earlier on Rodeo Drive, Madonna in a strapless Cinderella gown created by her Like a Virgin tour designer and video image-maker, Marlene Stewart. Madonna‘s French-twist hairdo was covered with a black bowler draped in cream-colored tulle, her trademark crucifixes discreetly discarded for a single long earring and an antique pearl bracelet. Draped across her dress like a beauty contestant’s sash was a silver-and-pink silk metallic net, dripping with encrusted jewels, pearls and dried roses. “We wanted a ’50s feeling,” designer Stewart would say later, “something Grace Kelly might have worn.”
With strains of Moments of Love drowned out by the choppers above, the bride walked down the grassy aisle on the arm of her father, then let go of his elbow and cheerily spoke her final words as a single woman: “Bye, Dad.” Flanked only by the best man, director James (At Close Range) Foley, who sported two weeks of whiskers and a dark-green linen suit, and the maid of honor, Madonna‘s sister Paula, the couple exchanged vows in a five-minute ceremony conducted by Judge John Merrick. Penn then lifted his wife’s veil and, to the accompaniment of the theme from Chariots of Fire, planted a kiss on her upturned lips, sparking a standing ovation.
Hey, you’ve done this before. Do you just cut one piece or do you have to slice up the whole thing?
—Madonna asking Cher’s advice while cutting the cake
After the vows, waiters rushed out with trays of Cristal champagne and sushi, as Malcolm McLaren’s Madame Butterfly blared from loudspeakers. Moments later the newlyweds appeared on a balcony, just like Romeo and Juliet. Penn toasted “the most beautiful woman in the world,” and struggled playfully to remove her garter for the obligatory toss. The partygoers then adjourned to a white open-air tent and a feast prepared by Spago restaurant: a five-tier hazelnut wedding cake with sugar flowers, lobster ravioli, rack of lamb, swordfish and baked potatoes stuffed with sour cream and caviar. Table wines included an Acacia Pinot Noir from California’s Madonna Vineyard.
In the house an entire room had been set aside for wedding gifts. There was a 1912 antique silver tea service from John Daly, producer of Penn’s last film, The Falcon and the Snowman, and an antique jukebox with 24 of Madonna‘s favorite oldies from Mo Os-tin, chairman of Warner Bros. Records. A 12-place china setting in Madonna‘s registered Tiffany pattern courtesy of Playboy never materialized, despite rumors to the contrary. Just as well. Still peeved over the six-year-old nude pictures of her used by Playboy and Penthouse just last month, she had threatened to return any such peace offering (retail cost: $12,000) in shards.
Mad dog to mad dog one…do you copy?
—Ground-to-air walkie-talkie transmission to a helicopter
Many of the guests had carried their presents with them, because the security-conscious invitations hadn’t provided an address. Instead, friends were summoned to a joint birthday party (her 27th, his 25th) and told to leave a number where they could be reached with directions.
As evening fell, guests moved to a parquet dance floor set up over the tennis courts and lit with pink floodlights. Disc jockey Terence Toy opened with a Swing-era tape, then switched to livelier fare—Motown’s greatest dance tunes and Madonna‘s own Into the Groove. The bride boogied with her usual enthusiasm, even lifting her layered skirt during one fast-moving number to reveal a flowered-brocade slip underneath. At about 10 o’clock, the get-together began its slow dissolve. “It was all very intimate, except for those obnoxious helicopters,” proclaimed departing Susan Seidelman, director of Desperately Seeking Susan. “A very classy affair,” said another guest. “Like Tiffany’s with just a dash of flash.”
That probably surprised some observers, especially those more familiar with the groom’s public truculence than his private charms. While establishing himself as one of Hollywood’s rising stars in films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bad Boys and The Falcon and the Snowman, Penn has earned far fewer kudos for his antics offscreen. Notoriously camera-wary (with all but movie cameras), he has menaced most approaching photographers, refused interviews even to promote his films and last year irked Falcon studio execs by spending most of the movie’s premiere party behind a potted palm. Back home he tools about Hollywood with the Brat Pack, the stick-to-themselves—and equally publicity shy—group of actors that includes best-pal Timothy Hutton, Emilio Estevez and Cruise.
When Penn introduced himself to Madonna during the taping of her Material Girl video this year, it might have seemed to some like a meeting of the beauteous and the beastly. “I just remember her saying, ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!’ ” Penn told his wedding guests. He was smitten all the same. “Afterward I was over at a friend’s house, and he had a book of quotations. He picked it up and turned to a random page and read the following: ‘She had the innocence of a child and the wit of a man.’ I looked at my friend, and he just said, ‘Go get her.’ ”
The other relationships weren’t right because they weren’t fifty-fifty. This one is. Neither one of them is in control; she can learn from him, and he can learn from her.
—Longtime Madonna friend Martin Burgoyne
The courtship had its rocky moments. She spent much of the time on tour pumping sales of her Like a Virgin LP (8.5 million so far). He was in Tennessee making At Close Range with brother Chris and Christopher Walken. On one of her visits there, the couple was approached by two British photographers and Penn reacted with typical fury, allegedly beating off his pursuers with a rock. He was arrested and faces assault charges in October as well as a $1 million civil suit from the Fleet Street journalists.
Luckily, Southern California seemed to have a soothing effect. Just before the wedding, the young lovers spent a lot of time together in Madonna‘s $1,350-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in the shadow of the famed Hollywood hillside sign. Close friends and those who have seen the couple together scoff at the suggestion that the pairing may be a publicity ploy. For one thing, Penn clearly wants no such attention. And, says a friend of the bride, “I’ve never seen two more passionate people. Forget about the superstar stuff; Madonna is a girl wildly in love.”
As their nuptials approached, the couple prepared like many lovers headed to the altar. In July Madonna attended a wedding shower held in the Upper East Side Manhattan apartment of Nancy Huang, girlfriend of Madonna‘s record producer, Nile Rodgers. On hand were a dozen pals, including singer Alannah Currie of the Thompson Twins and actress Mariel Hemingway, plus a half-dozen menfriends dressed in drag for the occasion. That was the only offbeat touch: The gift boxes contained lingerie, a quilt, a push-button phone (sequined), jewelry and other predictables.
Two days before her wedding the bride-to-be and about 10 pals held an old-fashioned bachelorette party at the Tropicana, a sleazy mudwrestling club in the sleaziest area of Hollywood. Wearing dark glasses, no makeup and her hair in a bun, the star who made her name in music sat and cheered two others who were making their mark in mud.
He’s a very nice guy. He reminds me of a little boy, like he’s 8 years old and he’s got so many cookies he doesn’t know what to do with them.
—Stripper Kitten Natividad, describing Sean Penn
The groom, meanwhile, had other, though not entirely dissimilar, plans: an old-fashioned stag party, with entertainment by Kitten (42-24-36). Held in a private room above Hollywood’s Roxy nightclub, the boys’ night out attracted Chris Penn, actors Harry Dean Stanton, David Keith, Cruise and Robert Duvall, and Cameron Crowe, screenwriter of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Thanks to an open bar, “they were all pretty buzzed,” Kitten says of her audience. Sean “was feeling no pain. But he didn’t fall on his face or anything. When he talked, he made sense.”
Though Sean was slapping his thighs in glee when Kitten peeled all to the soon-to-be Mrs. Penn’s Material Girl, the evening produced few ungentle-manly moments. Harry Dean Stanton did arrive late, and when he entered, recalls Kitten, “Sean picked up my blouse and said, ‘See what you missed?’ ” Then he shoved Stanton’s face straight into Ms. Natividad’s ta-tas. She didn’t mind a bit. “Sometimes I do, but it was Sean’s night, and he could have done whatever he wanted to. That was about as wild as he got.”
Whether the months and years ahead with his hyper-visible mate will be any wilder—whether there will even be months, let alone years—only time will tell. In the afterglow their goal is a picture of togetherness. Madonna, ready to sign a Disney Pictures contract for a kidnap film, has been shopping for a joint movie project with her new husband. In the meantime there is a new midnight-blue $44,000 Mercedes to drive (a gift to herself), a new line of Madonna-wear due this fall and plans for a spacious estate on a secluded spot in Malibu. But visitors had best beware. When asked whether he was going to put up a fence for security, Penn replied: “A fence, nothing. We’re going to have gun towers.”