No question that Shannen Doherty, 22, volatile, voluble Hollywood wild child, has had a headline year or so. There was her engagement to Chicago real-estate manager Chris Foufas, later canceled. A much-publicized bar fight with a wannabe actress, Bonita Money. A threatened eviction by her landlord, who claimed she had skipped on $11,000 in rent. And. most memorably, a plea for court-ordered protection by her subsequent ex-fiancé, Dean Factor, who charged she had pulled a gun on him and “threatened to hire a few guys to beat me and to sodomize me” on his front lawn. What, possibly, could Doherty do for an encore?
How about a spur-of-the-moment, no-parents-invited, B.Y.O.B. wedding to a guy she had known for two weeks? On Sept. 24, Beverly Hills, 90210‘s unpredictable star married her brand-new boyfriend, Ashley Hamilton, 19, the son of actor George Hamilton and his first wife, Alana Stewart, in the backyard of her rented Santa Monica Mountain home. Details are sketchy, but so, apparently, was the ceremony. Close friends and family, most of whom were not asked to share the moment, seemed stunned. Shannen’s mother, Rosa Doherty, a beauty-salon manager who lives in Los Angeles, said simply that she and her husband, Tom, a mortgage consultant, were happy as long as Shannen was happy. “Shannen wanted to keep it private and personal,” she said. “That’s all I want to say.”
Others were perhaps more candid. “I have no idea why he would do this,” said one of Hamilton’s friends. “It’s beyond my wildest thoughts. I don’t know where this came from.”
At first, there was even speculation concerning whether the marriage was legal. “It happened too fast,” says Doherty’s ex-fiancé Foufas. “I wondered if anyone verified it, if there is a confirmed marriage license.” (In fact, says Doherty’s publicist, Stan Rosenfield, there is.) Doherty herself sidestepped the issue, flying with Hamilton to New York City on Sunday night to host the Oct. 2 edition of Saturday Night Live. At LAX, in front of a posse of reporters, Hamilton conspicuously played with a gold band on his wedding finger. But Doherty’s only comment to the press was a snappish “It’s none of your business.”
Whatever it was, it started with flowers. On Friday morning, Sept. 24, Shannen called her favorite florist in Los Angeles’s Brentwood section. She placed a last-minute request for that evening: six separate arrangements of sunflowers and while flowers mixed. The occasion, the florist says he was told, was that “she was having some guests up.”
That same day. she reported to work on the set of 90210. During a break, Doherty approached an art department staffer and asked him to come by that night and help decorate her backyard—for her wedding. “Boy, that was fast,” gasped the crew member, who, like others on the set, was aware that Doherty had only begun dating Hamilton within the past month.
“Yeah,” Doherty answered, “I just found out this morning.”
By sundown, word had somehow zipped through town, and a dozen reporters had staked out Doherty’s house on Mulholland Drive. By 9 p.m. a handful of guests arrived and drifted in through the front gates. It was a twentysomething L.A. crowd, from casual to grungy, toting six-packs and snack material. A white wedding cake was carried in atop a cardboard box. None of her 90210 regular castmates appeared—not even Doherty’s closest friend, Tori Spelling.
As the assembled few watched, Hamilton and Doherty—who was barefoot and wearing a silk bathrobe—made their way through the backyard along a pathway of burning tiki torches, past bushes draped with twinkling lights and a swimming pool whose rippled surface was speckled with floating candles and sunflowers. “It was kind of a midnight Polynesian thing,” says one source. The procession concluded, vows were exchanged, and then, according to Doherty publicist Rosenfield, the couple signed their marriage license in the presence of a notary public.
Yet even with the nuptials concluded, questions remained. Why the rush? Why B.Y.O.B.? Why was that cake so conspicuously exposed to the news cameras? (According to the decorator from 90210, Doherty had no food or drink, except for filtered tap water, on hand for her guests.) Why didn’t the couple invite family members or many of their friends? Hamilton père, whose marriage to first wife Alana ended amicably in 1976, just laughed when he talked to longtime Daily Variety Hollywood columnist Army Archerd the following Monday. “I never told my parents when I was married,” he said of his wedding to Alana. But Alana, in Texas for a high school reunion, was said to be furious at the turn of events involving her son.
What was known was that the 6’3″, 190-lb. Hamilton, a fixture on young Hollywood’s party scene, had moved in with Doherty right after meeting her. Until very recently, Shannen had been seeing actor Judd Nelson, 33; interestingly enough, it was through Nelson that she met his friend Hamilton. “I hear that friendship ended,” says a Hamilton pal. A friend of Doherty’s speculated that, furious over her breakup with Nelson three weeks ago. Shannen impetuously threw herself at Hamilton. Indeed, one 90210 staffer claims that, a week before the wedding, Doherty drove to Las Vegas to see Nelson, who was supposedly there with a former girlfriend.
Others saw the marriage as just another typically bizarre Doherty episode. “This is in the vein of Shannen’s wacky life,” says one 90210 source. “She’s so impulsive.” Ex-fiancé Foufas, who talked to Doherty the night before the wedding but was given no hint of it, suggested that the marriage might well be a play for attention on Doherty’s part: “You know, she might have thought, ‘How can I slump the press now?’ ” Or, he muses, she might just be looking for a little excitement. “Look at it this way,” he says. “Five days a week you get up early and go to the studio until 9 at night. You have no life except what producers make of it. It’s possible that they are just two people who are bored. I know that Shannen is bored.”
In short, this relationship, all of two weeks old, has the earmarks of the peculiar tango—one two three, one two three, tabloid headline aaaaaand DIP!—the public has come to expect of Doherty and her significant others. But Ashley, who recently completed a stint at a Los Angeles drug rehab clinic, is no stranger to trouble himself. A dyslexic who was enrolled in a special-educational program, Hamilton has said he always hated school. “I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office,” he said. He graduated from high school in 1991, determined to make a career in showbiz as an actor or a director. In December he will appear in Beethoven’s 2nd (the sequel to the hit coined) about a Saint Bernard. A self-described rebel who loves motorcycles, he was involved last year in a near-fatal accident that left him bedridden for two months with 300 stitches in his head.
With his height and dark good looks, he has always appeared more mature than he is. “He does seem older,” his mother, Alana, told PEOPLE this year, when he was included in the ranks of 1993’s 50 Most Beautiful People. Growing up, she said, “he always hung around older kids.” (Plus, he got to grow up in the same household as British rock and roll star Rod Stewart, who was married to Alana from 1979 to 1984.) The same kind of age gap is true of his love life. Before Doherty, he dated actress Claire Stansfield, 28, for more than a year. Summing up their age difference, Stansfield once said. “I had to make him realize Eric Clapton did something before MTV Unplugged.”
Today, Stansfield, who spoke to Hamilton by phone soon after the wedding, says she is genuinely happy for the couple. “I think they’re perfect for each other,’ ” she says. “It was funny saying to Ashley, ‘Where’s your wife?’ He said she was in the other room.”
Another person who has long been close to the Hamilton family is far less sanguine. “How could he do that and not tell his parents?” she asks. “If he would do that, he no longer is the Ashley I know.” In any event, she says with a sigh, “maybe Shannen will make a man of him. Because he’s still a boy.”
As for Doherty, her friends hopes for her were perhaps summed up by Foufas, who nearly married her himself just over a year ago. “All I care about is Shannen being happy,” he says. “I don’t think she’s been a happy person.”
TOM CUNNEFF and SABRINA McFARLAND in Los Angeles, BARBARA SANDLER in Chicago and SUE CARSWEUL in New York City