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Hail from the Chief

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RAISING HIS GLASS TO THE ABOUT-to-be-newlyweds, the President of the United States was waxing sentimental. “I have known Mary forever,” he said, gazing fondly at Mary Steenburgen, the actress, campaign supporter and fellow Arkansas native whom he and wife Hillary first met in 1979. Then Bill Clinton arched an eyebrow at Steenburgen’s fiancé of 14 months and told how, at a White House dinner in the spring of 1994, he had pulled Ted Danson aside and growled: “Listen, I love this girl. You don’t hurt her. Better do right by her.” In response, Clinton told celebrities and friends gathered at the rehearsal dinner on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., on Oct. 6, “Ted promised me he would, and I am taking his word on it.”

That White House seal of approval augured well for the next-day nuptials of Danson, 47, and Steenburgen, 42, at the $1 million Vineyard farmhouse they bought in the summer of 1994.

The weather was another story. Under billowing white tents that sheltered them from a drenching downpour, the Clintons, daughter Chelsea and approximately 200 other guests applauded as Danson (in a white tux and boots) “just sashayed down that aisle,” says Nancy Snyderman, a medical correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America and a longtime Steenburgen friend. “I have never seen someone so eager in my life.” Next came Steenburgen, wearing her gardener’s red plastic rain clogs under an off-white Elizabethan-style gown.

The ceremony, which began at 5 p.m., was truly a family affair: Danson’s daughter Kate, 15 (from his first marriage, to designer Casey Coates-Danson), and the bride’s daughter Lilly McDowell, 14 (from her first marriage, to actor Malcolm McDowell), were bridesmaids; Steenburgen’s son Charlie McDowell, 12, was the ring-bearer; and the groom’s 11-year-old daughter, Alexis, was the flower girl. Steenburgen was given away by her mother, Nell, and sister Nancy Kelley to a groom flanked by his parents, Jessica and Ned, and sister Jan Haury. The ceremony was conducted by the Rev. John Jackson, Steenburgen’s childhood minister. Besides promising to love each other, the couple also made vows to their children, pledging to always love and care for them. Danson and Steenburgen publicly thanked their respective exes for helping to bring the kids into the world.

Adding glitter to the guest list was a bevy of Danson’s former Cheers-mates: Kirstie Alley and her husband, Parker Stevenson, of Hardy Boys fame; Woody Harrelson and girlfriend Laura Louie; Kelsey Grammer and fiancée Tammi Alexander; and John Ratzenberger. They were joined by Steenburgen’s Philadelphia costar Tom Hanks and his seven months pregnant wife, Rita Wilson, and the twosome of Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern. James Taylor and sister Kate sang “Some Enchanted Evening” during the processional and, later, Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” Taylor’s ex-wife, Vineyard resident Carly Simon, did not attend the wedding, though she joined the Clintons for Sunday brunch.

The reception dinner started with littleneck clams, oysters and caviar, followed by free-range chicken stuffed with goat cheese and cilantro. Dessert was a four-tiered white chocolate and hazelnut meringue wedding cake. Later, guests—many of whom wore galoshes and brought their dancing shoes in plastic bags—shook a leg to the music of bluesman Charles Brown. Steenburgen took the mike and crooned “My Funny Valentine” for Danson, who, says the caterer, Jaime Schilcher, “was beaming from beginning to end.” Not everyone had such a wonderful time: At the airport Sunday, a tabloid photographer who snapped Harrelson’s daughter Deni Montana, 2, was involved in a scuffle with the actor. But nothing could dim the newlyweds’ glow. “That was the best party,” Danson said. “Let’s do it again next year.”


ANNE LONGLEY on Martha’s Vineyard and VICKI SHEFF CAHAN in Los Angeles