By Victoria Balfour Lois Armstrong Margot Dougherty and Linda Marx
Updated May 16, 1988 12:00 PM

Well, they finally did it. After six years as Hollywood’s most monogamous unmarrieds, after repeated reports that this time they were really en route to the altar, Burt and Loni at last found a way to turn beefcake and cheesecake into wedding cake. In a top-secret ceremony on his 160-acre BR Horse Ranch in Jupiter, Fla., Reynolds and Anderson bid one another “I do” in a simple 20-minute ceremony that was as far from showbiz cynicism as it was from L.A.

The couple’s love and respect for each other (okay, it’s gushy, but there’s no other way to say it) left hardly a dry eye among the 65 invited guests, who included Ann-Margret and husband Roger Smith, Robby Benson and wife Karla DeVito, longtime pal Jim Nabors, Bandit buddy Jerry Reed, Perry Como, Bert Convy (co-producer and host of Burt’s game show, Win, Lose or Draw) and 26 acting apprentices from Reynolds’ nearby Institute for Theatre Training. While five photographer-filled helicopters droned overhead (“It looks like Apocalypse Now,” said one bystander) and reporters, cops, patrol dogs, autograph-seekers and inquisitive mothers with prams risked sunstroke outside the compound’s wrought iron gates, the company gathered inside a small wooden chapel on the property. Reynolds built the chapel, a testament to patience and foresight, if not to cold-footed procrastination, three years ago with this ceremony in mind.

Hence the his-and-hers changing rooms—a handy feature for high-profile brides and grooms furtively on the go. Before the ceremony, Anderson, casually dressed in a white summer dress and sandals, was picked up by an old white Ford van at the Jupiter home of Burt’s sister, Nancy Ann, where she’d spent the night. After making a call from a convenience store, to let security know she was on her way, Loni arrived at the chapel undetected. An hour later she emerged from her changing room, radiant in the clinging strapless knee-length jersey dress and beaded white-lace top created by her designer, Robert Turturice.

Meanwhile, the groom had changed into a navy blue suit with red pinstripes and was waiting nervously in the vestibule. Actor Alfie Wise, who has appeared in several of Reynolds’ movies, tried to keep him laughing. Of their long friendship and the impending ceremony, Wise said: “Eighteen years of my life—I thought it would be you and I!” Burt finally relaxed enough to tell his best man, old Florida State University buddy Vic Prinzi, “I’m at peace with myself. I really feel warm.”

The bride was feeling anxious, but looking rather regal, as she entered the chapel. Her attendants were Andrea Sams, Loni’s sister, and Deidra Hoffman, Loni’s recently married daughter. Since Anderson’s parents are deceased, she was given away by Burt Reynolds Sr. (He and Burt’s mother, Fern, live in one of three homes on the grounds.)

Conducted by Dr. Jess Moody, a Baptist minister, the ceremony began at 1:55 p.m., the same time Reynolds’ parents had married. Burt produced the seven-carat ring—a canary yellow diamond surrounded by smaller white diamonds—he’d designed for Loni. (“It was the biggest one I’ve ever seen,” says a friend. “We kidded Loni about getting a sling.”) As he slipped it onto her finger, he formally ended one of the longest celebrity courtships in recent memory.

The Burt and Loni show had been sputtering toward the altar soon after they first laid eyes on each other on the Merv Griffin Show in 1981. Anderson had been married twice before; once when she was 18, to the brother of a fellow Miss Minnesota beauty pageant contestant. “Let’s say it lasted about 20 minutes,” she once said. The actual elapsed time: three months. After the divorce Loni, pregnant, moved back in with her family in St. Paul and had her child, Deidra, 23, now a junior high school history teacher in L.A. In 1974 she married actor Ross Bickell. Eight years later her career—courtesy of CBS’ WKRP in Cincinnati—had taken off. Bickell’s had not. They split.

Reynolds’ previous nuptial credit is a 1963 marriage to actress Judy Came, which he has said “lasted about an hour and a half.” Make that two years. Since then he has avoided anything romantically contractual, though in the pre-Loni years he squired some of the world’s most famous women, including Chris Evert, Dinah Shore and Sally Field.

So, fans want to know, why are Burt, 52, and Loni, 41, bothering to get married now? Confidantes say it’s just a matter of time. “They’ve been talking about marriage for a long while,” says Lynda Carter, Anderson’s friend since they co-starred in NBC’s 1984 Partners in Crime. “They finally came to the point where they said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It wasn’t spur of the moment, although it’s about time Burt did it.”

Linda Jensen, Anderson’s personal manager for eight years, agrees. “They had a lot of time to see how they got along, and things were going well. Loni was real hesitant about marrying. They’d both had marriages that didn’t work, and they wanted to be sure this one would.”

Anderson and Reynolds have been seeing each other steadily since they began dating in 1982. Four years ago Loni moved into Burt’s Spanish-style Holmby Hills, Calif., home and later sold her own Sherman Oaks house. Since then they’ve become a good mix of opposites. “Loni is more elegant,” says best man Vic Prinzi, who works as a stockbroker in Tampa. “She’s a classy lady. Burt’s a warm jockstrap. The thing that makes him happiest is sports.”

Or planning a wedding. Because of Loni’s busy schedule (she just appeared in Necessity on CBS, recently finished filming an ABC movie, A Whisper Kills, airing May 16, and is set to start an NBC movie, Leave Her to Heaven), Burt mapped out all the wedding details himself. “I hate to say I just showed up,” Anderson told Jensen, “but basically that’s what I did.”

Reynolds operated in secrecy. Although the date had been set in late March, invitations didn’t go out until a week beforehand. Palm Beach County Clerk John Dunkle made a house call at the couple’s Jupiter home to prepare the marriage license, saving them a trip to his office, and the prenuptial agreement was drawn up by a local Florida attorney. Orders for the reception—like one for 15,000 pounds of ice—were said to be in preparation for the wedding of one of Burt’s students.

Sure. Folks in the Jupiter neighborhood—where Reynolds owns homes, several restaurants, an office building and a dinner theater—quickly got wise. By wedding day the Village Cafe in North Palm Beach was advertising such specials as “the Loni Burger, stacked all the way,” and “the Burt Sandwich, ham with a lot of lettuce and adorable buns.”

The reception turned out to be one of Reynolds’ most successful productions in years. The ranch’s 72 foot by 80 foot helicopter hangar was emptied of aircraft and festooned with nearly 100 trees and plants—ficus, ferns and eucalyptus. Each of 12 tables had centerpieces of white dogwood, lilacs and tulips. Gardenia bushes were clustered by the champagne tables, and the three-tiered, heart-shaped wedding cake—yellow layers, white frosting—had a specially constructed gazebo all to itself. Burt requested a repast along “country buffet” lines. Translation: coconut shrimp; baby beef Wellington; Belgian endive with caviar; a seafood bar with raw oysters, crab claws, shrimp and clams; Brie baked in pastry served with kiwi; salmon mousse cake; ham served with mango chutney; corn muffins and biscuits; vegetables; and fresh strawberries with chocolate fondue for dessert.

After the newlyweds arrived at the hangar in a motorized stagecoach, guests went searching for hankies as Burt toasted his bride. “I’m a very lucky man,” he beamed. “I’m surrounded by love and dear friends, and I married my best friend today.” Loni didn’t miss a beat. “I feel like Cinderella,” she returned. “I married Prince Charming.”

Jim Nabors, who sang the Lord’s Prayer and “Our Love Is Here to Stay” during the ceremony, offered “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” at the reception. Bert Convy piped in with “Just the Way You Are.” The acting students ran through a teary “When I Fall in Love.” No wonder Robby Benson calls it an emotional wedding. “We all cried,” he says. “It couldn’t have been lovelier. They looked like the perfect couple, the kind you see on the top of a wedding cake, only bigger.”

By 5:30 it was time for the next scene. Burt and Loni boarded a chopper, took off for a friend’s 125-foot yacht, The Golden Eagle (anchored off the Florida Keys), then set sail for a 10-day honeymoon cruise around the Bahamas. The acting students hung around and danced for a while, then took some of the leftovers and headed back for their evening performance of I’m Not Rappaport at the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theatre. A crew of Burt’s cronies followed Vic Prinzi to Harpoon Louie’s, a local restaurant, where several toasts were made to the departed bride and groom. “It was a real dream day,” concludes Linda Jensen. “Everything went off without a hitch.” Well, almost.

—By Margot Dougherty, with Linda Marx and Victoria Balfour in Jupiter and Lois Armstrong in Los Angeles