By Louise Lague
July 01, 1991 12:00 PM

IT WAS GOING TO BE THE FANTASY WEDDING OF THE DECADE—the showbiz merger of Hollywood’s most bankable star, Julia Roberts, 23, and her mercurial actor-beau of more than a year, Kiefer Sutherland, 24. Since this was a union made not in heaven but in Hollywood, some 150 of the glitziest and ritziest were primed to be standing moist-eyed and overdressed at (where else?) 20th Century Fox’s Soundstage 14, which had been done up to mimic a gardenlike paradise. But almost as soon as workers were bedecking the trellises and rolling out the sod…CUT!…Stagehands started dismantling the faux setting…Orders for the bundles of fresh-cut roses that would have adorned each table were canceled…Marcondas Meats, a gourmet meat market, was told to bag the order for the beef filets…and a local liquor store stopped shipment on the champagne.

The background murmur you hear is massive swooning. The four bridesmaids—makeup artist Lucienne Zammit, Julia’s agents, Elaine Goldsmith and Risa Shapiro, and actress Deborah Porter—had already picked up their $425 Manolo Blahnik shoes, dyed seafoam green to match the dresses, from Fred Hayman’s boutique on Rodeo Drive. Julia’s custom-made gown, described in one press report as an $8,000 two-piece number with a long jacket that would turn into a mini-dress after the long skirt and train were pulled off, hung unclaimed at the Tyler Trafficante West Hollywood salon.

The wedding cake, a four-tier extravaganza that was to be trimmed in violets and more seafoam-green ribbons of icing, went unbaked. But the staff at Dominick’s restaurant, where Kiefer’s bachelor party had been hastily canceled, feasted on the cake that had been ordered for dessert. It was an exact replica of a 15-pound roast turkey. A self-deprecating reference to some of Kiefer’s recent movies? No—a consolation prize for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner that he had been unable to persuade Julia to serve at their wedding banquet. “Kiefer has a thing for turkeys,” says a source close to the cake.

If every hyperventilated whisper in Hollywood is true, the wedding that went into turnaround is short on known motivation but high in concepts: big names, broken hearts, global intrigue, passion and enough overnight psychoanalysis to keep a convention of family therapists in Jaguars for years.

How are the two principals doing nearly two weeks after Roberts backed out of the wedding? “Well, what would you think if someone who goes on every talk show and says how much she loves you did something like this? He’s shocked,” huffs a friend of Kiefer’s. And Julia, who was due to climb into Tinkerbell’s tutu on the set of Steven Spielberg’s Hook this week? “She’s in a positive frame of mind,” says a source close to the actress.

Indeed. On Friday, June 14, the very day that Roberts was to plight her troth to Sutherland, the would-be groom was moving out of Julia’s Hollywood Hills house and into his own apartment while she was munching on a turkey burger at the trendy Nowhere Cafe with actor-hunk Jason (After Dark, My Sweet) Patric, 24. Patric, the man suddenly in the middle of the Roberts-Sutherland collapse, is the son of actor-playwright Jason Miller and the grandson of comic Jackie Gleason (Gleason’s daughter Linda is his mother) and a onetime date of Julia’s in her pre-Kiefer days.

Hours after the lunch, Julia and Jason caught a commercial flight to London, then jetted to Dublin where they chastely booked separate rooms at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, where suites go for $650 a night. “The engagement ring was off her finger,” reports a hotel staffer. “She looked very drawn. She had lost a lot of weight. Her hair was a pale orange, like a dye job gone wrong.” If the couple had hoped for peace and solitude, the plan went quickly amok. Hounded by reporters, Patric and Roberts, who had checked in Saturday afternoon, slipped out at dawn the next morning and seemed to melt into the countryside. Rumors buzzed that they had gone off to the Galway cottage of U2 bassist Adam Clayton.

Had Julia suddenly turned into a pretty fickle woman who was again ricocheting into romance? (She was engaged once previously.) Or was she merely seeking solace in the arms of a sympathetic pal? Is Jason, now the boyfriend, or just a friend who is a boy? The two have known each other for at least a year, but here’s a clue: Jason, who had been a pal of Kiefer’s during the making of 1987’s The Lost Boys, had been invited to the wedding but then, according to a friend, had been “uninvited” by Kiefer as the date grew near. Says the friend: “Julia and Kiefer had a big fight over that.” Then there was the one-hour Aer Lingus flight to Dublin on which the duo were “practically making love,” according to a gushing report in the London Daily Mail. But, as Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall recently told a reporter, “Julia needs a lot of hugging and holding.” Assuming that is true in the best of times, it is presumably doubly so in the worst.

The breakup may have caught Hollywood by surprise, but there were early warning signs that the romance was in trouble. Perhaps the most damaging episode occurred in February. Kiefer, because of a spat or because he was doing research for a role in the now-dead movie In from the Cold, briefly moved out of Julia’s home and checked into the scruffy, $105-a-week St. Francis Hotel across the street from Hollywood Billiards Parlor, a favored retreat. Within days, he was seen several times in the company of Amanda Rice, 24, a go-go dancer who performs under the name of Raven at the Crazy Girls Club in Hollywood and who has been known to hang out at the pool hall.

After first meeting Rice over billiards, he visited her on three or four occasions at work. “He always came in just before closing, and I saw them leave together,” says Marwan Khalaf, assistant manager at Crazy Girls. According to a fellow dancer at the club, the couple once took a daytime trip to Disneyland with Rice’s young son and Sutherland’s 3-year-old daughter, Sarah. Rice’s coworker claims she double-dated with Kiefer and Amanda and that the actor was a heavy drinker—a problem that had also reportedly cropped up in his separation from first wife Camelia Kath, 37, from whom he was divorced last year.

During his stay at the St. Francis, Sutherland, who did not have a telephone in his room, received calls from both Julia and his friend Michelle Pfeiffer. According to manager Fran Padilla, one of the women left the message “There’s always a rainbow after the storm.” (When Kiefer checked out of the hotel, the actor obliged Padilla’s request for an autograph and scrawled, “Fran, thanx for a wonderful stay. Best wishes, Kiefer Sutherland.”)

He returned to Julia’s digs in mid-February, but three months later came a crack in the relationship: Rice tattled to a tabloid. She quoted Kiefer as saying that Julia was insecure about her looks, overly possessive and, since Pretty Woman, had turned into an “ice princess.”

Kiefer’s publicist Annett Wolf quickly shifted into spin control and said emphatically that her client and Rice had never had an affair. “He has never denied that he met her, because he likes to play pool,” Wolf says. “He’s denying that he had a relationship with her.” Adds a friend of Kiefer’s: “He is extremely upset about this thing with Rice. There was nothing sexual.” (Crazy Girl assistant manager Khalaf says that Rice is now on leave for breast augmentation.)

Still, two days after the story appeared, Julia checked into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for the flu and stayed five days. Kiefer visited frequently. “He charmed everyone on the floor,” says hospital spokesman Ron Wise. “He seemed like a real nice guy.”

Amid the gossipy fallout from Rice’s account, Julia and Kiefer celebrated their engagement, and even a wedding date was reported. All seemed to be rose petals just three weeks ago when Julia’s agent, Goldsmith, tossed what was described as a very elaborate shower for Julia. Gifts included lots of lacy underthings for the glowing bride-to-be. Among the 25 guests was Julia’s mother, Betty, and at least one girlfriend from her hometown of Smyrna, Ga.

Two days after Kiefer had flown to his 300-acre spread in Whitefish, Mont., to spruce things up for their planned honeymoon, Julia (temporarily sprung from her duties in Hook) headed for the chic Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson with some friends. But who should turn up at the spa the same weekend? None other than Jason Patric. There, on Sunday night, June 9, after a supper of chicken piccata and peanut-butter yogurt, Julia, says an eyewitness, discreetly left the dining room with Patric, who appeared to be comforting her.

No sooner had Julia returned to L.A. the next day than the story that the wedding was off broke with a joint announcement by their publicists. At the time, it was being called a postponement, and on the surface things appeared cordial. But those in the know around town were telling it differently: “She dumped him,” says a reliable insider. Kiefer, according to a source close to the prospective bridegroom, wasn’t the first to know he’d been de-groomed; he heard about it from a mutual friend who phoned with the news.

On the day before she would have been married, Julia, wearing a Notre Dame baseball cap suspiciously identical to the one worn around town by Patric, put on her game face and happily hugged Spielberg for promotional pictures on the Hook set. (Her summer movie, Dying Young, opened June 21. See review page 13.) Kiefer wound up spending Father’s Day with his daughter, Sarah, at the home of his ex-wife.

For Roberts, of course, the breakup was not without precedent. She has a history of becoming involved with her leading men. She lived with Satisfaction costar Liam Neeson, 38, when she was 19, and broke off an engagement to her Steel Magnolias screen hubby, Dylan McDermott, 29, after meeting Kiefer on the set of Flatliners in 1990. “Julia is very much Miss Tinkerbell romantic,” says a pal of Kiefer’s. “One minute she’s in love with this guy, the next in love with another.” In fairness to Julia, she is a mere 23 and has been under the relentless pressure that comes with megastardom. Who can blame her for seeking fun and companionship away from the cameras? “The success you achieve on a professional level can have nothing and everything to do with your personal life,” Julia told London’s Sunday Express, ambiguously, in a story that was meant to run during her honeymoon.

Soon after Sutherland’s divorce from Kath, Julia was sporting a diamond, supposedly with no intentions attached. But by the spring of last year, she and Kiefer were living together. In October, Kiefer presented her with that hot Hollywood symbol of love—a tattoo (in this case, a red heart with the Chinese symbol meaning strength of heart on her left shoulder).

So why did Julia bow out? Had she been disenchanted by l’affaire Amanda? “It had nothing to do with her,” says a source close to Kiefer. “Julia knew everything about that. Whatever problems, hesitations or issues they had, they were all worked through.”

One issue that observers inevitably wondered about was old-fashioned career competition, often a factor in Hollywood romances. When Sutherland and Roberts began dating, she was still being described as “Eric Roberts’s sister.” Things were going at a happy hum last summer when Kiefer had four movies on the big screen at the same time (see box). But only one of them—Flatliners, which co-starred Roberts—caused any kind of stir.

Last February, after Julia received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress for Pretty Woman, speculation heightened that bucks-and-glory discrepancies could be a problem. Hollywood Reporter columnist Robert Osborne suggested in print that Kiefer’s inferior earning power and possible jealousy over Julia’s career might have rattled her. Then, just a week before the planned wedding, the Los Angeles Times mentioned that Julia will earn $7 million for her work in the movie Renegades next spring, while Kiefer, who is in the same movie, has been promised a whopping $2.5 million plus, more than twice his regular fee. But, says a friend of Kiefer’s, “the [breakup] had nothing to do with that. He supported her in everything. Think about who his father is [Kiefer is the son of veteran actor Donald Sutherland]. Things go up and down in Hollywood, and he knows that.” In fact, the elder Sutherland, who was in L.A. for the wedding, comforted his son. “Donald has been wonderful,” says someone who knows the family. “He cares deeply for Kiefer, and he’s also very fond of Julia.”

For the young couple, the chances of success may have been even slimmer than most. Both were 4 years old when their respective parents divorced, and both have continually sought out not just love but the elusive stabilizing concept called marriage, which they have never actually seen work close up. “The problem is not money, or other women, but Julia,” say one Hollywood insider. “Every time she gets close, she just shies away.”

Only the two of them know—or will eventually understand—if the averted wedding was a personal tragedy—or a triumph of good sense. But nobody doubts that Julia and Kiefer will survive individually, and it’s unlikely either will lack for company of the opposite sex. “Kiefer,” said Flatliners director Joel Schumacher before he took his phone off the hook, “is in a situation where you either grow up very fast or you die. If there’s such a thing as an old soul, he has one.” And Bob McGowan, who managed Julia when she was a gum-cracking free spirit seven years ago, says, “She’s major gutsy. If something’s stopping her, she’ll get rid of it. Julia will handle it, believe me. If she’s the same person I knew, she’ll handle it.”