Rock's bad girl Madonna and her lucky star Sean Penn prepare to tie the knot

By Carol Wallace
July 08, 1985 12:00 PM

The engagement of singer-actress Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone of Pontiac, Mich., New York and Hollywood, to actor Sean Penn, a member of Hollywood’s “Brat Pack,” has leaked out. The bride-to-be studied briefly at the University of Michigan before moving to New York, where she has become famous for wearing lacy underthings without any overthings, ruby-red lipstick and displaying a come-hither belly button. Mr. Penn is the son of TV director Leo Penn and former actress Eileen Ryan of Los Angeles. His films include Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Racing With the Moon and The Falcon and the Snowman. He is not fond of photographers and has been seen hiding his face with his jacket. The wedding will take place in late summer in Los Angeles. Maybe.

Their combined starpower should provide show business with the most glamorous—and contentious—pair since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. First, of course, they have to get to the altar. The moody but gifted Penn, 24, nearly made it there last year before his highly publicized engagement to actress Elizabeth McGovern fell apart. Other pre-Madonna flings included Bruce Springsteen’s kid sister, Pam, and actress Susan Sarandon. Penn, who can be boyishly charming, has always been drawn to talented women, and they to him. “There’s something very identifiable about him and yet mysterious at the same time,” says director Amy (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) Heckerling. Or, as McGovern once put it, “As soon as I met him he fixed me with those piercing eyes that ripped into my heart.”

Madonna, 26, seems drawn to men who can advance her career. But Susan Seidelman, who directed her in Desperately Seeking Susan, says, “I don’t think she needed Sean in opportunistic ways. Movie people are already beating down her door.” Still her past relationships with mentors like New York disco deejay Mark Kamins and later record producer John (“Jellybean”) Benitez have some wondering whether Penn will just be another notch on her crucifix. Others defend her choice. Notes Seidelman: “She could have anyone she wants. If it was just for the sake of getting married, she could marry somebody richer, better looking and more politically connected than Sean. It’s got to be love.”

The two met last February when he turned up (not by accident) on the set of her Material Girl video. She wasn’t swept off her feet but a friendship escalated into courtship. “He was somebody whose work I’d admired, and I think he felt the same way,” says Madonna. “I never thought in a million years I would meet him.” The two did not date exclusively for several months; still they spent much of their free time together. When she began her concert tour in early April, Penn visited her in Miami, San Diego and Detroit (he met her family there). He brought his parents along to the show in Los Angeles. At one point bad boy Prince tried to muscle in, but her affections focused increasingly on Sean. “We have so much in common he is almost like my brother,” says Madonna. “He’s really smart and he knows a lot. He’s also willing to play the outsider or nerd rather than the hero that everybody likes,” she adds. “His temperament is also similar to mine.” That may not be so good. Described as “jealous and possessive” with women, he once threw a tantrum when he found out that McGovern was inside a trailer with a male reporter on the set while filming Racing With the Moon.

Madonna seems fully aware of the potential difficulties in a marriage where there are intense professional demands, huge egos and forced separations but, she says, “I am attracted to ambitious people so you’ve got to take what comes with that.”

Will the bride wear white, like a virgin? Remember that just for kicks she had her seamstress make a replica of her pearly white concert dress in another color. Black, of course.

Written by CAROL WALLACE, reported by the New York and L.A. bureaus