By Larry Sutton
May 17, 1999 12:00 PM

The invitation cryptically described the April 29 event at Ann and Gordon Getty’s San Francisco mansion as nothing more than a black tie evening of dining and dancing honoring Don Johnson and his fiancée, socialite Kelley Phleger. But the clues about the evening’s real purpose began arriving soon after, by the truckload: dozens of pastel rose bouquets, band members toting their instruments and guests lugging couture gowns in garment bags. When Johnson’s good friend, actor Robert Wagner, showed up around 6:30 p.m., the jig was up. “I’m the best man, for a very best man,” he said, before slipping into the cream-colored mansion in the city’s affluent Pacific Heights section.

Some guests, like Kevin Costner, who starred with Johnson in 1996’s Tin Cup, were simply expecting a fun shindig. “We should all have a party like this,” he said. Or a wedding, for that matter. In front of 85 guests that included family members and friends, Johnson, 49, the rugged star of CBS’s Nash Bridges, and Phleger, 30, a Montessori nursery school teacher, exchanged vows in front of Johnson’s pal, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who presided over the 15-minute civil ceremony. The billionaire Gettys decorated their home with roses and throw pillows, festooned an indoor pool with floating candles, and lined the walls with silk and flower butterflies.

The festivities kicked off at 7:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour, during which the upcoming nuptials secret began to unravel. (Although Phleger has been sporting a 5½-carat diamond engagement ring since last April, no wedding date had been announced.) Then, at 8:25 p.m., the couple arrived at a courtyard, where Phleger, in an off-white Chanel princess gown embroidered with but terflies, took the arm of her father, Dr. Otto Klein, and walked toward a tuxedo-clad groom as her mother, Jean, and Johnson’s father, Wayne, watched. “Everyone just went ‘ahhh.’ She looked so gorgeous,” remembers San Francisco producer Jo Schuman Silver. Best man Wagner and Johnson’s son Jesse, 16, stood by the groom’s side, while Phleger’s sister and maid of honor, Cameron, 17, and Johnson’s daughter Dakota, 9, attended the bride.

That Brown performed the ceremony seemed appropriate, since the four-times-married Johnson had met Phleger, a former debutante and Berkeley graduate, at one of his parties two years ago. “Don came up to me at Willie’s birthday party and said that the minute he laid eyes on Kelley, he knew he was going to marry her,” recalled Schuman Silver. “I don’t know what she thought, but I’m sure she found him very attractive.”

That seems to be the story of Johnson’s life. In 1976 he married actress Melanie Griffith, then 18. They split within a year and remarried in 1989 (the year their daughter Dakota was born) before divorcing again in 1995. Between divorces, Johnson and actress Patti D’Arbanville had their son Jesse. After starring in the hit ’80s series Miami Vice, the actor had publicized flings with a cluster of women ranging from Tanya Tucker and Barbra Streisand to his 18-year-old Nash costar, Jodi O’Keefe.

Indeed, a recent Los Angeles Times article showed Johnson going through several bottles of wine and picking up a blonde at a bar. Johnson later criticized the L.A. Times in a statement for trying to make him look “like an arrogant buffoon.”

The randy actor was on his best behavior at the reception, though, dancing with Phleger as guests such as Nash Bridges costar Cheech Marin, Esprit clothing cofounder Susie Tompkins Buell, society maven Denise Hale and St. Francis—Don and Kelley’s black-and-white Jack Russell terrier—looked on. Following a five-course Vietnamese-style dinner featuring lobster and sea bass, the music blared until midnight; then the couple returned to their San Francisco home.

Johnson had a 10 a.m. call on the Nash Bridges set the next morning, and he postponed the honeymoon a few days to attend the show’s wrap party. On May 3 he headed off to his private island off the coast of Vietnam with his bride, who many hope will finally tame the notorious party boy. “She’s great,” said his pal Costner of Phleger. “She’s going to save his life—watch.”

Larry Sutton

Irene Zutell in San Francisco