A Fresh Prince and his princess go before a real man in black at a swank—and ultrasecret—New Year's Eve affair

By Alex Tresmowski
Updated January 19, 1998 12:00 PM

HOW, PRAY TELL, DOES WILL SMITH LOVE Jada Pinkett? Let us count the vase. It was Pinkett’s 25th birthday—and also her first day as the star of Woo, a romantic comedy due in March—when a delivery truck pulled up to the movie’s Brooklyn set. “Will sent her an entire truckload of flowers,” says Beth Hubbard, Woo’s producer. “There were vases and vases. Jada was very happy, but I don’t know how surprised she was, because that’s the way Will is. He just adores her.”

Indeed, Smith’s love runs deeper than the profit streams of his last two movies, Independence Day and Men in Black. And now that love is official: In the waning hours of 1997, Smith, 29, became the Man in an Off-White Suit as he and Pinkett, 26, got married in the most lavish and secretive celebrity wedding of the year. Amid dizzying security measures fit for a President—guests’ IDs were scrutinized at two different checkpoints—100 or so friends and relatives gathered at the Cloisters, a medieval-style mansion near Pinkett’s hometown of Baltimore. There they watched and wept as one of filmdom’s hottest couples finally tied the knot in a pricey yet glitz-free affair. “It wasn’t ostentatious,” says Virginia Remsberg, property coordinator for the Cloisters. “There was nothing that screamed ‘Hollywood.'”

Nothing, that is, except for a guest list that included Jasmine Guy (A Different World) and Tisha Campbell (Martin) and a musical performance by a major pop star: the groom. Remsberg calls the affair “simple”—but that’s only compared with an alien invasion in one of Smith’s movies. The wedding involved acres of lush velvet draping, limos for the guests, hundreds of gilded magnolia leaves from Virginia and burgundy calla lilies flown in from New Zealand. Still, the most memorable part of the ceremony, conducted in the Cloisters’ Gallery, occurred when Smith and Pinkett read letters they wrote professing their love. According to one guest, “everyone was bawling” when Pinkett read her letter, in which she noted how honored she is to be a part of Smith’s life. When she finished, Smith asked the pastor, “Can I kiss her now?”

For months, Smith and Pinkett have been one of Hollywood’s happiest couples. They met in 1990, when Smith, who grew up in middle-class West Philadelphia, Pa., was starting his NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He was already a star as one half of the popular rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Pinkett had just moved from Baltimore to Hollywood and was auditioning for the role of Smith’s girlfriend on the show. She didn’t get it: Producers thought that at 5′, she was too short for the 6’2″ Smith. As Pinkett left the set, she brushed right past Smith. “He’s like, ‘What’s up?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, how you doing?'” Pinkett told PEOPLE in 1996. “I was ticked off that I didn’t get the job.”

Over the next few years, though, the two discovered they had mutual friends and became close pals. When Smith’s first marriage, to Sheree Zampino, ended in 1995 (they had a son, Will III, known as Trey and now 5 years old), Smith and Pinkett became even closer. “I helped him understand what happened in his marriage,” said Pinkett, who soon realized that Smith was her soulmate. “Will gave me a safety net,” she said. “No matter what, he’d be willing to work things out.” Smith told PEOPLE in 1996 that his coupling with Pinkett came as “a huge surprise. You don’t know about all the walls you build up in your mind and heart until someone comes along and tears them down. Outside of my mother, Jada’s the first person with whom I can share what I think and what I feel so freely.”

As their romance blossomed, so did their careers. Smith wrapped up Fresh Prince in 1996, then starred in Independence Day, playing a fighter pilot who kicks alien butt. The movie grossed $306 million and became 1996’s biggest hit. Smith scored again as another alien exterminator in Men in Black, which topped last year’s box office charts at $249 million. (Smith now reportedly earns $12 million a movie.) Pinkett, who acted for two seasons on NBC’s A Different World, had plum roles in 1994’s Jason’s Lyric and 1996’s Set It Off before joining the gen-X ensemble of Scream 2.

The couple spent time together in Smith’s 8,000-square-foot Spanish hacienda an hour outside L.A. but seemed in no rush to formalize their union. “He was always saying, ‘Let’s get married,'” says Ron del Barrio, Smith’s friend and golf pro. “But Jada was never ready.” Smith finally got the answer he wanted when he popped the question in November—then things got hectic in a hurry. “One day we got engaged,” Pinkett told PEOPLE last year, “and the next day we found out we were pregnant.”

Once they settled on a date and an appropriately romantic location, Smith and Pinkett started planning their dream wedding. “Jada wanted it simple but elegant,” says David Weinschel, the Sterling, Va., events planner who put together the shindig. “The intent was not to be opulent,” he says, adding, “I could have gone crazy.” Weinschel bathed the building in gold floodlights (Pinkett’s idea) and also decorated the outside of the 65-year-old mansion with twinkling lights and burgundy ribbons. He fit 34 bare windows with sheer curtains, placed 300 candles inside the mansion and stuffed the place with floral arrangements that included burgundy-kangaroo paws from New Zealand and white hydrangeas from Holland. All told, eight decorators spent 10 hours making Pinkett’s fairy tale come to life.

But the biggest challenge was keeping the whole thing a secret. To prevent leaks to the media, no invitations were sent out; instead, guests arrived in Baltimore, then were put up in the posh Harbor Court Hotel and the Tremont Plaza. On the morning of the ceremony, they were given envelopes with directions and told to hand them to their limo drivers (a fleet of 35 limos was hired for the day). “It was,” says Weinschel, “a wonderful adventure for the guests.”

Pinkett arrived at the Cloisters early in the afternoon. “There were no jitters,” says Remsberg. “Everyone was just laughing and talking.” The actress had settled on a plain velvet Susan Lazar gown that was an exact duplicate of her grandmother’s wedding dress, but a week before the event she decided to go with something original: a high-necked, champagne-colored, hand-dyed, silk velvet Badgley Mischka gown. “She was stunning,” says Remsberg. “With the glow of pregnancy and the bridal glow, she was absolutely luminescent.”

Smith showed up a while later with friends and son Trey. To relax, he played chess before donning his matching Badgley Mischka suit and ascot. The ceremony began around 8 p.m., with accompaniment by the all-male a cappella group Infinity. First down the aisle was a miniature wedding party—Trey, Smith’s 8-year-old nephew Kyle and Jada’s goddaughter Tamara Cannie, 7. But there were no bridesmaids or even a best man, and no one gave the bride away. Instead, Smith and Pinkett walked down the aisle together. “That added to the simplicity,” says Weinschel. After they read their letters, Pastor Marvis May of Baltimore’s Macedonia Baptist Church pronounced the stars man and wife—and the guests cheered.

At the postwedding party, a large buffet table groaned under sumptuous displays of poached salmon and smoked turkey (Pinkett’s edict: no red meat). On the second floor, a deejay spun records as guests kicked up a storm. “They were rocking the night away,” says Weinschel. “The house was hopping.” Leading the charge was Smith, who jumped onstage with Trey and sang, “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” from his new album Big Willie Style.

Smith and Pinkett left around 1 a.m. and retreated to their rented condo, overlooking Baltimore’s inner harbor. The next day some 80 guests gathered there for brunch, at which the newlyweds “were hamming it up and having a fine old time,” says Weinschel. Good thing, because the couple could only manage a shortened, three-day honeymoon in Miami before Smith—accompanied by his wife, who is expecting their first baby in July—headed to the Washington-area set of his next movie, Enemy of the State.

But who needs a long honeymoon when you’ve got the kind of everyday bliss that Smith and Pinkett seem to enjoy? “There is nothing that I can’t share with him,” Pinkett told PEOPLE in 1996. “That doesn’t mean that this is perfect, but it’s the closest thing to perfect you can get.”