Why rent a castle when you've got the King?
If you, along with the tabloid press, think Tom Cruise’s wedding last weekend at a 15th century Italian castle was the “wedding of the year,” I’ve got news for you. It wasn’t.
Sure, a few million dollars will get you fitted for a Giorgio Armani Hand Made to Measure tuxedo and Cartier-designed rings to share with your bride.
But earlier this month, another wedding took place that offered as much of a spectacle and far more surprises than Cruise’s made-for-Hollywood production.
The moment of truth for me — when I thought my wedding might be the best — arrived early in the ceremony when the minister turned down the volume on Mozart’s wedding march. An awkward silence ensued. That’s when my blushing bride, Leslie, at the far end of the chapel, yelled out: “Hit it, Elvis.”
On cue, the King, decked out in a flashy red sports jacket, grabbed a microphone and belted out “It’s Now or Never” before a crowd of 45 wide-eyed wedding guests.
I couldn’t have been happier.
If you want to get married in Las Vegas — and about 500 couples do each day — booking a date at the Little White Wedding Chapel is the next best thing to renting out a medieval castle on the coast of Italy.
I mean how can you pass up a 55-year-old chapel that has, among its brides and grooms, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Joan Collins, Mickey Rooney (two times), Michael Jordan, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, plus Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Two years ago, Britney Spears sashayed down the aisle. Sadly, her marriage lasted only 54 hours. Sometimes even historic surroundings can’t undo bad karma.
I must admit Cruise had a better view from his castle’s promenade than we did from the Little White Wedding Chapel. Just outside the “Tunnel of Vows” (yes, you can get hitched at the chapel’s drive-thru window), a tall sign reads: “Strippers.” Below, in slightly smaller lettering, are etched these enticing words: “Nude Daily.” We didn’t know about the strip joint when we scheduled our wedding several months ago.
We picked a 5 p.m. ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 11, and chose from a long list of options the Romance Package. For $391 (Elvis was extra), we got a minister, 24 photographs, a bouquet for the bride, a stretch limo and unlimited access to the chapel’s wedding planners. We made contact with five of them. Our most memorable was Jerry, who had been a Budweiser beer distributor for 25 years. How’s that for qualifications?
With guests flying in from 12 different states around the country, the hours leading up to our appointed marriage got to be a bit hectic. Surprisingly, though, everything seemed to fall into place, probably due to the fact there were no rehearsals.
While Cruise and Katie Holmes held endless practice sessions, our rehearsal in Vegas consisted of taking an elevator to the second floor of the Crystal Chapel, where our minister greeted us. A veteran of nearly 2,000 ceremonies, he was a jewel.
The minister laughed when I handed him a sheet of paper detailing each step of the ceremony, including a list of songs Elvis should sing.
“No one has ever done this before,” he exclaimed. “You have this wedding all planned out.”
That prompted a quick reply from Leslie: “This was premeditated.”
The minister doubled over in laughter.
As our guests settled into the red velvet love seats inside the Chapel L’Amour, I got my first chance to shake hands with Elvis. My son, Andy, who served as my best man, later referred to him as the “sweaty Elvis.” There was a reason for that. This talented impersonator was busy that night, hopping from one wedding to another.
Then we got a nod from Roxanne, yet another wedding planner. The ceremony was to begin. Elvis straightened his jacket. Sweat trickled down his long sideburns as I hooked my arm around his.
“We’re going down the aisle together,” I said.
Elvis smiled and replied excitedly: “I hope Priscilla doesn’t mind.”
Later, after the dulcet tones of “It’s Now or Never” faded away, Leslie and I exchanged vows that we had written together. I promised to love, cherish, honor and obey. She replied affirmatively to the first three, but balked at the fourth.
“I don’t know about the obey part,” she said, much to the delight of our guests.
We went on to promise to care for our two cats. Our vows ended with this heartfelt message: “I promise to remember life has no guarantees except one — that each day with you is better than a day without you. I love you.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel.
Then the minister had us repeat the vows he had prepared. He touched on all of the hallmarks of what a marriage should be — love, sacrifice, care and togetherness.
Of course, we wanted the ceremony to end with a bang, so we handed out song verses and asked everyone to join in with the sweaty Elvis as he concluded the ceremony.
After their vows, Cruise and his bride reportedly danced to “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac. That’s fine, but it pales in comparison to seeing my 87-year-old mother dance with Elvis as our chapel rocked to “All Shook Up.”
Before heading to our reception at the Aladdin Casino, we gathered together at an outdoor gazebo across from the towering “Stripper” sign. There my son and I handed out Elvis sunglasses with fake sideburns to the wedding guests and took a group photo.
Really, does it get any better than this? Don’t bother asking Tom Cruise. He hasn’t a clue.
— November 26, 2006