TALES FROM THE CHAPEL
AND OTHER STORIES OF LAS VEGAS

by Susan Marg


About the Author
Susan Marg has a B.A. in English and a M.Sc. in market research. She knows how to ask questions, spot trends, and anticipate fads. Her interest in pop culture was honed during her years spent in advertising when knowing what was hot and who was in came with the territory. She first visited Las Vegas in 1977 out of curiosity. Finding the place unique, and not losing too badly at the tables, she has returned many times over the years, experiencing first hand the town's many permutations and enjoying its diversions.
    On one trip, a bride in a long, white wedding gown emerging from a stretch limousine caught her eye. She began wondering what secrets of the altar were hidden in the many old-fashioned wedding chapels lining Las Vegas Boulevard. Soon after, Las Vegas Weddings, Susan's first book, was born.
    Susan is from Cleveland, Ohio and she has a Midwesterner's easy-going, friendly disposition that even 15 years living on the East Coast and working in the telecommunications industry couldn't quell. She now lives in San Diego with her husband, James C. Simmons, who is also a writer/historian. She continues to visit Las Vegas regularly because she just can't stay away.

e-mail:
susan@lasvegasweddingsthebook.com
Personal web page:
www.lasvegasweddingsthebook.com
Las Vegas Weddings: A Brief History, Celebrity Gossip, Everything Elvis, and the Complete Chapel Guide is filled with Vegas lore and mixed with Hollywood tales of love and marriage and the subsequent fallout. One reviewer described it as "more fun than doing the Hokey Pokey at a wedding reception, and the gossip inside tastier than chocolate marble wedding cake."
About this Page
Do you want to find out who's going to the chapel? Or why so many celebrities have tied the knot on the Strip? Would you like to know more about how Sin City became the Wedding Capital of the World? Visit Susan here for the inside scoop! She loves to dish the dirt and spill the beans.
Note: The intellectual property for the content of the articles below, as well as the responsibility for it, is of Susan Marg.
August 2, 2005
Little-Known Facts
about Big Celebrity Vegas Weddings
Everyone knows that Britney Spears's first wedding took place in Las Vegas, and that it was the shortest marriage on record, being annulled a swift 55-hours later. With hundreds of celebrities having tied the knot in the Wedding Capital of the World, there are scores of stories about equally nutty nuptials or, in some case, almost nuptials just waiting to be told. Here are a few of them.
    When quizzed by the media about the spontaneity of her 2:30 A.M. ceremony to family friend and popular partygoer Todd Meister, Nicky Hilton insisted, "The wedding was planned. Paris orchestrated everything." Yep, I'm sure older sister covered all the bases, consulting with gal pals Tara Reid and Bijou Phillips, if not Britney herself.
    George Clooney's first marriage began in Las Vegas in 1989 to actress Talia Balsam. It lasted four years. Clooney also got married in Las Vegas to Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie Intolerable Cruelty. That didn't last either. Could it have been the kilt he was wearing when he committed himself? (Nice legs, George.)
    Speaking of magical movie moments, let's not forget the extravaganza at the end of Honeymoon in Vegas when actor Nicholas Cage in a white Vegas jumpsuit weds Sarah Jessica Parker dressed as a showgirl with a dozen or so Elvis impersonators gathered round as witnesses.
    After Bennifer 1 (that's Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, for anyone who has forgotten) called off their multi-million dollar affair near Santa Barbara, they were seen checking out the Little Chapel of the Bells in Las Vegas. Despite roomy seating for 50 or so guests in air-conditioned comfort, the wedding never took place.
    Way back in the Swingin' Sixties, Jane Fonda, who more recently co-starred with Jennifer Lopez in the movie Monster-in-Law, spent her wedding night at the Dunes Hotel alone with her mother-in-law because her husband, Roger Vadim, was enjoying himself too much in the casino to call it a day.
    In 1966 the following year, Brigitte Bardot, Vadim's first wife, and German playboy Gunther Sachs married in a private ceremony at the home of a Las Vegas lawyer. "We had to be married here because in Europe it's not possible without all the photographers," Sachs told reporters when they caught up with the couple. Those crazy guys with cameras caught up with them, too, but not before the newlyweds led them on a merry chase from the Tropicana coffee shop through the casino to a cab outside.
    Kate Beckinsale and her fiancé, movie director Len Wiseman, used Las Vegas as a smokescreen for their wedding. "We're having so many family coming from out of town, as far as Britain," Wiseman told reporters, "Vegas feels like a place we can go without having to entertain them." While this is undoubtedly true, Kate forgo the Palms for a bachelorette party at the Chateau Marmont and the Little Church of the West for the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. The paparazzi, apparently, were not fooled, and pictures of the beautiful bride in her Vera Wang made the tabloids.
    Common wisdom dictated that the marriage of Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton would not last the year, in part because the ceremony took place in Las Vegas, and in part for a lot of other reasons, such as they made a very weird couple. But they stuck it out for two years, even going so far as to buy a $3.8 million residence together. But they never called it home.
    Corey Feldman, one of the teen idols from The Lost Boys, married Vanessa Marcil, now of the television show Las Vegas, in Las Vegas when he was 18 years old. Not concerned about privacy, he married a second time when he was a grown up lad of 31 years old on the reality MTV show The Surreal Life. And so many people think that getting married in Vegas is wild and wacky!

OUR
COLUMNISTS

 

Susan Marg

TALES
FROM THE CHAPEL
and other stories of
Las Vegas
 

Brian Rouff

VEGAS
behind the scenes

July 12, 2005
Happy Trails, To You
Did you have a crush on Roy Rogers when you were growing up? Did you swoon when Gene Autry went after the bad guys? If "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" makes you want to dance with your sweetheart, and "Home on the Range" is your song, Bonnie Springs Ranch might be just the place for you.
    The ranch harkens back to Old Nevada when cowpokes in Levi jeans sported five-gallon hats and brightly covered bandanas not as a fashion statement, but as protection from the heat and the wind. It started as a stopover for the wagon trains going to California via the Old Spanish Trail in 1843. Today it is a tourist attraction offering horseback riding, a petting zoo, train rides, and live entertainment. Continuous shootouts between the sheriff, his deputies, and some bank robbers occur throughout the day, and a couple of villains are hung every few hours. In the saloon two male actors stage a bad melodrama complete with terrible puns and worse jokes. "I'm two weeks overdue," the one playing a woman in a long blonde wig laments. "Not me," the performer then chastises the audience for misunderstanding. "The mortgage is overdue."
    The buildings were built to simulate a silver mining town of a century or two ago. In addition to the saloon, there's a schoolhouse, opera house, blacksmith shop, shavin' parlor – teeth pulled, and plenty of places to buy souvenirs and something to eat and drink, including the trading post, the general store, and the old-fashioned ice cream parlor. At the cemetery, the headstones call up characters from yesteryear. "Here lies Red Garter Sue. Her position ain't changed," reads one. The marker for Preacher Coggins is not any more flattering. "He meant well. Tried a Little. Failed Much."
    For anyone interested in getting hitched, the most important edifice is, of course, the chapel. Here, it is a simple structure made of knotty pine with 14 pews on either side of the aisle. Except for the chandeliers and wall sconces there are no decorations. There are several picture windows, however, which let in light and provide a view of the yucca, prickly pear, and barrel cactus that dot the landscape. The officiate always wears Western attire, as can the bride, groom, and guests. It is not a bad idea, especially when it comes to boots, as the grounds are very, very dusty. The cost for the chapel and minister begins at $350. A BBQ chicken or rib buffet with all the fixens, such as baked beans, creamy cole slaw, and homemade biscuits, is $16 per person.
    If the day's activities leave anyone plum tuckered out, stay at the motel on the premises for a night or several nights. Amenities include themed rooms with kitchenettes, fireplaces, and 'luv' tubs. Rates begin at $70 per night.
    Bonnie Springs Ranch is a far cry from the Wedding Salons at Wynn Las Vegas on the Strip. It does even have much in common with the downtown Fremont Street Experience, the site of "Once Upon 100 Weddings" a few weeks ago. It is a 16-mile, 30 to 40 minute ride, depending on traffic, west on Charleston Street, past Red Rock Canyon to 1 Gunfighter Lane. For cowgirl wannabes it is a trip back to the Wild West. For anyone else it is worth a look. The setting is truly majestic.

June 20, 2005
Viva Las Vegas Weddings
Brides cried. Grooms cheered. Everyone drank champagne. And couples danced their first dance as husband and wife to Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love." It was wonderfully romantic.
    On June 9, 2005, Las Vegas's centennial celebration "Once Upon 100 Weddings" came off without a hitch. Sure, there were a few no shows, and a couple of couples got cold feet at the last minute, despite directives of event organizers to the contrary. But some willing and able local couples that wanted to get married were quickly rounded up. In the end, 100 couples, as planned, tied the knot, making history as Las Vegas celebrated its history, as only Las Vegas could.
    What a sight to behold! There was the usual neon of the Fremont Street Experience, turning night into day. A digital display of 40-foot ringing wedding bells swung over the gathering, in keeping with the festivities. The crowd dressed for the occasion, too. Men donned at least suits, if not tuxes, and most kept their jackets on despite it being 87 degrees at 8 P.M. For their better halves-to-be, a long white wedding dress, often strapless, sometimes accessorized with a veil, was the costume de jour. One happy-go-lucky guy described the group as "brides and grooms on the loose" because they had been partying hearty the past three days. Yet by the solemn, expectant expressions on their faces, this was the moment that they had been waiting for.
    Every couple had a story to tell about how they came to be standing at this particular place at this point in time. Some couples had been dating since high school. Others were high school sweethearts who had broken up, married and divorced other people, and, by circumstances of fate, reunited 15, 20, and even 25 years later. Several had been planning to set a date, but just hadn't gotten around to it. A few, making a spur-of the moment decision in true Vegas style, had no plans to get married, but could not pass up the opportunity for an all-expense paid trip with ceremony to the Wedding Capital of the World.
    Barbara Hickman, 56, and Charles Shortridge, 64, from Merced, California were the oldest twosome, and they were cool, calm, and collected about the event. It was to be his second marriage, her third, and she was hoping that three times are a charm. Barbara's reason for entering the contest was simple. "I thought it sounded like fun," she explained.
    Kathryn Kupich and Stephen O'Hara, twenty somethings, were not quite as nonchalant. All week Stephen was getting used to the idea that Kathryn was not just his girlfriend, but his fiancée, and the biggest transition was ahead of him. Still as Vegas natives their friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances had turned out in mass for support.
    The vows were traditional and familiar. "Repeat after me," the officiate, Dwayne Williams, instructed. "I take you as my wife," the grooms swore. "I take you as my husband," the brides responded. "For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. To love and to cherish. From this day forward," the now married intoned in unison.
    All in all it was not a bad start to what will hopefully be a happy future for one and all. I wish them well.

June 1, 2005
All Together Now

Can getting married surrounded by strangers under the canopy at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas while cameras crews are filming the entire event be romantic? At the centennial event called "Once Upon 100 Weddings," one hundred couples lucky at love and just as lucky at winning contests are about to find out.
    The participants hail from the East Coast and the West Coast. The about-to-get-married from Chicago represent the Midwest. Six international twosomes from such far-flung places, as Australia and Germany, will also be part of the experience. The contests were different in each locale. In Seattle contestants played a premarital version of "The Newlywed Game". Remember this television quiz show where husbands and wives embarrassed themselves and each other by giving silly answers to double entendres posing as questions? In Houston, the winners were selected randomly.
    Local lovebirds had to work a little harder for the honor of representing the Wedding Capital of the World. They were required to write 500-word essays on why they believe they are compatible and what they think is the secret of a long-lasting marriage. A marriage counselor, a divorce attorney, and a happily married couple who have been together for 30 years made up the jury. While the two winning couples do not have to cross any borders to get to the event, they still have to put up with cross-town traffic, and we all know how difficult that can be.
    The betrothed less the hometown honeys fly to Las Vegas on Monday, June 6, compliments of Southwest Airlines. No chance to overcome jet lag as the fun and games begin immediately. One diversion called the "Centennial Poker Tournament" sounds amusing. All couples will be driven to several casinos, collecting a playing card at each one. Whichever team has the best hand at the final destination wins the grand prize, not yet identified.
    Another group activity is a trip to the Clark County Courthouse for the marriage license. Yep, the wedding is the real deal, legal and official.
    The ceremony itself takes place Thursday evening. A bridesmaid and a groomsman can accompany each bride and groom. Other family and friends must watch and wait on the sidelines. If they are waiting, however, for a taste of the ice cream wedding cake they might be disappointed. Since the daily high temperature in Las Vegas all week is forecast to be in the nineties, the chance of the cake surviving through the "I do's are slim to none. And forget about a bite let alone a slice of cake making it to anyone's one-year anniversary.
    And so Las Vegas pays tribute to its famous, or is that infamous. wedding industry. The event should be right up there with ceremonies from the past on which the city's reputation is based. You know the ones – couples getting married in a casino surrounded by clanging slot machines, going to a drive-thru wedding chapel in a retro pink Cadillac, or dressing up Elvis and Marilyn. I'll keep you posted.

May 16, 2005
Happy Birthday, Vegas, Baby
Yesterday was the big day. One hundred years after a few enterprising individuals paid as much as $1,750 for a dusty parcel of land near a seldom-used train station in the middle of nowhere, Las Vegas celebrated as only Las Vegas knows how.
    There was a parade, a salute to the town's Western heritage. The 200 plus floats accompanied by dozens of marching bands and some farm animals recreated a once annual event known as Helldorado Days. It harkens back to the time men were cowboys, women had a penchant for denim, home was on the range, and traffic was non-existent.
    There was a birthday cake, possibly one for the Guinness Book of World Records. The 130,000-pound, seven-layer extravaganza (think of a basketball court covered with buttercream frosting) was not only huge, but tasty, too. After all, everyone likes Sara Lee, the baked goods company that made, delivered, constructed and iced the cake with the help of more than 500 volunteers.
    Even the Flying Elvii made an appearance. Remember these guys from the movie, Honeymooon in Vegas? They are the ones who pay homage to the King of Rock 'n Roll by donning white glittering jumpsuits when they skydive. This time the comets on their feet left 30-foot streaks in the night sky at the closing festivities.
    But the event to which I am looking forward, for obvious reasons, is "Once Upon 100 Weddings." It will take place in June, the month of brides and grooms, as a tribute to saying, "I do," in the Wedding Capital of the World. As its name suggests 100 lucky couples will get hitched in a group ceremony under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience. That's assuming, of course, that all parties make it back to the right room at the Golden Nugget following the merrymaking at MGM Grand's Studio 54 and New York-New York's Coyote Ugly for the bachelors and bachelorettes, respectively, the night before. The betrothed were selected in radio and television contests in designated cities around the country. Oh, you did not know about the event, but want to get married? Rest assured that in Las Vegas it is never too late. A clerk at the county courthouse will be more than happy to issue you a marriage license, and a wedding coordinator at one of the city's many chapels will be more than ready, willing, and able to plan your wedding just for you.
    So come to the party. And, when you are here, don't forget to say, "Happy Birthday."

May 2, 2005
Enchanted Reality in a Castle
There's a new reality show on the Lifetime Channel titled "I Married a Princess." It should be titled "I Married a Princess in Las Vegas." The program centers on the generally happily married life of Catherine Oxenberg and Casper Van Dien, and the fairy tale began in the Marriage Capital of the World.
    Catherine, an actress, is best known for her role on Dynasty, the 1980s nighttime soap opera. She played the daughter of John Forsythe's character, Blake Carrington, who was unaware she existed until she showed up on the doorstep of his mansion in her tender twenties. Her television mother, Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter, played by Joan Collins, pulled a typical Alexis fast one. She split Denver for London without even telling Blake she was pregnant, denying her daughter a father and a father his daughter. In real life there are no such issues. Catherine's royal lineage dates back to Catherine the Great of Russia.
    Casper is also in the movie business. His claim to fame is playing the number one starship trooper in the 1997 science fiction fare, Starship Troopers. Although Casper grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, his roots go deep, too. He lived on Van Dien Avenue, named after his great, great-grandfather. Robert Mitchum, the notable film actor, was his great-grandfather. Mark Twain, the notable creator of such true-blue American archetypes as Huck Finn, was a great, great, great-uncle. Both his grandfathers were in the military, and his father was a Navy commander. Casper himself attended military school and college, before he decided to try his luck in Hollywood. He can stand proud.
    On "I Married a Princess," it is clear that sometimes Catherine acts like a princess, and not one that lives in a magical kingdom, either. When she wants something, she goes after it, not stopping until she gets what she wants. In May 2000 she wanted to get married immediately, rather than wait for the big September wedding they had planned. So Catherine with Casper in tow went to Las Vegas, and they tied the knot at the Graceland Wedding Chapel.
    Graceland is a small chapel with a cozy, homey feeling that reflects its inception over 60 years ago as part of a family residence. The stained glass behind the altar pictures a dove. Silk flowers abound, and pew markers line the aisle. It is the place to come if you want to pay homage to Elvis, even though the chapel has little to with the King beyond its name.
    By all reports it was a splendiferous occasion. Catherine wore white. Casper dressed in black leather. And they shimmied and shook their way down the aisle as Norm Jones, an older Elvis impersonator with lots of heart, sang love songs. All told it was the start of a beautiful romance.
    Five years later the couple has decided to take their private lives public. (Or, Catherine decided and Casper came around to her point of view.) Cameras follow them as they go about their daily activities filled with the same highs and lows as anyone else. They just happen to be beautiful people living in a beautiful Malibu home, with their beautiful children. India, 13, is hers. Cappy, 11, and Gracie, 8, are his. The babies are theirs.
    Will they all live happily ever after? Whether they do or don't Las Vegas will have long ceased to be a determining factor. Will the series last more than one season? Time will tell. In the meantime, we can sit back, turn on the telly, and catch the goings on in the castle by the sea.

April 18, 2005
Reality Bites!
It finally happened! A television program has been set in a Las Vegas wedding chapel. Given the popularity of the subject matter, it is only surprising in that it has not been done before. If only it had been done better now.
    ABC Family Channel's "Garden of Love" is a reality show centered on the family that runs the wedding chapel of the same name on Sahara Avenue near Las Vegas Boulevard South. And what a family!
    Johnny, the 15-year old cousin of the owner, is the chapel's videographer and the show's narrator. He is schooled at home, so he is everywhere all the time. Despite his age, he is the most mature and likeable character of the bunch. His youthful impressions are usually accurate, if somewhat lame. "I've probably seen more weddings in one weekend than you'll see in your lifetime," he comments. Who can argue with that?
    His cousin Cheryl, the owner, gets kudos for not only taking in Johnny and giving him a job, but also putting a roof over the head of his father and younger brother. Needless to say, dear ol' Dad, who is also Cheryl's uncle, is a deadbeat and a bit of a letch when female guests of a wedding party are anywhere near the chapel. The kid is cute, especially when he dons an Elvis-style wig and sunglasses, but he does not add much to the action.
    Cheryl's husband, Craig, is introduced as "kind of the bouncer of the place." Ah, just what every chapel needs, or is that only in Las Vegas? Her mother, an overbearing woman, mans the phones behind a messy desk in the front office, while her father watches the boys and stays out of the way.
    And then there's Harley, the chapel monkey, who has the run of the place. Everyone loves Harley. Just don't ask where he has been or what he has been doing. It is not pretty.
    If these people cared more about their customers, it might be possible to care more about them. Interestingly, most couples do not seem to notice their surroundings. They are caught up in their big moment, just as if they were at a church service back home. A bride nervously arranges the trail on her wedding dress, as she waits at the altar. A groom ignores the tears quietly flowing down his face, as he says his vows.
    The Garden of Love is surprisingly busy. Time will tell, however, what impact the program has on the chapel. Will future twosomes tying the knot go elsewhere, possibly someplace more aesthetically pleasing and more appropriately private? Or will the opportunity to declare one's undying love in front of a television camera be too hard to resist?
    For family drama, the set up is only marginally interesting. For painting a realistic portrait of Las Vegas weddings, it fails miserably. The wedding industry has suffered plenty of slings and arrows in the past, and deservedly so. But in new Vegas, weddings are improved across the board. You just wouldn't know it from visiting the Garden of Love.
    "Garden of Love" airs on Monday evenings at 9:30 PM EST. It is sandwiched in between five episodes of "Whose Line is it Anyway?", the well-regarded show starring comedian Drew Carey and a talented cast who make up wild and crazy skits, games, and songs as they go along. Now that's entertainment for the whole family.

April 1, 2005
Tips for the Trip Down the Aisle
So, you want to get married in Las Vegas. It has been your dream since you were seven years old. Okay, make that 17 years old. Oh, it has never been your dream (it has probably never been anyone's dream), but it seems like a good idea now.
    It is a good idea. In fact, it is a great idea, particularly if you want minimize the stress that comes with planning a wedding and maximize the happiness that goes with the territory. So if you are beginning to think about it, here are some tips that will double your pleasure on your special day.
    Plan ahead. Las Vegas weddings are increasingly popular, and Saturdays are the busiest day in the chapel, week after week. Most places are booked from first thing in the morning until late at night, and they will not be able to accommodate you without a reservation.
    Call around. It is possible to get all the information you need to plan your wedding from the Internet. You can select your flowers, choose your music, and sign up for a video and web broadcast services. But you won't know how customer-friendly the chapel is unless you engage a wedding consultant in some chitchat over the phone. Is she pleasant? Courteous? Responsive? You get the idea.
    Be prepared. If you have some idea of what you want, you will be in a better position to know what questions to ask. Expecting a crowd? Be sure to ascertain how many people can be seated comfortably. Getting married in the summer when the temperatures are in the 80s, 90s, and over 100? Then you will want to know if the chapel has an air-conditioned waiting room.
    Identify your priorities. When selecting a chapel, decide what is most important to you. If you are concerned about price, one of the freestanding, funky wedding chapels on the northern end of Las Vegas Boulevard South approaching downtown might be your best bet. If you are ready to throw caution to the wind and want the best money can buy, try one of the fancy chapels at the swanky resort hotels.
    Curb your expectations. A Las Vegas wedding is not like a church wedding back home. While you might wear satin and lace, carry a bouquet of red roses, and be surrounded by loved ones, only a half hour on average of chapel time is allocated to each couple, rather than half a day. You will still get your moment to shine, but it will be over before you know it.
    Pamper yourself. In Las Vegas today there is not only a chapel on every corner, but also a spa in every resort. So why not treat your body and soul? You will look good for pictures and feel good on your way to the altar. And many chapels offer wedding packages that include pre-ceremony services such as massages, facials, hair and make-up, and manicures and pedicures.
    Follow the rules. Anyone getting married must first go to the Clark County Courthouse at 200 South Third Street for a marriage license. Be sure to bring $55 cash and proper identification that proves that both participants are at least 18 years old. Don't even think of trying to tie the knot without this important piece of paper. It won't happen.
    Do your own thing. That's what the town is all about. If you want to dress up, dress up. If you want to go in costume, wear the funkiest costume you can find. At first, Mom might not be happy with the arrangements, but she will come around once she discovers how wonderful, even if a little bit wacky, a wedding in Las Vegas can be.

March 18, 2005
How the Las Vegas Wedding Industry Began
Las Vegas owes its wedding industry to California. In 1912 the state passed what became known as the "gin law." Wanting to protect its citizens from themselves, the law required waiting three days from getting a marriage license to getting married. The rationale was that those who had been drinking were most likely to get married without thinking, so a time period to sober up was mandated. Couples too impatient to wait or too pie-eyed to know better crossed the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas.
    At the time Las Vegas was a dusty frontier town with few amenities. Even gambling was outlawed as part of a national reform movement. Fremont Street downtown had electric lights, but the townspeople, all 3,000 of them, had to wait until 1915 for electricity to be available 24-hours a day. Still both the Nevada Hotel and the MacDonald Hotel were open for business, offering a honeymoon bed for the recently hitched too tired to make the return trip home.
    In 1925 there was some progress. Fremont Street, as part of the state highway, was paved from Main Street to Fifth Street although only down the middle. In 1926 Western Airlines began commercial flight service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, reinforcing the link between the town where stars are made and the town where stars get married. In 1930 the town got downright crowded when the unemployed came seeking construction work on what became known as Hoover Dam. And in 1931 gambling, not that anyone had stopped trying to beat the house, became legal again.
    In 1933 an enterprising minister opened the first wedding chapel, hanging out a shingle in front of his home and conducting ceremonies in his living room. When asked why he decided to undertake such an enterprise, he responded, "So many out of town couples come into Las Vegas to be married and have no idea where to go to have the ceremony performed or who to get to tie the knot. So, the wedding chapel was begun here as a convenience to local and out of town brides and grooms."
    The Wedding Chapel, as that is what it was called, took care of all the responsibilities associated with the nuptials, including supplying a corsage for the bride, if desired, and witnesses of the service, if needed. For less than $5 a couple could be married in pleasant surroundings without any stress and bother and soon be on their way as husband and wife, any day of the week or hour of the day.
    In 1940 California, as well as other states, once again tightened its marriage regulations. The new law, designed to prevent the spread of venereal disease, required a blood test before the issuance of a license. It was enough of a nuisance that the Las Vegas wedding business boomed. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, "California's engaged couples continue to pour across the state line to southern Nevada to avoid compliance." And more wedding chapels sprung up to handle the demand.
    Today it is no easier to get married in Nevada than anyplace else. California dropped its three-day waiting period and blood test requirements 30 years ago. Yet the allure of getting married in Las Vegas is as strong, if not stronger, than ever before.

March 9, 2005
Once is Never Enough
Las Vegas started to grow up and dress up in 1946 when Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo. Money was no object; Bugsy was backed by the mob. Instead of putting up another cowboy casino with sawdust on the floor and horses in the barn, like ones down the road, he built a luxurious resort. Throughout the hotel and casino, the carpet was plush, the marble imported, and the ambiance sophisticated. Although he didn't live to see it, as he was murdered by the mob, movie stars flocked to town like moths to a flame. Just as he had predicted.
    Sometimes the luminaries came to play and party. Other times they came for rest and relaxation. And sometimes, just like anyone else, they came to get married. Mickey Rooney and Zsa Zsa Gabor were two of the celebrities to get married in post-Bugsy Siegel Vegas. And they didn't do it just once, either.
    Mickey Rooney, "child" star of MGM's Andy Hardy movies in the thirties and forties, has been married four out of eight times in Las Vegas. The first time he got hitched there was to his third wife, Martha Vickers, in 1949. Ever the romantic, Mickey arranged a double-ring ceremony followed by a champagne reception. He must have enjoyed the event because he returned to marry his fourth wife, Elaine Mahnken, at the Wee Kirk o' the Heather wedding chapel in 1952, and his fifth wife, Barbara Ann Thomason, in 1958. He was back with Carolyn Hockett in 1969 for his seventh walk down the aisle.
    Hungarian beauty Zsa Zsa Gabor is possibly best known for marrying well and often, if not always wisely. She took her vows three out of eight times in the Wedding Capital of the World. Her first Vegas wedding to her third husband, British actor George Sanders, took place at the Little Church of the West on April Fool's Day 1949. The joke was on Zsa Zsa, however, when the love of her life told her, "I don't know if I can ever sleep with you again. Yesterday you were the glamorous Mrs. Conrad Hilton. Now, you are just plain Mrs. George Sanders."
    Conrad Hilton literally made an appearance at Zsa Zsa's other Las Vegas weddings. He was there when she married Jack Ryan, her neighbor in Bel Air, in 1976, and he was there when she married Michael O'Hara, her lawyer in her divorce from Ryan, in 1977, her sixth and seventh husbands, respectively. Following the ceremonies Conrad graciously hosted the receptions at the Las Vegas Hilton. And they were glamorous affairs, well suited to the glitzy persona of his former wife, as well as the town in which they took place.
    Why not get married in Las Vegas? Again. And again. And again.

February 25, 2005
The More Things Change
Celebrities have been getting married in Las Vegas longer than Hoover Dam has been providing power to churn out electricity, and that's a really long time. In 1930, a couple of years after the project had been approved but before work had begun, William Boyd did just that. Since he was a movie star, better known to modern audiences as Hopalong Cassidy, the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal enthusiastically covered the joyous occasion, supplying many of the details that are known today.
    Boyd, 35, was getting married for the fourth time. Dorothy Sebastian, his 24-year old bride, was getting married for the second time. The night before the blessed event, Boyd shut down his movie studio and chartered a plane to fly them and some friends to the desert. The wedding party stayed at the National Hotel, where the nuptials took place the next morning. As a courtesy, the county clerk went to them so the happy couple would not have to go the courthouse to get their marriage license. The bride cried copious amounts of tears before the groom could seal their vows with a kiss. Before returning to Los Angeles the newly titled Mrs. Boyd changed into a black travel dress with a heavy fur coat thrown over her shoulders. Her husband, who did not change, wore a gray business suit.
    Flash forward seventy years when Angelina Jolie, 24, and Billy Bob Thornton, 44, got hitched at the Little Church of the West. From tabloids and television reports the adoring public knows that both were casually dressed, yet the bride carried red and white roses for her second trip down the aisle. The groom sported his trademark baseball cap when he posed for his fifth wedding portrait. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, "Unchained Melody" played. Afterwards she went home to Los Angeles and he returned to Mexico where he was making a movie.
    Pundits writing for Time, the weekly news magazine for those too busy to keep up on a daily basis, even weighed in on the subject. Noting that the couple had married in Vegas they gave the marriage six months.
    Las Vegas celebrity weddings make news. They always have, and they always will.

February 18, 2005
What's Elvis Got to Do with It?
Elvis impersonators are popular attendants at Las Vegas weddings and participate in various ways. They drive the bride and groom to the chapel usually in a pink Cadillac, and once there they escort the bride down the aisle. They almost always sing "Love Me Tender," the most frequently requested song. "Viva Las Vegas" is also a standard, although it has nothing to do with either love or marriage. Then, too, they dance or, at least, swivel their hips. If the newlyweds and their guests dance, they have done their job.
    Yes, yes, yes, you're probably thinking, this is all fine and good. But what's Elvis got to do with getting married in Las Vegas? Sure, he got married in Vegas, but there has to be more to it than that. Right?
    Yes, there is more to it than that. A lot more.
    Elvis was resurrected in Las Vegas. After becoming the first rock 'n roll star and then going on to a career in movies, even if they weren't very good movies, he once again began performing live at Kirk Kerkorian's new International Hotel (subsequently the Hilton International).
    Barbra Streisand actually opened the showroom, on July 1, 1969. Hotel management had wanted Elvis to do the honors, but Colonel Parker, Elvis's manager, insisted that Elvis wait until the dust had cleared and the kinks had been worked out of the sound system. Finally, on July 31, it was Elvis's turn.
    "Well, it's one for the money; two for the show," he began singing, and the crowd went wild. "Three to get ready, Now go, cat, go," he continued, only to be drowned out by shouts of "Bravo! Bravo!" No one was able to hear the words to "Blue Suede Shoes," and no one seemed to care. It was almost as if the audience knew history was being made.
    Elvis literally tore the town apart.
    Elvis got an extended contract to perform in Vegas twice a year for four weeks at a time. His fans came from as far away as Japan, England, and Germany and attended as many performances as they could get tickets. He never performed to less than a sold-out house, even after a third show every night at 3 A.M. was added to accommodate the crowds. And in the process he imprinted his spirit on the town's collective conscious.
    Today, there is an impersonator for any male or female, tall or short, living or dead celebrity who is only too happy to grace a wedding with a joke or a song, but it is the King that couples clamor for. As a groom noted on his way to the chapel, "Elvis is Las Vegas." And that about sums it up for all of us.

February 11, 2005
Perception vs Reality
The image of tacky Las Vegas weddings took hold in the 1980s. A quickie ceremony in sleazy surroundings with canned organ music playing in the background was the common perception. Like any good cliché, it was based on reality.
    At the time the 20 or so chapels on Las Vegas Boulevard came under attack for their shoddy treatment of customers. They double-booked couples, kept them waiting, rushed them down the aisle, and charged a pretty penny for music, flowers, pictures, witnesses, and anything else they could think of. This image was then kept alive and reinforced by movies and television programs for a couple of decades.
    A good example of this was the popular nighttime soap opera in the go-go Eighties - Knots Landing. Similar to Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest, it magnified the excesses of the time, particularly as exemplified by the very rich. Knots Landing, however, was a little bit different. It had a middle class veneer. It also was located in a very special place - a quiet cul de sac in an unassuming suburb of Los Angeles, putting it within driving distance of Vegas. The writers of the show used this fact many times over the 13 years the show was on the air.
    Even Karen and Mack MacKenzie, the heart and soul of Knots Landing, got married in Vegas. Karen was everybody's best friend, thend, always there when needed. Mack was a good guy, a straight shooter, the neighbor others turned to with their problems. How did this goody-goody twosome end up getting married in Las Vegas contrary to all stereotypes? It was a practical matter. Their wedding plans were not coming together, and they were tired of trying to please everyone but themselves over the details. So they up and eloped.
    Karen and Mack said their vows at a place called the Bridal Veil Chapel, which does not exist now and did not exist then. The chapel was depicted as a tawdry Valentine's Day card, a common image of a Las Vegas chapel. Fire engine red carpet stretched from wall to wall and pastel pink flowered paper decorated the walls. It was not a pretty picture.
    Waiting for the minister, the couple quibbled in their usual manner and then giggled through the ceremony, but they returned to Knots Landing married. Again, contrary to all Las Vegas stereotypes, they stayed married season after season until the network said it was over. For characters in prime time that's as good as till death do them part.

February 4, 2005
Totally Tacky or Wonderfully Romantic?
Las Vegas weddings are one of the most exciting parts of pop culture. They touch everyone: the young and the old; the hip and the not so hip; people from red states and those from blue states; and, even couples from other countries. And they are very popular. Over 120,000 couples each and every year get married in Las Vegas. That equals 5% of the weddings in the States in a county that has half a percent of the population of the country. Another 40,000 to 50,000 couples have renewal of vows or commitment ceremonies in the Wedding Capital of the World.
    Valentine's Day is the busiest day of the year in the chapel. Men like getting married on Valentine's Day because they think it will make it easier to remember their anniversary. Women, who never forget their anniversary under any circumstances, think the day is romantic. Anyone in town on Valentine's Day can experience the rush and crush of the crowds for themselves. Just drive past the Clark County Courthouse at 200 South Third Street. The line of couples waiting to apply for their marriage license will stretch out the door and around the block. The wait will be hours. And good luck to anyone who wants to say "I do" that day but has not yet made a reservation. The chapels are booked from opening to closing.
    But one of the most intriguing aspects of the subject is that everyone, and I mean everyone, has an opinion about Las Vegas weddings. They range from "Oh, wow! You're getting married in Vegas" to "Oh, yech, how can you even think about getting married in Vegas?" And don't try convincing anyone to change his or her opinion. It is either oily Elvis impersonators and kitschy decorations or glitz and glitter under the neon lights. There's no in between.
    Don't you love it?