LONG BEACH — The U.S. Navy reviewed the story line and the song lyrics to ensure the project's good taste before it gave Cher permission to film her video in Long Beach aboard the venerable battleship Missouri.
Unfortunately, the Navy neglected to ask Cher one thing: what she planned to wear.
At 2 a.m. on the last day of taping over the Independence Day weekend, the actress buzzed up in a motorboat and climbed aboard Mighty Mo wearing a black garter belt, black boots, a transparent net body stocking and two posterior tattoos the size of pancakes.
Her ensemble touched off a flutter over whether such attire was appropriate for a battleship of the Missouri's stature: The Japanese surrendered on its decks in 1945 in the presence of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The Navy was left with some explaining to do.
"I knew she had tattoos, but I never knew they were so big," Yeoman 2nd Class Don Cipriano recently remarked after seeing the video, which is so risque that MTV cable channel runs it only late at night.
But the 200 or so Missouri crewmen who stayed up all hours to watch the taping enthusiastically approved. One sailor even gave Cher his hat, prompting video director Marty Callner to declare in a recent Navy newsletter that he was "proud to be an American."
But a handful of critics have since grumbled that the historic battleship was demeaned by Cher's costume--salvaged from censorship by a strategically placed V-shaped strip of black cloth--and choreography, in which she leans affectionately against one of the ship's impressive 68-foot guns.
"I do not consider myself to be a prude," a retired Navy commander wrote to the Navy after being "arrested" by the video one evening. "I enjoy watching scantily clad young ladies as much as the next man. But were I the commanding officer or another of the senior people who form a deep personal bond with their ship, I would be deeply embarrassed."
"She was wearing a see-through body netting that showed her rear end nude," a woman from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., steamed in a letter to Navy headquarters in Washington, firing off a carbon copy to President Bush.
"The U.S. Navy, a part of our government that should stand for what is good and honorable, is putting its stamp of approval on trash like this . . . What kind of image did you hope it would give the Navy?"
Actually, the Navy was hoping to reach MTV's sizable audience of 18- to 24-year-olds who might be prompted to enlist. However, in a response from Navy headquarters written in August and released this week, Lt. Cmdr. A. J. Dooley explained that the Navy had expected Cher to wear something more . . . well, something more.
"The Navy worked closely with the producer to ensure the video would be in good taste," he wrote. "However, changes during the final stages of production, including Cher's revealing costume, were unanticipated, and led to overtones that we had sought to avoid during our pre-production planning."
There were rumors that Navy brass was offended but there were no official statements of the sort.
In fact, some officers took exception to the criticism, saying the slick video gave the impression that the Navy is "a neat place to be."
"I thought the ship looked outstanding," Lt. Cmdr. Steve Chesser in Long Beach said of Mighty Mo, which was spit-polished and gloriously lit up against the night sky. "I don't think the Navy has anything to apologize for."
Neither Cher nor her publicist could be reached for comment.
Chesser said future video requests would be considered on a case-by-case basis, and even Cher should not assume she has worn out her Navy welcome.
But one junior officer who asked not to be identified said the "moral outrage" that emanated from Washington, however slight, will not be soon forgotten.
"It'll be a cold day in hell before she ever films another video on a Navy ship," he said.