When Bill asked Hillary, he took the romantic route: "I bought that house you like, so you'd better marry me because I can't live in it by myself."
Track star Al Joyner was even more traditional, although it took him seven years after meeting Florence Griffith to get down on his knee in the rented limousine.
Hef, the almost-eternal bachelor, tested the waters by talking in general about marriage to Playmate Kimberley Conrad. Then he popped the question by the Playboy Mansion's wishing well.
A marriage proposal is surely one of a couple's most private moments--yet, much like labor and delivery sagas, it's often too irresistible not to share with family, friends and total strangers.
So when Los Angeles authors Betty Goodwin and Wendy Goldberg set out to chronicle the proposals of famous couples, they weren't surprised when only three couples begged off (they won't name names).
After an industrious year of tracking down records, researching and interviewing, they had uncovered the courtship stories of 35 legendary couples for their new book, "Marry Me!" (Angel City Press, 1994).
Along the way, the duo found that legendary folks often don't broach the Big Question much differently than do everyday types, although the carats and hotel rooms cost much more--an observation confirmed by therapists who counsel merging couples. And, no matter how famous or moneyed the couples-to-be, proposals can fall short of fantasies and self-imposed deadlines.
The authors also found more tradition than they'd bargained for: Among the 35 couples, none of the women did the asking. ("That's not to say women weren't orchestrating the plan for the gentlemen to ask," quips Goldberg, married for 22 years to television and movie producer Leonard Goldberg).
Some famous folks, like the rest of personkind, found themselves tongue-tied or unable to utter the traditional "Will you marry me?" Others danced around the question for quite a while.
In general, the authors found, the type of proposal seems to mirror personality type. Roy Rogers, for instance, asked Dale Evans while both were astride their horses.
Lyndon Johnson didn't pussyfoot around. "He came on strong," Goodwin says, proposing to Claudia (Lady Bird) Taylor at the end of their first date. When she put him off, he kept asking. And won her hand after her father advised her, "Some of the best deals are made in a hurry."
Bruce Willis was the in-control type. He and Demi Moore had gone to Las Vegas to see a boxing match. Around 10:30, Bruce told Demi: "I could make one phone call to one guy (the hotel's owner) and he could get us married by midnight." Moore disappeared to their room to think things over and accepted a little while later, recalls Goodwin, a frequent contributor to The Times who got engaged while writing the book and is now married.
Whether a woman is angling for a millionaire or the guy next door, she has in mind the ideal proposal, says Kate Wachs, a Chicago psychologist and relationship expert.
"Women still want romance," Wachs says. "They also want a verbal component. They want a guy to go out of his way." It helps if there are flowers, candles, a limo, some element of surprise or any combination of these, she adds.
Sometimes, Wachs says, women probably expect too much.
Even in today's romance novels, proposals have gotten more realistic. Take the story of "From Drifter to Daddy," a new Harlequin romance by Mollie Mole, president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, who writes as Mollie Molay.
In it, the heroine takes over the care of her niece and nephew--and their ranch--after her single-parent sister dies. Naturally, the aunt falls in love with the day laborer who works on the ranch.
"The actual proposal starts when he's reading bedtime stories to the kids," the author says. The kids offer to ask their aunt for him. Thus prodded, he finally turns romantic, finds her in the kitchen and formally asks her to wed.
But then, there are those real-life proposals that fuel the fantasies.
Steve Prutting of Valencia had been dating Mara Quigley for a year and a half, spending many evenings on the Staten Island ferry, enjoying the breeze while they ate fresh bread and sipped wine. One spring night, most everyone else was inside the cabin while they braved the chill on the back of the boat.
"There were sea gulls, stars and the New York City skyline in the background," he recalls. The timing seemed perfect. "With my arms outstretched, I got down on my knee and said, 'Honey, will you marry me?' " recalls Prutting, now 40.
Her response was immediate and unforgettable: "Are you joking?"
Prutting, discouraged but not defeated, didn't skip a beat: "Mara, I'll do this one more time."
She came to her senses.
"She had a tear come to her eye and said, 'I would love to.' " That was 12 years and four kids ago. (In her defense, Mara, 35, explains: "I was a little stunned and biding for time. But it was very romantic.")