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She'll Bet on Marriage--Any Time

July 20, 1999|SAM BRUCHEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Las Vegas is the wedding capital of the world, then Charolette Richards rightly deserves her title as Wedding Queen of the West. By her own estimate, she has brought together 600,000 couples in holy matrimony. As owner of the Little White Wedding Chapel, a one-stop marriage center for couples with a lot of love and a little spontaneity, the ordained minister could also be known as The Woman Who Never Sleeps. Her chapel is open 24 hours, every day of the week. Richards does it all, providing tuxedos, gowns, flowers, photos, a limo ride and the ceremony, of course, in less than an hour. We caught up with the quickie wedding maven to talk about how she does it.

Q: Forty percent of your clients come from L.A. Is there anything typical about Angelenos' weddings?

A: L.A. is only four hours away, and I believe that a lot of times people come on the spur of the moment. They usually leave when they get off work. They'll hit the marriage license bureau before it closes at midnight, they'll get married, and then they'll head back to L.A. to be at work by morning. That seems to be the trend.

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Q: Let's say I walk into the chapel with my fiancee and ask to be married, but I've got a plane to catch. How quickly can you get us in and out?

A: We take you down to get your license, and that takes 10-15 minutes. We bring you

back to the chapel and get your paperwork done, bring you into the chapel. That takes another 15 minutes. We can even bring you to the airport in another 15 minutes. There's people who call us from the airport with exactly that kind of request.

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Q: What do I get for my money?

A: The least expensive is $40 at the drive-up, and the most expensive, the Joan Collins Special, which is $599. It involves a limo ride, use of the chapel, traditional wedding music, photos, flowers, a wedding cake, a video and a garter.

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Q: I understand Elvis sometimes stops by to sing for the newlyweds.

A: Elvis comes to sing. He usually sings "Love Me Tender." After the ceremony is over, when it's a little more upbeat, he sings "Viva Las Vegas," which is kind of their celebration of the wedding. Elvis is the young Elvis. He looks like him, he acts like him, he shakes his leg like him. He's very handsome.

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Q: You were the first to offer drive-thru weddings. How did that come about?

A: Nine years ago, I noticed some handicapped people having difficulty getting out of their car. I went out to ask if they would like me to marry them in their car. One day I told my son to make a window out of this wall, something like a bank. Then I added the tunnel so people could be married in a more special place. The sun doesn't beat down on you in here, and it's more romantic.

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Q: What other unique services do you provide?

A: I have a hot-air balloon called the Little White Chapel in the Sky, and we go up about 1,000 feet. They say their "I Dos" up in the air. Sometimes if the weather isn't right and the people have come from out of town, I take them to my cave. It's about 15 miles outside of Las Vegas, up in the Red Rock Canyon area, where all the mountains are red and look like they're on fire. You have to climb up this rugged mountain, maybe 50 feet. And then sometimes I'll go up to Mt. Charleston into the woods and marry them on horseback. Or in winter time we take a sleigh ride and marry them in the snow.

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Q: Do they come in naked? It is sin city, after all.

A: Oh, yes. Don't think they don't try. They try all kinds of weird things, but those kinds of things will not happen here. If they have on skimpy clothes, I will get one of the robes and tell them they must put it on. Some people want to look sinful when they get married. But we will not do that here.

For information, or for a reservation, call (702) 382-5943 or log onto http://www.iwedu@alittlewhitechapel.com.

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