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'Big' dress with a fat price tag

Nia Vardalos wore it -- now you can too, for a cool $1.5 million. Fan snapped up 'Greek' mementos before the film was a smash.

January 17, 2003|Bettijane Levine | Times Staff Writer

It is impossible to know, once a film is made, about the people whose lives it will alter -- and in what unpredictable ways. In the case of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," volumes may someday be written on the aftereffects, both in and out of Hollywood, of this little movie that touched so many hearts and puffed so many wallets. A short chapter might be devoted to the wedding dress.

A tiny classified ad that ran in The Times this week offered the actual wedding dress worn in the film for $1.5 million or best offer.

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Stavros Boloven answered the phone in Dearborn Heights, Mich. It was 20 degrees out there and getting colder, he said. But he was cozy in his mother's house, where she was nursing him after back surgery -- and where he was waiting to become a millionaire.

Boloven, 44 and single, is an auto-repair service writer at Mercedes Benz of Novi, a nearby town. He is the baby of his big fat Greek family, he says, the last of four kids, and his dad died a few months before he was born.

"I was six months in my mom's womb when he died, and my mom never got over the shock of it," Boloven says. Rarely in his life has he seen his mother smile. "Getting this lady to crack the smallest grin was impossible -- and believe me, I've tried. After Dad died, she went to work on the assembly line at General Motors for the next 20 years. Never missed a day. Never took a vacation. Never laughed. Raising four children all by herself, I guess there wasn't much to laugh about," Boloven says.

His mother, now 79, retired 10 years ago, he adds. Since then, she's found little in life to inspire mirth.

Then one day last April, Boloven's niece called to say, " 'There's a new movie about a Greek family you just gotta go see,' " Boloven says. "We're all Greeks out here, and so me, my sister and my mother, we went together to 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' " During the film, his mother did an amazing thing. She laughed. Not just a chuckle or a smile, but what Boloven calls "a big fat Greek belly laugh." Boloven was gratified, to say the least. It was an event. It was a first. It was a relief. It was something he'd waited for all his life -- and something he wanted to make happen again.

Boloven went back to work, his mother returned to what he calls her grumbling, and life continued as usual for a week or so, until 9 o'clock one evening, when Boloven was surfing the Internet and came upon a site that offered the "Greek Wedding" dress at auction to benefit a charity.

"It was the last day of the auction -- in fact, the last hour. It was gonna be over at 10 p.m. The dress was so beautiful," and all he could think of was that it would make his mother smile to have it. So he bid on the wedding dress and seven other items from the movie. And he won them. He won't reveal what he paid, except to say that he's "not a rich man." But Paula Silver of Beyond the Box in L.A., the firm that handled the film's marketing, says he probably paid only "a few hundred dollars."

"The film was brand new, and we had all these props, this wardrobe, and we wanted to maximize the marketing of the movie," Silver says. "So I had everybody sign everything. John Corbett's briefcase, his corduroy blazer, the wedding menu, the dress, the shoes. I even had them sign the padded bras -- all as a way of getting some good word of mouth going. We put everything on the film's official Web site, hosted by Yahoo." For the 50 or so items, Silver says the total proceeds came to about $4,000. The money went to a Greek charitable organization in Santa Barbara.

Boloven says he mailed a check to the auctioneers and, after it cleared, they sent "a huge box" with what seemed like more than he expected: the wedding dress, the veil and train, the shoes (size 9), two other dresses he'd bid on, the hardcover wedding menu, softcover takeout menus, the memento box that belonged to the film's fictional grandmother, a film script, a poster, some T-shirts. Each item, including the inside of the wedding dress, bore autographs of the film's stars and producer: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks. The lid of the memento box is signed by both Hanks and Wilson, he says, and he has a certificate of authenticity for every item.

Here the story turns a bit murky. Did Boloven's mother laugh? Or even smile? "She thought I was nuts," Boloven says, deftly evading the question.

Can she come to the phone so we can ask her? "You can try, but she speaks mostly Greek, not English," he replies. "Ma," he hollers. "Come here." She says "hello" but thereafter offers only garbled, underwater sounds in response to questions. The word "crazy" appears in mid-garble after she is asked about her son's purchase. She hands the phone back to her youngest, who tries to explain how the treasure trove has affected her, although he does not mention smiles.

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