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Weekend of wonder

It's on. It's off. It's moved. The Ben-Jen wedding Sunday is postponed. Right?

September 13, 2003|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Helicopters circled the quiet cypress enclave of Montecito this week, and paparazzi tailed every limousine that crossed the Santa Barbara County line. Tabloid reporters tempted bartenders at the Four Seasons Resort with cash for information. Satellite trucks and camera crews staked out local hotels and churches. Decoy brides were booked to throw off the press. And the sheriff's department was on call to protect the wedding guests.

Even after Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez said they had postponed their much-hyped wedding, the rumor mill still churned. The latest? That Michael Jackson will host Sunday's nuptials at his nearby Neverland Ranch.

It's the biggest celebrity wedding story since Brad and Jen tied the knot in Malibu in 2000. The Affleck-Lopez union has generated drama of the Taylor-Burton kind. The couple have baited the press with their very public romance for more than a year. Yet their wedding plans are top-secret, which naturally has added fuel to the media firestorm.

"They've lived their entire relationship in front of the cameras," says "Extra's" senior executive producer Lisa Gregor- isch-Dempsey. "They met in front of the cameras. It's like a giant corporation merging and trying to keep it private."

Par for the course, then, is round-the-clock coverage detailing every wrinkle in their wedding plans. (Lopez buys lingerie at Agent Provocateur! She visits her spiritual advisor in Alhambra! The couple meet with their trainer!)

"When you have Hollywood royalty, which these two are, then there's going to be just as much interest as if it was a royal wedding," says Bonnie Fuller, who, as chief editorial director for American Media Inc. oversees more than 20 magazines, including the National Enquirer, Star and Globe. "Celebrities are American royalty."

Intentional or not, the Affleck-Lopez courtship was flamboyant, even by Hollywood standards. They met in late 2001 on the set of "Gigli," shortly after Affleck's stint in rehab for alcohol problems. Lopez was still technically a newlywed with second husband choreographer Cris Judd. By April 2002, Judd and Lopez had separated and Affleck was lavishing her with extravagant gifts (the 6-carat pink diamond ring! the Bentley!). By August 2002, they were living together and shooting another film, "Jersey Girl."

And despite purporting to be confounded by the hoopla, the couple haven't exactly been low-profile. Throughout the year, their amorous public displays have appeared weekly in the tabloids, and their shopping sprees have inspired entire segments on the E! Entertainment Network.

Lopez announced their engagement on "ABC Primetime" in November 2002. In July, the couple cooed over each other for "Access Hollywood's" Pat O'Brien during an hourlong interview on "Dateline NBC" to promote "Gigli."

The wedding speculation began in earnest after Lopez's divorce was final in January. Valentine's Day was the first wedding date floated by the media. After that day came and went, the rumors flew in all directions. Atlanta, London, Boston, Scotland and Kauai, Hawaii, were all named as possible wedding locations. Eventually, Affleck started launching his own red herrings. "It is in Namibia on Nov. 15," he told reporters this summer. "So you go ahead and fly on down, and we'll see you there."

Then "Gigli" tanked, which the gossips took as a sure sign the wedding was off. Affleck's hijinks in a Vancouver strip club in July did little to quell those rumors and neither did Lopez's now infamous night out alone in Hollywood. (She wasn't wearing her engagement ring! She was overheard telling rap artist Q-Tip that she's "single"!)

If a rift ever existed (Lopez, in the current issue of W magazine, says the strip club "wasn't an issue"), it soon healed.

"It's sort of like a soap opera, and every week we have a new episode," says Us Weekly's West Coast editor, Ken Baker. "It's been like a celebrity journalists' dream."

Details about the wedding started trickling out and were quickly reported as fact by national tabloids and entertainment news television. They included the following: About 400 guests were invited by phone and asked to come to Los Angeles today, when they would receive more details. Vows would be exchanged Sunday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Montecito and guests would be shuttled to a nearby estate, Sotto Il Monte, for the reception.

Then Wednesday, ABC News Radio interviewed Vivian Terhakr of Spooner, Wis., whose daughter was scheduled to marry Sunday at the Four Seasons Resort (the former Biltmore Hotel in Montecito). The Affleck-Lopez wedding, Terhakr told ABC, would be at the same hotel. Which is why, she said, her daughter's guests were told to keep their invitations on hand to avoid being mistaken for Ben-Jen crashers. The couple's publicists would confirm none of it.

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