Welcome to My Pew

Liza finally did it.

The last time she got married was in Halston’s living room. The

fourth time, she got it right. The white and silver engraving on the invitation

read: “Because you have shared in our lives by your friendship and love, we,

LIZA MAY MINNELLI and DAVID ALAN GEST, invite you to share the beginning of our

new life together when we exchange marriage vows on Saturday, the sixteenth of

March, Two Thousand and Two, at five o’clock in the afternoon.” That invitation

may some day have historic value. An original invitation to the wedding of

Liza’s parents, Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, today brings in a small

ransom on e-Bay. Since no cameras were allowed to provide photographic

memories, I’m holding onto mine. I have to. I may never be invited to anything

like this again.

O.K., so Elizabeth Taylor

demanded a Lear jet and couldn’t get out of her chair; Chaka Khan requested a $300

per diem and got 86’d; and Whitney Houston got replaced by Natalie Cole as the

wedding singer. O.K., so at a time when restraint has become mandatory, the

words “gross” and “excess” emanated sotto

voce from the church pews. O.K., so the guest list promised two Presidents

(Gerry and Bill), one Senator (Hillary) and two Mayors (Mike and Rudy), and

none of them showed up. O.K., so the groom ran the show and the bride didn’t

know half of the guests-not to mention most of her own bridesmaids. O.K., so

“The Event of the Year” was maybe more like “The Event of the Year-So Far.”

(It’s only March.)

I’m here to tell you that when I arrived a block from Ground Zero

on Saturday night, entered a rose-filled ballroom that used to be the first New

York Stock Exchange and saw Martha Stewart dancing with Donny Osmond to the

blasting “live” music of Little Anthony and the Imperials, with Margaret

O’Brien on one side of the floor and Lauren Bacall on the other, I knew we

weren’t in Kansas anymore.

But, first, the wedding.

On a

first-come, first-served basis-no seat assignments-the mink-draped rich and

famous anxious for a close-up started arriving at Marble Collegiate Church two

hours early. Every limo, town car and available taxi in town competed with

rain, fog and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to create gridlock on Fifth Avenue,

allowing nothing to move for a four-block radius. Behind police barricades, a

howling mob of curiosity seekers and groupies carrying “We love Liza!” posters

jockeyed for position with camera crews, all wanting photo-ops of the

illustrious wedding guests, who passed through metal detectors as a security

guard announced, “Surrender all cell phones, please!” On line to enter the

church, one overwhelmed rapper who had probably never heard of Liza Minnelli

said, “This is the biggest deal since Sly Stone staged his own wedding in the

first act of his concert at Madison Square Garden.” My typically underwhelmed

Brooklyn cabbie, stalled in crosstown traffic for half an hour, frowned in the

rearview mirror: “By the time Mike Tyson fights in June, everybody will have

forgotten the Liza wedding.”

But not today. Media-fed like

sharks in a frenzy, the whole town had been gearing up for weeks for this one.

The day before the main event, one Hollywood TV producer who arrived with a

crew hoping for a few lucky sound bites did what most Hollywood TV producers do

the minute they hit town: He headed for an A. A. meeting. The topic is usually

pain; the topic this day was Liza Minnelli’s wedding. Is that a New Age

definition of fame, or what?

Well, why not? A year ago,

this girl was in a wheelchair, delusional with brain encephalitis, paralyzed

with agony from back surgery and two hip replacements, recovering from

substance abuse and hooked on painkillers-her voice in shreds, her career in jeopardy

and her future in doubt. Then, in August, she met David Gest, an “event

organizer” who produces weird, multi-generational extravaganzas with all-star

casts, derided by the press but adored by Michael Jackson and every Hollywood

star over 70.

She needed money. He needed

an entrée to her A-list. Call it “Let’s Make a Deal.” Or call it love.

Under his forceful guidance,

she lost 90 pounds, declared war on booze and pills, rebuilt her body,

reclaimed her self-confidence and hit the comeback trail. He butched it up with

a brown crew cut, denied Vanity Fair ‘s

snide implication that he plucks his eyebrows, discarded his creepy sunglasses

and started renovating her apartment. The Warhols are in storage; he’s knocking

down walls, laying marble floors, throwing away her furniture and turning her

living room into an entertainment center with theatrical lighting, two grand

pianos and a skyline view. The guest room, once occupied by Liza’s godmother,

the late, great Kay Thompson, has been transformed into an office that looks

like the control center of the U.S.S.

Intrepid .

Her friends are aghast, of

course, and quick to point out that none of this has anything to do with Liza.

“A gift list on Tiffany.com?” wailed one of her oldest friends, who was not

invited to the wedding. “Four soup tureens at $4,600 apiece? I have never seen

Liza eat, order, cook or serve a bowl of soup!” But her eyes are clear, she

doesn’t sweat or shake, and she just sort of sparkles again, like the

16-year-old girl I met in an Off Broadway show called Best Foot Forward . Her old friend and co-star Chita Rivera said,

“The girl is where she wants to be. She needs to be back in the middle of life.

So if she gets even a year of contentment out of this, then I’m like, ‘O.K., I

gotta let go and wish her luck.’ She’s earned it.” Besides, it’s not much fun

to sleep alone with your Oscar.

Forget about the $4,600 soup

tureens. A few nights before the wedding, Liza invited three friends over. They

climbed over a pile of Tiffany boxes, then sat on the floor and ate Chinese

takeout from paper plates.

It was 4 p.m. as Hayley

Mills, Jill St. John, Ann Rutherford, June Haver, Arlene Dahl, Joan Collins,

Marsha Hunt, Gale ( My Little Margie )

Storm, Dionne Warwick, Dina Merrill, Geoffrey Holder and Diana Ross passed

through the security checkpoints. Outside, the mob yelled, “Hey, Diana, show us

your ass!” Inside, the church was set for a symphony in white euphoria-elegant

and lavish, yet warm and touchy-feely festive, like a dream sequence directed

by Vincente Minnelli at MGM. The pews, detailed with white peonies and roses,

faced cascades of white orchids hand-sewn like Tahitian leis and hung from a

chapel apse in the shape of two weeping willow trees.

“Not since Princess Di,”

whispered Andy Hardy’s old girlfriend, Ann Rutherford. ” La-di-dah . Leave it to David.”

5:15. Donald Trump and Jane

Russell entered, but not together. A hush fell over the church. Joe Bologna and

Renee Taylor entered. Together. No hush. Dr. Mathilde Krim and Cy Coleman were

latecomers, relegated to the balcony. “There’s Andy Williams!” “Where?”

“Sitting on the aisle with the gray hair.” “God, he’s aged.” All that was

missing was Joan Rivers announcing the arrivals and counting the facelifts.

The organ started. A black

choir from Harlem sang a hymn. But nothing happened. “There’s the mayor!” “What

mayor?” “Buddy Cianci, the mayor of Providence, R.I. He’s facing so many felony

indictments, the voters have stopped counting.” The organ started again. The

Harlem choir sang another hymn. The natives were restless. Suddenly, laughter

and applause. No, it wasn’t Liza coming down the aisle. It was Mickey Rooney.

He wasn’t in the wedding. He was just better late than never. The Mick bowed

and waved as the ushers led him back up the aisle to a seat in the back.

At 25 minutes to 6, somebody

in the next row asked, “Do you think Liza is getting cold feet?” “No, it’s

probably Michael Jackson. He never appears before dark.” At 6 p.m., the organ

burst into Leroy Anderson’s “Belle of the Ball,” and Jacko entered the stage in

full makeup. Down the aisle, the wedding procession commenced. Esther Williams,

previously publicized as a bridesmaid, was a no-show, but the others, all in

black, were wearing their own clothes. Mia Farrow on the arm of Robert Wagner.

Gina Lollobrigida with Tony Franciosa. Cynthia McFadden, the chief legal

reporter for ABC News; rock star Maya; Liza’s best friend, Arlene Lazar; Janet

Leigh; Petula Clark; gossip columnist Cindy Adams, who’d been standing in the

wings writing her column while waiting to go on-all on the arms of men nobody

recognized, later described as “various airline and recording-industry

investors and business associates of the groom.”

A bolt of white satin the

length of the church unfurled. Out came Cynthia McFadden’s son, Spencer, a

dumpling with a Buster Brown haircut, tossing white rose petals. Natalie Cole

sang a wistful, romantic “Unforgettable.”

At last, there she was: a

radiant, grinning Liza, coming down the aisle in a white jeweled Bob Mackie

gown with a removable train “suitable for future occasions,” on the arm of her

longtime conductor, Bill LaVorgna, whom everybody calls “Pappy.” Waving from

the first row were one of her stepmothers, society duenna Denise Minnelli Hale,

who’d flown in from San Francisco, and her half-brother Joey Luft. (Sister

Lorna sent regrets from Australia. Don’t ask.)

The bubbly bride and the

petrified groom were flanked on one side by Michael Jackson and his brother

Tito, and on the other by Marisa Berenson, luscious in Gianfranco Ferre, and a

frail, disoriented Elizabeth Taylor, hunched over in pain, her face covered by

a veil. Liza giggled; David started kissing her passionately before the

Episcopal minister even spoke; the crowd laughed, and it was time for the

rings. Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson started an animated exchange behind

the bride and groom. They’d mixed up the rings, but she was too plagued by back

pain to rise from her chair. “Which ring do you have?” whispered Liz, who

starred in Vincente Minnelli’s Father of

the Bride and has her own extensive history of experience at weddings. “I

have the wrong one!” Jacko saved the day, crossing the stage and trading rings.

The minister said, “I pronounce you man and wife.” A gospel singer named

Shirley Caesar belted out “Amazing Grace.” And it was all over at 6:20, when

the Harlem choir sang a bouncy “It’s Gonna Be a Great Day” and Liza did Bob

Fosse steps out the door.

Party time.

In

the car stampede, nobody could find their driver. Petite Ann Blyth was nearly

knocked off her feet on the curb, and Dionne Warwick growled, “Watch it,

buster!” to a renegade photographer who burst through the police lines. I

hitched a ride with a carload of golden oldies who couldn’t stop talking about

what they’d just seen. Ann Rutherford was a fountain of information.

“David originally wanted St.

Patrick’s Cathedral, but I said, ‘Not on St. Patrick’s Day.’ And besides, you

can’t convert from Judaism in only six months for the sake of a glamorous photo

shoot.”

“It takes six months just to

learn the names of all the saints,” added June Haver, who once left movie

musicals and actually joined a convent before she returned to Hollywood and

married Fred MacMurray.

Anne Jeffreys,

sandwich-wrapped in red fur, called for a moment of silence as we passed Ground

Zero. Expensively massaged necks craned to catch the twin towers of light

through the sun roof. Negotiating our way from 29th Street and Fifth Avenue

through the gallimaufry of alleys leading to the Regent Wall Street hotel took

an hour in the stalled traffic. “I never thought I’d miss the Santa Monica

Freeway,” said Ms. Jeffreys, as creamy as she was umpteen years ago in Topper .

Security guards carrying

walkie-talkies shouted “Remove all cameras!” at the lanes of approaching limos.

“That,” said Ann Rutherford, shoving a darning needle through her Katie Hepburn

hair, “is because David is a clever boy. He stages his wedding like a

television special, gets the airlines to fly in the stars, produces it all

personally, then sells the exclusive photo rights for $1.35 million to OK! Magazine in England, which then

sells them to People . The whole thing

pays for itself. The dinner we’re about to eat costs $750 a plate. Somebody has to pay.”

More metal detectors rooted

out hidden Instamatics, and we were now ready to enter the salud sanctorum of another MGM musical. In Preston Bailey’s décor,

orange-blossom white was replaced by jungle red: 120 tables of 10, decorated

with red tablecloths and groaning under massive centerpieces of red anemones

and roses, each lit by a single pin spot from the carved 80-foot-high ceiling

(built in 1842), crowded the 12,000-square-foot ballroom. I was in Heaven

between Gena Rowlands and Jane Powell.

“I love them. I love Liza. I

love David. Tonight I love everybody,” beamed Suzanne Mados, owner of New

York’s Wyndham Hotel, who has seen it all.

“I’ll drink to that,” said

Sally Ann Howes.

We all drank to love and

survival as tall, willowy Claudia Cardinale waltzed past with a feathered elm

tree rising from the top of her head. Star Jones, wearing furs, jewels and $17

Payless plastic shoes, shouted, “This is glamour. This is fun. This is it!”

Gigantic Luther Vandross bent over to embrace elfin Paul Williams. Kirk Douglas

rose to kiss Betty Bacall. Petula Clark sang “Downtown” through 1,000 lobster

salads. Every place setting included a heart-shaped two-pound box of See’s

chocolates with a bouquet of real roses and a photo of Liza and David on the

lid.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Miss

Vicki Carr!” said the man on the loudspeaker as the goat cheese and Bibb

arrived. “Please welcome Isaac Hayes and Patti Austin!” came with the filet

mignon and asparagus. Liza, made up by Kevyn Aucoin and looking like a goth Gibson

girl, entered in a floor-length white mink by Dennis Basso to loving applause,

then ripped it off to reveal a red fringed Bob Mackie flapper dress, while a

400-pound bodyguard draped her fire-engine-red feather boa around his own neck,

thick as a veal chop.

“This is no bullshit,” said

one of Anthony Quinn’s sons. “She looks like she’s having an orgasm, and she’s

not faking.”

Maybe it was the Dom

Perignon, but it all started to look good to me, too. “I’ve got everything

crossed,” I said to the bride.

“So do I,” she whispered, and

bit me on the ear.

Beats the hell out of staying

home with a Bud Lite, watching Saturday

Night Live .

By 10 p.m., I couldn’t find a trace of cynicism in the joint.

Everyone was table-hopping. Ahmet Ertegun was comparing the evening to Truman

Capote’s historic Black and White Ball at the Plaza. Jane Withers said, “They

should just call it ‘WOW!'” Seeing Ms. Withers, Franco Nero whispered to me, “I

thought she was dead.” She asked him, “Are you Turhan Bey?” He replied, “Who’s

Turhan Bey?”

Margaret O’Brien, the most

talented child star at MGM in the 1940’s, introduced her daughter, a student of

forensic psychology at U.S.C. “I have a special connection with Liza,” Margaret

told me. “She was conceived while I was doing Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland, you know. The little white

dotted Swiss I wore in the last scene is the dress she wore three years later,

the first time she ever appeared on the screen with Judy, at the end of In the Good Old Summertime . We’re both

children of Hollywood, and that’s not easy. David will be very good for her, I

think …. He’ll give her emotional stability and financial security-two things

most women in our business never have …. She’s using him? He’s using her? Who

cares? Nobody deserves to do it all alone.”

Bill La Vorgna chimed in:

“Liza was so nervous tonight, she was shaking all over. While we were waiting

to walk down the aisle, she said, ‘I’ve waited 30 years for this, Pappy, but I

think I finally found somebody who will take care of me .’ I don’t know this David, but all we can do is pray.”

11:20 p.m. Clearly, the

evening should be called “When Worlds Collide.” Mickey Rooney was seated with

Anthony Hopkins. Broadway producers bellied up to the bar with set designers.

Reggae kings in dreadlocks boogied with the amazing Joan Collins and her

22-inch waist. Andy Williams sang “Our Love Is Here to Stay” while the

newlyweds danced, stuck in each other’s arms like Cling Wrap. Phoebe Snow was

up next, then Queen, Pablo Cruise, Freda Payne knocking out “Band of Gold,”

Billy Paul rocking “Me and Mrs. Jones” as Liza hopped across the stage, slinging

her feathers.

Would you believe Topol

singing “If I Were a Rich Man”? Deborah Cox, Snazzy, Michael McDonald, people I

had never heard of. Ray Conniff, looking like Moe Howard, conducted his corny

choir in “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor

Zhivago while globe lights filled the ballroom in a Russian storm of

swirling snowflakes. People who came with eyebrows raised, expecting “tacky,”

were using words like “awesome.” Not one Liza drag queen in the joint, and

nobody showed any signs of packing it in. Patricia Neal had been standing on

the dance floor with her mouth open for four hours. “I’m getting her out of

here,” said her daughter, Tessa Dahl. “Don’t go,” pleaded the host. “Stay and

hang. There’s more.” With 45 scheduled acts, he had ordered 1,200 breakfasts to

be served at 4 a.m.

At midnight, the Doobie

Brothers staged an all-star rock session in ponytails and kilts, with Dave Koz

on sax, Petula Clark and Freda Payne on vocals, and a 12-year-old guitarist.

Everyone was deaf and hoarse from the noise, but where else are you ever going

to see Cy Coleman, Kander and Ebb, and Comden and Green in the same room? By

the time the Olympus-size wedding cake rolled out-four feet and five tiers of

white chocolate, covered with blackberries and designed by overpriced cake

queen Sylvia Weinstock-the music was so loud that nobody could swallow.

“Wouldn’t you know it?” yelled Carroll ( Baby

Doll ) Baker. “The one night of the year when I forget my ear plugs!”

Monica. Marilyn McCoo.

Fleetwood Mac. Ann Blyth sang “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” from Kismet . Carol Channing’s wig fell

sideways. Denise Rich pushed her way toward the ladies’ room. Sometimes it

seemed like the bodyguards outnumbered the guests.

By 12:30, Michael Feinstein

took over; Phyllis Newman dragged Adolph Green toward the exit, and Celeste

Holm looked like she was about to pass out cold-but Carol Channing was still

dancing. Debbie Reynolds and Rosie O’Donnell were on the seating chart, listed

at Table 19, but when I checked it out their chairs were empty and three 9-year-old

kids were swiping a pile of cookies iced with a Liza-and-David photo in

marzipan. I spotted Andy Williams (who was discovered by Kay Thompson) in deep

conversation with Donny Osmond (who was discovered by Andy Williams) about the

legendary days of Thompson and the Williams Brothers at the Persian Room.

Marisa Berenson said, “Half

of these people have never met before, but the one thing we all have in common

is that everybody loves Liza-and the positive energy in this room proves it.”

Added Katie Wagner, “I’ve had it with the negative press-he’s this, she’s that,

it can’t last. Get over it . If this

marriage is a Band-Aid, let the healing begin. We’ve had the Liza in Trouble

story. Tonight is about Liza in Love.”

Sally Kirkland shimmied by, weaving to the music and peeling out

of her sarong like an orange. She had a jeweled Indian bindi glued to her forehead: “It keeps me focused.” Meanwhile, I

was focusing on David Gest’s secret list of regrets and no-shows, provided by a

publicist who guarded it like a Snickers bar at a seminar on optimistic

determinism. Yoko Ono, Elton John, Billy Joel, Whoopi Goldberg, Ann Miller,

Hubert de Givenchy, Clint Eastwood, Cyd Charisse, Barbara Walters, Sophia

Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Robert De Niro, Mikhail Baryshnikov-the list goes on

and on.

“If you tell anyone where you

saw this,” whispered the mole, “I’ll kill you.” No wonder. The no-shows are

more illustrious than the did-shows.

But still, Lynn Wyatt and

Dominick Dunne and Isaac Mizrahi and Seamus Previn ain’t Nathan’s mustard.

It

was almost 2 a.m. Gloria Gaynor was screaming her way through “I Will Survive”

as a special tribute to Liza and David, and I was too tired to identify the

voice nearby that described the dance floor as “a scene from The Snake Pit .”

It looked like a wrap. The

much-anticipated reunion of the Pointer Sisters never happened. Michael Jackson

never sang. Liza was saving her voice. Even Carol Channing had gone. The 1,200

4 a.m. breakfasts had been canceled. Liza told me, “Honey, my contacts feel like

two potato chips,” and then fell into the arms of Ben Vereen.

What was the verdict? The

newlyweds won’t stick around to find out. After a fast honeymoon in Thailand,

they head for London, where Liza opens April 2 at Royal Albert Hall. On the

curb, I overheard two jaded New York cops behind me: “How long do you give it?”

“Six months or 5,000 miles-whatever comes first.”

I wouldn’t bet on it. Knowing

Liza, this story is just beginning. In the cab home, Barbra Streisand (who

declined her invitation) was singing into the New York dawn:

So long, sad times

Go long, bad times

Happy days are here again ….

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