COVER

A NATIONAL CELEBRATION

HAL QUINN January 25 1988
COVER

A NATIONAL CELEBRATION

HAL QUINN January 25 1988

A NATIONAL CELEBRATION

COVER

The proposal came from snowbound Edmonton to inclemently cool Columbia, S.C., on Jan.

10. It was her 27th birthday. Coming from Canada’s most eligible bachelor, it was one she did not refuse. Two days later their international agreement was the big story across Canada. Wayne Gretzky, 26, of Brantford, Ont., the best hockey player in the world, proposed marriage to Janet Jones, of St. Louis, a beautiful actress and dancer. “She said yes,” Gretzky said last week in the Alberta capital. “It’s definite. We’re getting married. It will be a big wedding.

You only do it once.

We’re going to do it right.” In the South Carolina capital, where she was filming an aerobics video, Jones said:

“You know he asked my mother first? I couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. To have him ask me, the way he asked me, I was thrilled.”

Secret: The details of his proposal are their secret. Said Jones: “All I can say is that he proposed in a very special way. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. It was very, very special.”

But keeping the news a secret was especially difficult. Gretzky told his parents and family of three younger brothers and a sister by phone Monday evening.

His father, Walter, spoke to him first, but soon his mother, Phyllis, picked up the extension at their Brantford,

Ont., home. Said Walter:

“Wayne is just bursting at the seams. I think he’ll be happier than he ever was, and he was always a happy person.”

Added Phyllis: “We are all really happy for him, but I thought it was kind of quick. All this seemed kind of sudden.”

Still, Gretzky did not immediately tell his friends and teammates on the Edmonton Oilers.

A knee injury sustained in late December has forced the National

Hockey League’s most adept scorer to miss all of the Oilers’ games this month. At week’s end, Gretzky told Maclean’s that he hopes to be back in the lineup by the end of the month. After last Monday’s game between the Oilers and the Washington Capitals in Edmonton, Gretzky visited

his team’s dressing room but said nothing of his engagement.

But later that night, at Earl’s Tin Palace restaurant close to Gretzky’s home, the tousle-haired blond joined teammates Dave Hannan and his wife, Ginny, and Craig MacTavish and his fiancée, Debbie Andrews, for a late dinner. Gretzky told Maclean’s: “I didn’t want to tell my friends and teammates in the dressing room. I wanted to tell them privately and individually. But Craig and Debbie are getting married this summer, and I was so excited I told Craig. Well, he ordered champagne and the people at the other tables asked what was going on, and Craig said, ‘Wayne’s getting married.’ My last words to everybody were ‘Let’s keep this a little quiet for awhile.’ ” But someone who was at the restaurant that night called in the news to a local radio station. Said Gretzky wryly: “So I guess I kept it quiet for about four hours.”

Tip: The celebrants at Earl’s phoned Jones in Columbia from the restaurant, before moving along to the home of Oiler centre and Gretzky pal Mark Messier. Said Jones: “He kept calling me all night, putting friends and players on the phone. It sure sounded like they were really celebrating up there.” Meanwhile, Edmonton Sun sports columnist and Edmonton radio station CHED sportcaster Terry Jones, working on the tip from the caller—who requested anonymity— prepared a report on the impending nuptials for his Jan. 12 radio show that went on the air shortly after 7 a.m.

The anonymous caller is now eligible for the station’s $1,000 prize for the news tip of the year. Said Gretzky’s marketing manager, Mike Barnett of Corpsport International, who heard about the engagement

from Gretzky five hours before the radio broadcast: “Wayne later said he might as well have called the station himself and collected the $1,000 for all the time it took the news to get out.” Added Barnett: “I have never seen Gretzky this happy, not after winning the three Stanley Cups or the two Canada Cups.”

And Gretzky’s best friends were happy, too, but for a 1,000 reasons. Among them are Messier and Oiler defenceman Kevin Lowe who made a wager in their first year in professional hockey with Gretzky. Said Messier: “We win the bet. ‘Gretz’ will have a new bride, Walter and Phyllis will have a daughter-in-law, and Kevin and I get $1,000 each.” Messier explained:

“We bet that the first guy to get married had to pay the other two guys $1,000.” But, said Lowe, “there is some dispute about the bet—I remember it being the last guy to stay single had to pay the other two—but we’re sticking with the first story.” Wager: The wager aside, Messier and Lowe were clearly pleased by the engagement. Said Lowe: “The guy deserves nothing but the best. She’s a super lady. My mom sat with Janet at five or six games this season. My mother is always tough with her assessments and she liked Janet a lot. Wayne is going to get all the tender loving care he needs.” Added Oiler winger Glenn Anderson, also a bachelor: “I’m not really up on the subject, but you kind of know that when someone is in love like that, it’s only a matter of time.”

For Gretzky and Jones, the timing

was wrong in 1982 when they first met on the set of the disco show Dance Fever. Gretzky, a guest on the show, was in the midst of a six-year relationship with Edmonton singer Vickie Moss. Jones, one of the show’s dancers, was involved in a five-year relationship with U.S. tennis player Neis Van Patten, son of TV actor Dick Van Patten. Later, Jones was engaged to U.S. tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis. Recalled Lowe: “Wayne liked her so much then that he tried to set her up with me. I had dinner with her on a number of occasions in New York and Los Angeles.”

Dating: It was at the Los Angeles Forum last spring, at a National Basketball Association championship

game between the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics, that Gretzky and Jones met again. Gretzky and Moss were no longer seeing each other, and Jones and Gerulaitis were no longer engaged. Said Jones: “We both laughed because we both thought the other would be married by then.” They started dating, and, according to Jones, they succeeded in keeping their relationship a secret for “the first month and a half.”

Still, because of the time and travel demands of their careers, their relationship remained largely a long-distance and relatively private one until Jones joined fans in the arenas and watched her boyfriend lead Team Canada to victory in last fall’s Canada Cup. Their romance became national news, and the marriage rumors gathered momentum. Still, said Gretzky last week, “the réponse to the fact that we’re getting married

has amazed both of us. It’s been overwhelming. Everyone has been so supportive. It is really flattering.” Said Jones: “Thinking about the wedding makes me really nervous. I am so surprised at how fast the news got out.”

The development only intensified the already intense media glare attracted by their high-profile careers. Gretzky, who has faced television lights and proffered microphones almost daily for half of his life, was ruffled by questions about his engagement. “That was the hardest thing I’ve done,” he said. “It’s a lot easier talking about hockey than talking about getting engaged.”

It will not become easier as their July 16 wedding date in Edmonton draws closer. Nor will it be simple to schedule time together after their wedding. Said Gretzky: “There is a lot of pressure on both of us. She has her career and I have my career. It’s not going to be your regular 8 to 5 husband and wife situation. But I am excited that she is so supportive of my career and I am very supportive of hers.” Indeed, Jones told Maclean's: “Wayne met me as a dancer and an actress. And he would never want me to stop my career, unless we have a child. And I am ready for that, too. A child is the ultimate sign of love. We both want kids. A child to Wayne would be so special.”

‘Right’: For now the couple plans to celebrate the engagement with Jones’s family next month when Gretzky is in her home town, St. Louis, for the National Hockey League All-Star game. Jones is looking forward to watching the game. Said Gretzky’s fiancée: “When I watch Wayne on the ice, he looks like a little boy out there. He looks thrilled to be on the ice. It is neat to watch someone who loves what they are doing. And he is as great a boyfriend and fiancé as he is a hockey player.” Added Gretzky: “We hit it off so well. You get a feeling when something is right, and this is right.”

TERRY JONES

—HAL QUINN in Toronto with TERRY JONES in Edmonton and BRUCE WALLACE in Columbia

At week’s end, following a therapy session on his knee, Gretzky said he was looking forward to seeing his fiancée in Edmonton. He added: “We both have made this commitment, we both enjoy families. We have both been around the world, we have both seen everything, we have both done a lot and have both been very fortunate. Life has been good to us. And now I guess it’s time to get as much normality as we can in our lives.”

BRUCE WALLACE