The 'Royal' Wedding

MARK NICHOLS July 25 1988

The 'Royal' Wedding

MARK NICHOLS July 25 1988

The 'Royal' Wedding


The crowd along Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue began gathering in the morning and, by late afternoon, it had swollen to nearly 10,000 people. Sidewalk vendors hawked “Wayne and Janet” balloons and peddled hotdogs, popcorn and ice cream to the good-humored crowd in the warm, sunny weather. There were flurries of excitement as limousines deposited celebrity guests at the doors of St. Joseph’s Basilica. Then, there was a restless 40-minute wait as Edmonton’s—and perhaps Canada’s—wedding of the century unfolded inside the massive Roman Catholic cathedral. Finally, at 4:30 p.m. on July 16, Wayne and Janet Gretzky emerged from the basilica and descended the fern-draped church steps between two ranks of Edmonton city firefighters in red coats and white-topped hats. “We love you, Wayne,” someone shouted as the couple kissed, and kissed again, and again, for the photographers. Declared Brenda Savella-Smith, an Edmonton graphic designer who was in the crowd: “In England, they have the royal family. In the United States, it’s Hollywood. But we have to make our own heroes in Canada.”

Hoopla: In the hectic days before the wedding, the Edmonton Oilers’ star centre deplored newspaper comparisons between his marriage and the nuptials of British royalty. But, in the end, after all the hype and the hoopla—and some cheap shots against the modest young Canadian who is the world’s greatest hockey player and his American movie-actress bride—it was an elegant and even regal event. The bride wore a dress that surpassed the wildest rumors—a shimmering creation of French-made Duchess satin sewn with tiny pearls and glass beads and trailing a 15-foot-long train. And in that moment when the couple—both blond and both 27—stood on the basilica steps before plunging into the first chapter of their life together, they performed the traditional royal function of embodying the fears and joys of every citizen. Like any other man,


Gretzky looked relieved. And his new wife, the former Janet Jones of Los Angeles, looked joyful.

Inside the 25-year-old basilica, Gretzky, known for his masterful composure on the ice, appeared nervous as the basilica’s Roman Catholic pastor, Rev. Michael McCaffery, and Rev. John Munro, a retired Anglican minister from Gretzky’s native Brantford, Ont., jointly conducted the marriage service. The Great One stood rigidly through much of the service, while Jones, relaxed and radiant, frequently reached

for the groom’s hand and smiled at him reassuringly. The couple’s vows to one another included promises “to love and cherish . . . and to be faithful to you alone.” Declared Munro later: “I have a feeling their faith in marriage is going to take hold. Father McCaffery and I declared them married together.”

Idol: There were some incongruous touches to the otherwise glittering wedding. As a convoy of stretched Cadillac and Lincoln limousines drove up and dropped off guests at the basilica, hockey legend Gordie Howe, Gretzky’s boyhood idol, and his wife, Colleen, arrived in a dilapidated taxicab. Joked Howe: “It’s a grand day. It will be a happy marriage if only he can learn to play hockey.” Dave Semenko, the bruising ex-Toronto Maple Leaf and former Oilers teammate of Gretzky’s, attended the wedding dressed in light blue trousers and a dark blue jacket and wearing no socks.

It was probably the most publicized wedding ever performed in Canada— and no marriage has generated greater interest among Canadians since that of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Sinclair in 1971. Unlike the Trudeaus’ Vancouver wedding— which was only revealed to the world after it had taken place—plans for the Gretzky-Jones marriage were announced in January, allowing six months for public interest to reach fever pitch.

For Albertans and millions of other Canadians, the wedding was charged with nearly all of the glamor and magic of a royal wedding. It was the union of a talented and gentlemanly sports hero who, for many Canadians, embodies some of the nation’s most cherished values, and his glamorous American princess. As well, the marriage of the hockey hero and the Hollywood starlet projected an apt symbolism at a time of often-bitter political debate over the proposed Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, which some critics say will tie Canada too closely to the United States. “Because Wayne Gretzky is marrying an American girl, there is perhaps a sense that The Great One has not been true to his roots,” said John Robert Colombo, Toronto-based editor of New Canadian Quotations. “It is, shall we say, free trade in action.”

Cost: It was an opulent affair that may have cost as much as $250,000. The nave of the basilica, which was patterned on the Gothic style and boasts 60 stained-glass windows, was decked with masses of fresh champagne-colored roses and plate-sized white Casa Blanca lilies. The bride

walked down the aisle to the strains of her favorite song, Somewhere in Time, played by a 15-piece string and woodwind ensemble from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. And her gown alone—made by Los Angeles designer Pari Malek—reportedly cost more than $40,000. On her left hand, the bride wore the three-carat diamond engagement ring—estimated to have cost at least $125,000—which Gretzky gave her last January. During the ceremony, Gretzky placed another diamondstudded double band of gold on her finger. When the couple next visits the bride’s Los Angeles apartment, the $250,000 tan-and-creamcolored Corniche RollsRoyce that Gretzky gave Jones as a wedding present will be waiting.

Her gift to him: a simple kiss.

Relentless: In the

days leading up tothe wedding, Gretzky maintained his aplomb in the face of relentless questioning by reporters. After picking up his fiancée at the Westin hotel Thursday—she had arrived earlier by air from Los Angeles with nine boxes containing the wedding dresses for herself and her eight bridesmaids —Gretzky was pressed to disclose how much the wedding arrangements cost. He refused, telling reporters that the scale of the wedding had been “blown out of proportion.” Added Gretzky: “I hope people aren’t disappointed because they are expecting 10 RollsRoyces or anything like that, because it isn’t going to happen.” In a separate interview, an Edmonton Journal reporter asked Gretzky how he felt about Jones’s earlier involvements with such celebrities as tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis and televison actor Bruce Willis. Said Gretzky: “I think that her life is her life and what she did before she met me is none of my business.”

The 22-member wedding party included Gretzky’s best man, former Edmonton Oilers goalie Ed Mio, Gretzky’s three younger brothers, Brent, Keith and Glen, Oilers Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe and former Oilers defenceman Paul Coffey, who is now with the Pittsburgh Penguins (page 36). Looking on were Gretzky’s parents, Walter and Phyllis, and his sister, Kim, was one of the brides-

maids—along with former Playboy playmate Tracy Vaccaro. On Jones’s side of the aisle were her mother, Jean, her brother, Johnny—who gave away the bride—and her sister, Jeanette, the matron of honor (her father died of cancer in 1978).

Among the more than 600 invited guests who attended the ceremony and a reception later at Edmonton’s Westin hotel: hockey czar Alan Eagleson, NHL president John Ziegler, flamboyant sports broadcaster Don Cherry and Los Angeles-based Canadian television star Alan Thicke of the TV sitcom hit Growing Pains. They were

joined by hockey legend Howe, Vladislav Tretiak, the retired Soviet goalkeeping star, Alberta Premier Don Getty and his wife, Margaret, Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore and Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington. One notable absentee: Prime

Minister Brian Mulroney, who was invited, but who sent his regrets because of an inner cabinet meeting at Meech Lake, near Ottawa.

Cash: Tretiak, who arrived by air from Moscow with his wife, Tatanaya, a few hours before the wedding, gave the Gretzkys a traditional Russian wedding present known as a podnos— an oval silver tray embossed with a flower pattern. In Russia, the tray is traditionally used to collect cash gifts from wedding guests for newlyweds. Said Tretiak: “Wayne’s wedding is big

news for Russian hockey fans. People are always interested in the lives of stars.”

During the wedding ceremony, Denise Gendron, a friend of the bride, and Brent Gretzky read verses from the Old Testament’s Song of Songs. Later, at a dinner in the Westin, the Gretzkys and their guests—in honor of the Gretzky family’s Polish background-dined on traditional Polish dishes, including perogies and cabbage rolls, as well as a California-style breast of capon with peaches and Madeira sauce and, for dessert, a chocolate cup filled with chocolate mousse.

Later, with their honeymoon plans still unknown, the couple retired for the night to the hotel’s 20th-floor Crown suite, which has a fireplace, its own library and a king-sized bed. The suite has been used in the past by Queen Elizabeth n and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and by Prince Charles and Diana, the Princess of Wales.

The day of ceremony and celebration ended weeks of preparation that created controversy in Edmonton, where resentments surfaced over the apparent extravagance of the wedding—and over the marriage of two Protestants in a Roman Catholic church. As well, some Edmontonians expressed displeasure at Gretzky’s decision to marry a starlet whose Los Angeles agent, Ray Manzanella, also has as clients Wheel

of Fortune's Vanna White and Florida model Donna Rice. Rice’s widely publicized affair with Gary Hart wrecked the Colorado senator’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Cheery: Still, much of the prenuptial attention was friendly. Signs heralding the wedding appeared on buildings near the basilica. The cheery, ecumenical message displayed by Teddy’s pub and delicatessen, next door to the church on Jasper Avenue, read “Mazel Tov [Hebrew for ‘Congratulations ’], Wayne and Janet.” But a more suggestive note was struck after the tabloid Edmonton Sun asked four psychics to study the couple. One of their findings was that “Janet is basically motivated by materialism and can be undisciplined when it comes to obsessions like sex and food.”

As well, recurring criticism of Gretzky’s decision to marry a woman who posed seminude in the March, 1987, issue of Playboy magazine surfaced in the days leading up to the wedding. Declared one indignant letter writer to the Sun: “What I can’t figure out is why he chose to marry a Playboy bunny when he could have the pick of the crop. Who knows, maybe Hugh Hefner will be strutting through the cathedral.”

But although invited, Playboy publisher Hefner sent his regrets and did not attend the wedding.

Despite such carping— and the onslaught of reporters representing more than 100 North American and several offshore news organizations —Gretzky and his bride conducted themselves throughout their hectic wedding day with poise and dignity.

They were cementing a link that began to form back in 1980, when Gretzky and his future wife met, briefly, on a Los Angeles television show. Jones was then a regular performer on the syndicated television program Dance Fever, and Gretzky, the brilliant young star of the Edmon-

ton Oilers, appeared as a guest judge of the contestants. But it was not until last June, when they ran into each other at a Los Angeles basketball game, that a casual acquaintanceship blossomed into a full-scale love affair.

Gretzky’s eventful springtime meeting with Jones occurred during a period of crisis in his life. He now acknowledges that he was unhappy about the pressures of his career— and an eight-year-old relationship with Edmonton singer Vicki Moss, which was coming to an end. During that troubled period, Gretzky found in Jones a woman whose life, in many respects, paralleled his own. Both are the product of conventional upbringings in large, closely knit families. Both were passionately fond of sports as children—and both were thrust into high-stress lives as professional performers while still in their teens.

I The Missouri native, who o was born 16 days before

0 Gretzky, grew up in § Bridgeton, a middle-class

1 suburb of St. Louis, where s her father, Robert, was I vice-president of an airport I equipment firm. The sixth

of seven children, Jones at first was a tomboy who loved to play softball with her four older brothers. But as a teenager, she developed a passion for dancing. She launched her professional career in 1979 when she won the Miss Dance of America contest in San Francisco. Following a stint as a dancer at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, she settled in Los Angeles in 1979, working as a model and as a regular performer on Dance Fever.

Praised: By the time

Gretzky appeared on the show, Jones was involved in her first serious relationship—an affair with Neis Van Patten, a professional tennis player and actor, which lasted nearly five years. In 1984, she made her film debut playing the girlfriend of star Matt Dillon in the critically praised movie The Flamingo Kid and, in the following year, she won a part in Sir Richard Attenborough’s A Chorus Line. She played her first starring role, as a gymnast, in the ö 19 8 6 flop American ^ Anthem.

5 By then, Jones had ac-

quired a new boyfriend—Gerulaitis, the fading Brooklyn, N.Y.-born tennis star who arrived in her life after she and Van Patten broke up. A celebrated ladies’ man, Gerulaitis once boasted that “if I could be as successful on the tennis court as I am off it, I would be No. 1.” After the couple’s two-year engagement ended last year, Jones briefly dated Willis, the brash star of ABC TV’s hit private-investigator show, Moonlighting. Clearly, the young actress was drifting—personally and professionally. She posed for Playboy and had a prominent role in the rowdy sex comedy Police Academy v, released last spring.

Gretzky’s own unrest last year owed

much to the pressure of his astonishing career. Almost from the moment that he wobbled onto the ice in his home town of Brantford when he was 2, Gretzky exhibited the skills of a hockey prodigy. Launched into professional hockey at the age of 17, when Vancouver entrepreneur Nelson Skalbania signed him to play with the Indianapolis Racers of the now-defunct World Hockey Association, Gretzky joined the Oilers in 1979. And since that entry into the NHL, the man fans call “The Great One” has dominated his sport as few other athletes ever have. The NHL’S leading goal scorer for seven consecutive years, Gretzky led his club to four Stanley Cup victories during the past five years and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player for

eight consecutive seasons. Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins won that award this year after a sprained knee sidelined Gretzky for part of the 1987-1988 season.

Rewards: Still, by last spring, despite the estimated $3 million that he earns annually for his hockey playing and endorsements and the other material rewards of superstardom—including a two-storey penthouse apartment in Edmonton and his specially built champagne-colored Nissan 300 zx convertible—the strain of being Canada’s biggest celebrity was showing. The unrelenting pressure that he had been under since he first began playing or-

ganized hockey when he was 6 had started to wear him down. “I guess it finally caught up with me last year,” he said recently. Gretzky began to talk of retiring and he even hinted that he might not take part in last September’s Canada Cup series. He later relented and was the dominant player in the tournament as he led Team Canada to a dramatic 6-5 deciding victory over the Soviet Union in Hamilton.

At the same time, his long relationship with Moss, his live-in girlfriend, was coming to an end. Gretzky has never publicly discussed the breakup. But Moss—who moved to Los Angeles two years ago—told Maclean's last week that although she and Gretzky were never formally engaged, he wanted to marry her. According to Moss, 26, the breakup was a result of her

decision in the spring of 1987 to stay in Los Angeles and pursue her career for another year. “Wayne was so bitter with me,” said Moss. “It was a shame he could not handle it.”

As it turned out, Moss played an accidental role in Gretzky’s pivotal meeting with his future wife. In May, 1987, Gretzky went to see Moss in Palm Springs, Calif., where she was singing at a nightclub. Later that same day, recalled Moss—who last February married Los Angeles record producer David White—Gretzky rented a limousine so that he and his friend Thicke could go into Los Angeles to see the home-town Lakers play the Boston

Celtics in a National Basketball Association championship game. “He and Jones ran into each other,” said Moss. “He said he had a girl who didn’t want to settle down.” According to Moss, Jones then replied, “Maybe we should start going out.”

Playboy: They did. Gretzky said later: “From the first day, we hit it off well. It kind of hits you like a ton of bricks.” The affair became public knowledge during the summer when the couple vacationed together at a southwestern Ontario cottage that was owned by Gretzky’s friend Coffey. Then, in January, they announced their engagement. Declared an exultant Gretzky: “It’s definite. We were meant to spend our lives together.” Still, some of the reaction to Gretzky’s announcement clearly

caught the couple off-guard, particularly when criticism of Jones’s discreetly draped poses in Playboy appeared in Alberta newspapers. Declared Jones: “In the beginning, the press made me out to be some kind of American playmate. I think Canadians are more conservative than Americans. Americans were complaining that I should have revealed more.”

The nudity issue came up again when the Protestant couple —Gretzky is an Anglican and Jones comes from a Methodist background —decided to have their wedding in the 1,200-seat Roman Catholic basilica. That was because Edmonton’s All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral, Gretzky’s first choice, was too small to accommodate hundreds of wedding guests.

But shortly after Edmonton Archbishop Joseph MacNeil gave his approval, the Edmonton-based Western Catholic Reporter noted that about 40 people had contacted the weekly newspaper to protest the use of the basilica for a non-Catholic marriage. For his part, McCaffery staunchly defended the decision to hold the wedding at St. Joseph’s. He added: “Wayne is a prominent member of the community. This is a gesture of hospitality and openness.” Unnerved: Earlier this summer, as the wedding date neared and the media intensified their coverage of the couple’s activities, Gretzky and Jones retreated again to Coffey’s cottage, where they were joined by Gretzky’s parents. During the second half of June, they spent two weeks in the Hawaiian islands to attend the wedding of Mary-Kay Messier, the sister of Gretzky’s Oilers teammate. But the extent of public interest in the wedding had clearly unnerved the couple. Said Gretzky: “If we had realized the attention it was going to get, I think we would have eloped.”

As a married couple, the Gretzkys—who plan to maintain residences in Edmonton and Los Angeles—will have to deal with the pressure generated by his NHL schedule and the demands of their separate careers. Still, both husband and wife say that they are anxious to have children. Shortly after she and Gretzky became engaged, Jones remarked that her agent had chided

her for not paying enough attention to her career. Said Jones: “I’m

just such a lovebird, and he got frustrated because he could see me doing a lot more with my career than I have.” She is also aware that she and her husband will continue to be subject to close scrutiny. Added Jones: “We both know what a fishbowl it is—especially in Canada.”

Gretzky—the sadness of a year ago now firmly behind him —has spoken of some day playing hockey with his sons, as his hero Howe did when he and his sons Mark and Marty became members of the World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros in 1973-1974. Gretzky also maintains that he will retire “when I can’t play anymore the way I’m capable of playing.” Still, he was clearly resentful when Oilers owner Pocklington said in a radio interview last spring that his playing ability might be adversely affected by his forthcoming marriage. Said the star: “I didn’t need the owner quoted as saying the same things I

knew a lot of fans had been thinking.” But Gretzky is known for his ability to stay cool and in control of situations on and off the ice.

Kiss: By submitting to the ordeal of a luminescently public marriage, Gretzky showed that his generosity of spirit is not confined to the hockey rink. Last Friday, Oilers fan Lena Magega, a 62-year-old Edmonton

dental assistant, was one of the hundreds of people who waited outside the basilica during a rehearsal for Saturday’s wedding. When Gretzky emerged, she was rewarded with a kiss from her hero. “I feel like a million dollars,” she said. “That is my Wayne.” It was a small demonstration of The Great One’s ability to give pleasure to his fellow Canadians—which is why so many of them wished the Gretzkys the best in the years to come.