Sidetracked on That Big Trip Down the Aisle : Weddings: Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland aren't the first to prove that marriage can be a many-delayed thing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Love on the line.

That's one hard-edged measure for that favorite rite of June--matrimony. Sure, zillions of couples will cross the conjugal finish line this month, faith and crossed fingers propelling their great leap forward.

But not everyone quite makes it over. Witness the hooha over the scotched Julia Roberts-Kiefer Sutherland nuptials--which if one is to believe their publicists, are really, truly being postponed.

Julia and Kiefer are not alone in singing the wedding bell blahs.

Johnny Depp, for one, had so many canceled engagements that his fractured love life became a cottage industry. After his engagements to Sherilyn Fenn and Jennifer Grey came to naught, bemused Manhattanites rode around town trailed by bumper stickers that proclaimed his shifting romantic status: "Honk if you've never been engaged to Johnny Depp." Depp's optimism about his current relationship with Winona Ryder is literally written on his deltoid, which reads: "Winona Forever," thanks to a tattoo artist.

If Grey was one among many marital wipeouts for Depp, he's in plenty of company where her love life is concerned. Grey also counts among her onetime fiances Matthew Broderick, another washed-up engagement that ultimately prompted her to rethink her pattern of dating actors.

"In the words of my people, 'Never again,' " she told US magazine last winter. "I'm an equal opportunity dater."

Of course, not everyone bails out in the face of the jitters. Roseanne Barr called off her wedding to Tom Arnold when dependency problems sent him to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. But Barr had a punctual change of heart and the couple did the deed on Jan. 20 as planned. They're planning to do it again on June 23 so they can get better gifts.

And certainly Mick Jagger had plenty of practice steering clear of the altar, despite a longstanding relationship with model Jerry Hall. As early as 1983, Jagger was telling the press, "Any day now." But Jagger turned out to interpret the timing quite liberally, squishing marriage rumors that cropped up for years after. In fact, the 47-year-old mega-rocker took so long to come around that the couple's children, Scarlet Elizabeth, then 6, and James, 5, were able to attend last November's wedding festivities in Bali. Hall is expecting the couple's third child in January.

Alas, some matrimonial matches were never meant to be. Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez pledged undying love, but then postponed--and finally canceled--their 1986 wedding plans. Moore met her real husband-to-be, Bruce Willis, the next year.

Then-California Gov. Jerry Brown made news by not making news in 1979 when he told the press that he had not married Linda Ronstadt on a 10-day African safari, despite rumors. Johnny Carson sidekick and "Star Search" host Ed McMahon put the kibosh on his announced Jan. 12 wedding to restaurant hostess Joanna Ford, after a series of delays forged by his drawn-out divorce.

And U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, (D-Calif.), had announced plans to marry for the third time in 1989. But he called off his engagement to Cathy Lee Pattiz when the Lincoln Savings & Loan scandal made him a reluctant flash point for media scrutiny.

"When the press pounced upon us before we filled out the marriage license forms, it became clear to me that this is not an appropriate time to start a marriage . . . " the senator said at the time.

Of course, all is not necessarily lost when disgruntled couples say, "I don't." L.A. restaurant critic Merrill Shindler was sideswiped on the way to the altar five years ago, but he went on his honeymoon anyway and lived to tell about it. In a piece for Playboy magazine, Shindler groused about being deserted by a budding marriage counselor: "It's considered rude to cancel a dinner invitation for any reason less than the death of a close family member. But in the case of a marriage, 'I don't feel like it' is perfectly acceptable. Miss Manners says so. I know; I checked."

Whether Julia, 23, and Kiefer, 24, felt like it is still the subject of some speculation. Roberts' publicist issued a terse announcement Tuesday that today's humongous wedding had been postponed by mutual consent, whipping up a firestorm of rumors since no one would spell out official reasons.

"Everyone is going bonkers," says Lance of the gossip duo the Hollywood Kids. "It's the biggest news since Hollywood discovered Pia (Zadora) has talent."

Liz Smith reports that Julia and Kiefer really are going to get married in Malibu today after all, but without all the Fox fuss.

Another school of speculation has it that the sought-after actress is on stress overload. This theory gets its steam from Roberts' five-day stay at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last month, officially because of severe flu. Roberts, who was also previously engaged to actor Dylan McDermott, has said she wants to take a year off from acting when she finishes Steven Spielberg's "Hook."

Some rumormongers are blaming the wedding knockout on a lovers' tiff. Others are dismissing the postponement as a publicity ploy--although that may seem like overkill in the face of the big blasts of publicity Roberts is getting due to her $7-million price tag for the upcoming film "Renegades."

What is sure is that the more than 500 invited guests will have to find something else to do this evening. The wedding was to have taken place on a sound stage at the 20th Century Fox studio, which was tricked up to resemble a Southern plantation. And the bridesmaids will have to find another party to show off their Manolo Blahnik shoes, reported to have cost $425 a pop.

Of course, one can always look at the bright side. That's what Shindler did when he toured some of Italy's finest restaurants on his solo honeymoon.

" . . . one of the best things about going on your honeymoon in Italy (was that) when you make yourself hungry, you can always get a pizza, at any time of the day or night. And in my case, I didn't even have to share it."

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