Novelty Nuptials

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Odds are that you have attended a June wedding at least once or twice over the years, or maybe even had one yourself. June weddings are ubiquitous, sprouting nervous grooms, flustered brides and meandering ring bearers. At least that is how they are depicted on funny home videos, where candle lighters singe the bridesmaid's hair and the groom's beeper goes off.

In reality, weddings are not quite so chaotic: Most grooms don't faint and brides manage to remember who they are marrying. But traditions have been taking a detour.

Take the couple who dispensed with the ceremonial ring exchange. They had rings already tattooed on their fingers when they arrived at the Cameo Wedding Chapel in Ventura where owner Richard Henniger officiates at many of the weddings. He has also officiated on a commercial boat where fish odors competed with floral fragrance. A helicopter wedding once proved so noisy that the ceremony took place back on the ground.

But wherever the location, adhering to specific requirements is what legalizes the marriage. After the license is obtained, what matters most are the words spoken and who says them.

For example, Henniger says couples are not considered married until that point in the ceremony where a duly authorized officiate--be it priest, rabbi, minister, judge, commissioner or deputized official--pronounces them married. Furthermore, three points must be covered in the ceremony.

"First, you have to identify the couple by stating their names. Second, you make certain they understand and respond one way or another that they do want to get married--usually through the I-do's and the ring exchange.

"Lastly, under state law, you must pronounce them as married. Up to that point, they are not married," he said.

He says no one has ever balked at the last minute, but one couple returned 30 minutes later and asked him to undo it. Another groom showed up after a weekend honeymoon and wanted to take it all back, explaining that his blushing bride was not such a nice lady after all.

As for marrying in haste, you still must obtain a license. The county clerk at the Government Center in Ventura issues licenses, as do city clerks in Thousand Oaks, Fillmore and Port Hueneme, usually for city employees and residents.

County Commissioner Richard Dean may deputize someone to perform a ceremony even if that person might not normally be qualified. This can occur at the request of a close friend or family member and is granted on a case-by-case basis, for that specific ceremony.

"Most counties don't bother because of the hassle of deputizing someone for one ceremony. It's mainly done in cases where someone is [terminally ill] and getting married in the hospital, or the grandfather is a retired minister," Henniger said.

At Cameo chapel, co-owner Shirley Henniger happens to be the last of the trained notaries still deputized to issue licenses. This opportunity results in busy weekends with people in a rush to marry, not always under legal circumstances. For example, one might be under age or not legally divorced, in which case they are turned away.

Don't worry about being over the hill when it comes to marriage. Richard Henniger's oldest marrying couple were 89 and 87. Required by the state to give couples a pamphlet they must sign, he handed the pair a copy of, "If There Are Children in Your Future."

"We were a little worried that they wouldn't make it through the ceremony, they laughed so hard," he said.

One middle-age couple seemed familiar to Henniger. No wonder. Turned out he had married them to each other on two occasions. Twice divorced during a 20-year span, they were back for a third try.

At another wedding, prankster guests donned Groucho masks during Henniger's pronouncement. When the newlyweds turned to face their guests, 50 Grouchos grinned back.

Even with an endless variety of sites available, wedding chapels are busier than ever, perhaps another fallout of El Nino. "I did two weddings up at the cross, [at Grant Park above downtown Ventura] two years in a row on Aug. 9, and got rained on both times," Henniger said.

Outdoor ceremonies are primed for other hazards besides unpredictable weather, such as uninvited gawkers. Janet Campbell, wedding and party consultant, recalls videotaping a wedding ceremony where guests had a view of the ocean. Along came bikini-clad in-line skaters, who stopped to watch the proceedings.

"With 350 guests at $85 per person for dinner and a four-hour open bar, here were these guys in shorts and gals in bikinis, not even aware they would be seen on the video," Campbell said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Campbell once performed a ceremony for a convicted murderer and his 19-year-old girlfriend immediately after the groom was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The courtroom was cleared and the bailiff asked how long the ceremony would take.

"I said it could be very short and asked if they'd be allowed to kiss. It was permitted but the groom had to hold his uncuffed hands behind his back," Campbell said.

While courtrooms aren't your typical wedding site, neither are funeral homes. Since marriage signifies the death of single life, such sites have symbolic significance. Donna Bush would agree, rcalling a memorable wedding years ago at Ted Mayr Funeral Chapel. "It was my first experience as a wedding consultant, and the groom fainted," she said, laughing.

You couldn't book the funeral home today, however, because the practice has long been discontinued. Facilities must be available on short notice for funerals.

But brides and grooms have floated on clouds in more ways than one. Mark Oberman, co-owner of Channel Island Aviation, can attest to that.

He piloted his nine-passenger plane during the ceremony of Lou Lewis, an Air Force flight engineer, and Lula Wilson, a student pilot with 35 hours of flying experience. The couple was pronounced husband and wife at an altitude of 1,000 feet over Channel Islands Harbor. The plane subsequently landed to a red-carpet welcome, an abundance of sweet William, a crash truck and ambulance.

That wedding was Oberman's first and last, performed in his plane, but he did fly his own wedding party to Santa Cruz Island a few years later. He and his bride, Janie, were the first couple in recorded history to be married on the island.

"A number of people were married there later on, but as far as I know we're the only ones still married," Oberman said.

Obviously, longevity in marriage is not guaranteed, no matter where it happens or who does it. But people continue to concentrate on creative methods and minimum hassle. David L. Cooper, an orthodox Catholic bishop, promises that on his Web site, entitled "Catholic Weddings Without the Hassle."

He or one of his priests will perform weddings throughout the state and beyond. Mostly, they operate out of a mission church in Los Angeles, with an outreach ministry in Panorama City. He does weddings in homes, banquet halls, chapels and on board ships such as the Queen Mary.

"I also perform more Masses in churches of other denominations than anyone else. I've done interfaith weddings with rabbis and Buddhist priests as well," Cooper said. Not only that, his Web site offers "validity--even after excommunication." At his Web site, he defends his apostolic succession as an orthodox Catholic bishop in a lengthy explanation of church schisms dating to 1054.

One of Cooper's priests conducted an airborne wedding in the groom's chartered jet over Los Angeles. Another did one at the Glendale Galleria with about 1,000 curious onlookers. Seems that the lucky couple won the ceremony in a drawing, an occurrence about as common as winning the lottery.

For the luckless majority, creative planning even extends to transportation.

Consider the horse, for example, as elegant as any limo for getting to the church or other places on time. The Morgan family, John, Connie and their son Patrick--no relation to their Morgan draft Horses--have been transporting brides and grooms for the past 13 years when they aren't building and restoring carriages. As in Old West days, the men do the driving and Connie coordinates the weddings.

"You think of it and we've done it," Patrick said about their Morgan Carriage Works business in Oak View. Sometimes averaging two weddings a weekend from April to October, they cover Calabasas to Goleta and beyond.

Their single horse and surrey seats four, while the larger carriage with two horses has a jump seat and carries up to six passengers. Booked as far as a year ahead, they've done everything from traditional to western themes.

"We did one at Rancho del Rey where the bride wore a medieval dress. When the preacher asked if any one objected, someone in the back said, 'I do,' and charged up front for a mock sword fight with the groom," Connie Morgan said.

One of their carriages was used in the wedding of cartoonist Charles Schulz's daughter, Jill, over a year ago. The outdoor ceremony was held on a private ranch north of Goleta, and guests were bused from Santa Barbara's Biltmore Hotel and back again.

"If the ceremony and reception are at the same place, we usually take the bride and groom for a ride. They enjoy those private moments alone before they get into the reception," Connie Morgan said.

Cowboy entertainer Sheb Wooley got married many years ago on horseback on top of Sulphur Mountain in Ojai with the late singer Roger Miller as his best man.

Everyone was on horseback with the notable exception of the minister. They forgot to provide him with a horse. He managed to perform the ceremony by craning his neck upward at the lofty pair--a real stretch. Tales of wild to mild weddings seem endless--including the Ojai couple in black stretch shorts who rode bicycles into Ventura for their ceremony, dripping perspiration. She wore a little white garter around the edge of her shorts.

Or the groom who took his bride on the back of his Harley for a few spins around the block, her gown flying in the breeze. Or the tiny ring bearer who made a defiant circuit around the entire church before he was directed back down the aisle.

Some tales are poignant, like the service dog with the ring pillow in his teeth who strolled obediently up the aisle at his owner's command. Others are more frustrating, like that of bagpipes played on cue at the end of each small section of the ceremony, at a deafening volume.

Traditionally speaking, couples still say "I do" and believe they always will. June brides are beautiful, grooms are handsome, mothers cry and fathers sigh. But beyond tradition, anything goes and often does.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BE THERE: WHERE TO GET THE LICENSE:

Ventura County:

Office of county clerk

800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura

Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

(805) 654-3788: $66 fee

Shirley Henniger, Cameo Wedding Chapel

1271 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura

Monday and Friday, 1 to 6 p.m.

Other days and times by appointment.

(805) 643-0805: fee varies.

City of Thousand Oaks

2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd.

Monday and Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

(805) 499-2151: $70 fee (cash only)

City of Fillmore

250 Central Ave.

Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

(805) 524-3701: $66 fee

City of Port Hueneme

250 N. Ventura Road

Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

(805) 488-3625: $66 fee

OFFICIATES:

Richard Henniger, Cameo Wedding Chapel

By appointment; (805) 643-0805. Fee varies.

Janet Campbell:

By appointment; (805) 642-8377. Fee varies.

Bishop David J. Cooper

By appointment; (800) 447-7769. Fee varies.

http://www.weddingpriestnohassle.com

GETTING THERE:

John and Connie Morgan

Morgan Carriage Works

250 Riverside Drive, Oak View

(805) 649-1723. Rates: $400-$500, depending on type of carriage.

QUOTE, please check Connie said this

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