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Shhh! Don’t tell anyone . . . we eloped!—Diane Jergens & Peter Brown


The registrar at the Las Vegas marriage license bureau looked annoyed. Standing before her, anxiously pleading, were a tall brown-haired boy and a freckle-faced girl, dressed casually in frontier pants and cotton shirts. They were fingering the application they had just filled out for the third time. It was a routine form, one the registrar handled hundreds of times each week.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Brown,” she said, frowning. “But frankly you don’t look twenty-three. If you’re underage, you know you have to have your parents’ consent.”

“But I am twenty-three,” Peter Brown protested. “Honestly I am. Look, that’s what it says on my driver’s license.” He turned to the girl beside him, as if she could help him.

The registrar, too, turned her attention to Diane Jergens. “Why you don’t look more than sixteen,” she said, but a motherly note had crept into her voice, “even if your driver’s license does say twenty-one. But I guess you might be eighteen and that’s all a girl has to be. But, you young man,” she eyed Peter, “you’ll need further proof. Don’t you have your birth certificate or anything like that?”

“No ma’am, I . . . we . . . that is, we . . . but really I am twenty-three. Look, I’ll get my folks on the phone and they’ll vouch or me” 

“I’m afraid we need more tangible proof . . .” the clerk’s voice was firm and efficient again. Already, she was motioning to the next couple. “Until we have further proof, we won’t be able to issue your license.”

Diane and Peter turned away from the registrar’s window and walked to one of the plain wooden benches in the office. They sat down, both feeling numb. “Oh, Peter,” Diane moaned, “What are we ever going to do?”

“Don’t worry,” he comforted her. “We’ll think of something.” Peter was putting up a good, brave front. Inside, he was thinking, What a way for an elopement to begin!

It had really begun when Peter was informed that he was to be sent on a personal appearance tour late in September. It would take him across country and this meant he would be thousands of miles away from the All Saints Episcopal Church on the date they’d picked for their wedding.

With all the tensions leading up to a marriage, and the outside pressures and demands made on them, nerves soon got to the breaking point. Finally Diane and Peter came to one conclusion: Their love for each other was the important thing—they planned an elopment.

They picked Friday, September 5th. The days just before “D-Day,” Diane had left her house an unusual number of times. “I’ve an errand to do,” she’d say. But each time she left she carried another piece of clothing or some personal trinket away with her—things she would need those first few days away from home. The plan was that on Friday she and Peter and Pattie and Bill Coleman, who were to be their attendants, would drive to Las Vegas. No one would know they had gone until it was all over. Roger Marshutz, the Photoplay photographer who was also their good friend, was coming along to take the pictures for their wedding album.

Walking to the shower that Friday morning, Diane had let her eyes stray to the stack of wedding invitations on her desk. They were for the big, formal wedding they had planned and now they would never be mailed. Turning on the water she relaxed momentarily under the cool spray. Then she stepped out of the shower, wrapped herself in an oversized turkish towel and waltzed back into the bedroom. Looking in her dresser mirror, she frowned. Darn those freckles, she thought to herself. Why must I look like a sixteen-year-old instead of a twenty-one-year-old woman? But then the frown gave way to a dimple. Freckles or no freckles, by that evening she’d be an old married lady—she’d be Peter’s wife!

Diane put on a pair of plaid shorts and a freshly-ironed yellow cotton blouse. “Wear something cool,” Pattie Coleman had told her. “It’ll be hot driving across the desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.”

She arrived at the Colemans’ house in San Fernando Valley at 11:45. She was glad Pattie was going to be with her. Pattie was the first friend she’d met when she and her family came West after leaving Minnesota. It was only fitting Pattie should be her Matron of Honor and Pattie’s husband should be Peter’s best man. When she got to their home they were ready and waiting, but the groom-to-be was nowhere in sight.

“He’s gone to pick up your dress,” they told Diane, and the three of them sat waiting until Pete arrived.

“The dress isn’t ready yet. We can’t have it for twenty minutes. Let’s get the car all packed. We can stop by the dress shop on the way out of town.”

Peter took their luggage out to the car. They were using the powder-blue Cadillac convertible that Peter had given Diane as a pre-wedding gift.

“Say, Bill,” Peter called, “how do you get to Las Vegas? I’ve never been there. Which highway do we take out of town?”

“You don’t know?” Bill smiled. “Well, that makes two of us!”

Back they went inside the house. Peter and Diane were stretched out on the floor to map their trip when Pattie let out a shriek.

“Whoops, I almost forgot! We have to pick up the wedding cake!”

Pattie flew out the door, raced around the block to the bakery shop, and came back a few breathless minutes later. “Ooh, let me see,” Diane pleaded. Pattie lifted the top of the box and there was the cake, with a little spun-sugar bride and groom on its top.

“Well, ma’am,” Peter said in his very best “Lawman” drawl. “Well, ma’am, if you all have a hankering to leave I’d say now’s as good a time as any.”

Peter opened the door of the car, bowed low, and Diane hopped into the front seat. A few blocks away they pulled up in front of Leopold’s gown shop. Diane got out to get her dress. Peter started to follow, but got no further than the front door. “You can’t see the dress,” Diane shouted. “It’s not traditional!” Peter stayed out front while Mr. Leopold packed the dress in a protective bag and then, hand in hand, the couple strolled back to the car.

Bill suggested he drive the lead car, with Peter and Diane following. By 12:30, complete with wedding cake, dress, luggage and a roadmap, the two cars started off to Nevada.

Across the desert they went. The ride was uneventful, except for a freak storm which came and went before they realized what had hit them.

“Imagine it raining in the desert in September,” Diane said to Peter. “If I were superstitious I might take that as a bad omen. But I’m so glad we decided to elope and not just postpone things.”

Peter leaned over, gave Diane a kiss on the top of her pretty head, and said, “I’m glad too—very glad.”

They arrived in Las Vegas at exactly 7 p.m. As they entered the town, coming off the almost dark and lonely highway, Diane and Peter did a doubletake. Las Vegas looked like a carnival with the rides all going at once. Gigantic neon signs dotted the horizon like giant emeralds and rubies and diamonds on a necklace. Everywhere hotels loomed, one larger and more fabulous than the next.

Wow, they both agreed, what a setting for a wedding! It’s not exactly orange blossoms and white rice—but wow! They arrived at the Sands Hotel and went to register. They were met by a representative of the hotel who greeted them and handed them wires which had already started piling up. It seems a Hollywood columnist had somehow been informed.

The bell boy took their luggage up to the bridal suite while Peter checked to find out where they had to go to get their wedding license and how long it would take. He was informed the whole process took forty-five minutes. Diane and Peter figured they’d get cleaned up fast, go over for the license and be back at the hotel and dressed in bridal finery by ten. Peter went to a lobby phone, and called the chapel to make the final arrangements for 10:30 that evening. Then he and Diane, really excited by now, hopped into the car and headed for downtown Las Vegas and the Hall of Records.

In Las Vegas, the wedding chapels and license bureaus are open on a seven-day-a-week basis. It was nearly eight when the couple drove up to the Hall of Records. They’d left the hotel so impulsively they’d forgotten to tell the Colemans they were leaving to get the license. All alone they trooped up to the desk, smiled at the registrar and began filling out the application.

A few minutes later, the faces that were flushed with happiness were pale and forlorn. Peter and Diane looked at each other—Diane was too stunned and unhappy even for tears. They both felt numb. What could they do? It was now 8:45, the ceremony was scheduled for 10:30. Then a door opened and the Colemans and Roger came into the marriage bureau office. Rog had his camera poised and loaded, ready to shoot a picture of the happy couple with their license. Peter looked up. “Do you know what happened?” he asked glumly. “We can’t get our license? They think I’m a minor. Can you beat that?”

The wedding party joined the bridal couple at the wooden bench. “I know what,” Bill said finally. “Why not call Los Angeles? Get some friend to go to your apartment and get your birth certificate, and your Army discharge papers for good measure, and send them up.”

Pete hopped into a phone booth and called his neighbor Chuck Courtey. Chuck said he’d be glad to help. It was almost nine. Planes left for Las Vegas nearly every hour. Chuck rushed the papers to the Los Angeles airport, they’d arrive in Las Vegas in a matter of two or three hours. “Don’t worry,” Chuck said. “By midnight the papers will be in your hands.”

Peter and Diane drove back to town and passed the wedding chapel—The Little Church in the West—alongside the New Frontier Hotel. They got out of the car and entered the chapel just to look. From the rear they could see a flower-banked altar and gleaming candles. Diane shivered. They arranged for their ceremony to be postponed until one a.m. the following morning.

Back at the hotel, the management invited the bridal party to be guests at the floor show. Its star, Jerry Lewis, having been tipped off about the wedding by the management, had the spotlight focused on their table.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to announce the . . .” Jerry cupped his hand to his eyes. Over the footlights he could see Diane sadly shaking her golden crop of curls and Peter signaling to him. Jerry poised in mid-sentenced, hopped off the stage, and briefly learned what had happened. Walking back on stage he continued, “I’d like to announce that Diane Jergens and Peter Brown will be married tomorrow!

After the show, Jerry Lewis stopped off at their table. He leaned over, pecked Diane on the cheek and then said solemnly, “Don’t be upset. You have to wait a long time for the good things.”

At midnight, Peter checked the desk. No mail. Everyone was on edge and it was decided that, rather than go through the anxiety of waiting, they’d postpone the ceremony until the following afternoon. The Colemans went off to their room and Peter and Diane, too nervous to rest, went out to see the sights of Las Vegas. As long as they were together, it was easier to take the disappointment. At 3:30 that morning, after visiting the town’s late spots, a tired couple came strolling back into the hotel lobby. The mail still hadn’t brought anything except a few dozen more congratulatory telegrams.

Diane went up to the bridal suite alone, while Peter shared a bedroom with Roger. They rode up in the elevator and Peter took Diane to the door of what was to have been their room. He kissed her tenderly, they held hands for a moment, then he said, “Please don’t worry. By tomorrow we’ll have forgotten all of this.” Diane tried to smile, but she couldn’t. She just kissed Peter good night and went into the room alone. She glanced at her suitcase and then at another sitting next to hers on the floor. Peter had left his luggage. She smoothed an imaginary wrinkle out of her wedding dress, hanging securely in the closet, and then she climbed into bed. A fine wedding night, with Peter two floors above her and only his suitcase at the foot of the bed as a reminder. What a way to start a honeymoon. Honeymoon?

They weren’t even married yet!

At first sleep wouldn’t come. Diane tossed and turned. Finally, she dozed off. The next thing she knew the sun was streaming in the venetian blinds—it was 10 am. Saturday, September 6th. The phone ringing had awakened her.

“Good morning honey, how are you?” she heard Peter’s voice.

“I’m fine but I’m glad you called.”

“Relax, honey, Roger and I ordered breakfast from room service. I asked the boy to stop by your room and pick up my toothbrush and a clean pair of socks and shirt. Look through my suitcase and get the things for him, will you?”

“All right, darling—see you soon. Peter, did you call the desk? Did the papers arrive?”

“Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first. I’ll call right now. Don’t worry Diane, nothing more can possibly happen!”

The desk told Peter the regular mail had arrived but no special delivery. Peter got jumpy and went out to take a swim. Pat Coleman went down to see Diane, She was really beginning to fidget. The mail still hadn’t arrived. At 12:15 Peter called the post office. They said a batch of special mail had come in and was on its way over to the hotel. Peter went down to the dining room. He felt slightly ill—he ordered his usual bracer—orange juice with egg and said to Bill, “Our luck seems to be bad—everything’s against us. We left Hollywood to elope to avoid complications, to get rid of all the obstacles. Now I would give anything for a simple big church wedding at home.” Bill and Roger pacified Peter while Pat kept Diane too occupied chatting to get overly nervous.

Suddenly Diane couldn’t take any more small talk. Putting on jeans and a blouse she walked down to the lobby and joined Peter. Looking up at him she whispered, “Do you think we’ll really get married today? Or will something else happen to stop us?” Peter put his arms around her, gave her a hug and answered, “Remember what Jerry Lewis said, ‘The good things take a long time in coming.’ What’s a few more hours when we have a whole lifetime together ahead of us? Here honey,” Peter continued, handing Diane a roll of coins. “Drop some money in a slot machine. That will help pass the time away.”

Diane strolled into the casino to try her luck at the one armed bandits. She dropped a coin into the machine, pulled the lever and nothing came out. Her luck was still running bad. She was about to drop another coin into the box when a uniformed hotel policeman came over to her.

“Sorry, miss,” he said, “minors aren’t allowed in the gambling casino. “I’ll have to see some identification.” Diane looked up at him, and said, “I left my wallet in my room but I’m twenty-one.”

Just then Peter walked in, talked to the officer and vouched for his bride’s age. Then he said, “By the way officer, how old do I look?”

“Twenty-three or twenty-four.” Diane and Peter couldn’t restrain themselves and they started laughing. Peter said, “Say, you don’t by any chance sell wedding licenses, do you?”

“Honestly, why don’t I have wrinkles and why couldn’t you have a few grey hairs,” Diane sighed.

Glumly they returned to wait at the hotel desk. At exactly 12:45 Peter walked over to a roulette wheel and plunked a chip on number twenty-three. It came in. The first time he’d won anything in his life. At the exact moment the clerk came: over to inform him the letter had

arrived. The winning number and his papers had come within the same minute. With this stroke of good fortune, the bad omens seemed to disappear. It was certainly a good sign. Diane and Peter heaved sighs of relief. Now it was only a matter of hours before they’d be man and wife. They walked out the front of the hotel and headed for the car. They weren’t

dragging their steps any longer. All the tension of the past two months planning and the last twenty-four hours waiting seemed behind them.

They drove to the Hall of Records only to be greeted by a half-block long line of couples, all waiting to get licenses. In order to save time, Peter left Diane and Pat to wait in line while he and Bill and Roger went over to the chapel to make the third and final arrangement for the ceremony. They decided on 5:30. Peter went back to the Record Bureau and he and Diane were next in line. The clerk smiled at them, said hello, and looked at Peter’s papers. A few minutes later, they were in front of the Record Bureau, waving their license for all the world to see. Finally, they were one step away from being married.

They went back to the hotel. Diane went up to rest while Peter strolled around the hotel lobby, too tense to stay in one place. At 4:45 he came up to the room he and Roger were sharing. Bill Coleman came in to help him get ready. Pattie helped Diane.

Diane put on her frilly lace slip and then they checked the traditional things. Something old: Diane fingered her mother’s tiny black bible, a Hungarian Bible her mother had brought from Europe. Something new; her eyes lit on the beautiful white silk dress with the tiny eton jacket and the full ballerina length skirt. Something borrowed: Pattie’s lace handkerchief. Something blue: a satin garter.

By five-fifteen the bride and groom, their best man, matron of honor, and Roger, with his trusty camera, headed for the wedding chapel. Before Diane knew it, they were there. The chapel was of rustic wood with a tiny pointed roof. The walk leading to it was made of planks of wood and Diane’s heels clicked as they trod over the boards on their way to the chapel door. Bill and Pattie went on ahead and reported that there was still another wedding in process. It was only 5:27—still three minutes to go.

Bill came over to Peter. The groom shifted nervously from foot to foot. “Say, Bill, you sure you have the rings?” It was to be a double-ring ceremony. Diane’s was a narrow diamond band to match her engagement ring, while Peter’s was a rough textured, wider gold band. Both were inscribed with the words: “For better, for worse, Forever.”

Bill took a white jewel box from his pocket and handed Peter the rings. Peter turned the gold and diamond bands over in the palm of his hand and then . . . in one instant the gold band fell to the ground. Peter groaned. Diane moaned. Down on his knees went Peter, silently uttering a prayer. From his position he could see the slits in between the wooden planks. By some miracle the tiny golden circle had landed on solid wood—only a fraction of an inch further and the ring would have disappeared through the planks and into the sand beneath them. Peter wiped his brow. Diane just sighed.

Finally it was time. It was really time. Peter took Diane’s arm and they walked slowly up to the chapel. When they were nearing the door, Peter leaned over and whispered, “Only a few more feet and” . . . then suddenly his bride winced.

“My heel, Peter. My heel, it’s stuck in one of the boards.”

Peter went down on his knees again and gently removed his bride’s slim white heel from between the planks. He straightened up and said, “Diane there’s only about eight more feet left to go before the door. Nothing else can happen, really, believe me.” They got to the door and it was opened for them. The tiny chapel was empty except for Bill and Pattie and Roger and a few local photographers. As they entered the church they saw the kindly face of the minister, Reverend O. T. Phillips of Las Vegas Unity Church. They walked down the aisle. It was very quiet. Inside the chapel there was a stillness. Just a few rays of the desert sunlight streamed in through a small stained glass window. The strains of “I Love You Truly” were playing on an organ. Down the aisle they walked, slowly. Diane looking straight ahead, Peter closing his eyes for a moment and then looking down at his beautiful bride. He walked towards Bill and Pattie and the Reverend, waiting at the altar.

As was the custom, the minister took their license to examine it. Only a mere formality to see that everything was in order. As Diane and Peter waited for Reverend Phillips to begin saying the words that would join them, their hearts pounded. It seemed like an eternity until the minister looked at Diane and said, “What is your name, dear?”

She whispered, “Diane Jergens.”

“Well,” the minister said, shaking his head a little sadly. “The clerk at the license bureau made a slight mistake.”

Diane started to tremble and Peter just stood there, too stunned to speak. The minister went on, “The clerk put the name of the groom correctly as Peter Brown, and the name of the bride as . . . Peter Brown.”

What a mistake,” Peter gulped. According to the license he was marrying himself!

“Oh, Lord in Heaven not now,” Diane prayed. “Please don’t let anything delay us anymore.”

Peter and Diane waited for a few minutes. The minister said, “Don’t worry, it’s just a technicality. We can change the names here.” And then . . .

“Do you Peter take Diane to have and to hold from this day forward. . . . Do you Diane take Peter for better, for worse, in sickness and health, to have and to hold from this day forward till death do you part?”

They said their I Do’s. Peter took Diane in his arms. They kissed. The organ played “Here Comes the Bride.” Mr. and Mrs. Peter Brown walked back up the aisle. It was 5:52, Saturday, September 6. They were, at last, man and wife.

In a few minutes, back at the hotel, Bill and Pattie and Roger were toasting the couple with raised glasses of sparkling Burgundy and Peter and Diane were laughing and looking at each other and Diane was saying to herself, “Mrs. Peter Brown, Mrs. Peter Brown. . . .”

Jerry Lewis stopped by to offer congratulations. And Sammy Davis and Buddy Bregman stopped by, too. The telegrams kept coming and the toasts kept being made.

Mr. and Mrs. Peter Brown. Now it was official. Now the heartache and the aggravation was behind them. Suddenly, everything seemed funny. The woman at the license bureau who thought Peter was too young . . . the hours of waiting for the papers to come from Los Angeles. The tensions, the inner questions, the problems, the lonely night that was to have been their wedding night when Diane shared a room with the suitcases and Peter shared a suite with Roger. The ring falling on the ground and the mixup on the license—all this was behind them.

It was 7:15. They’d been man and wife for exactly one hour and twenty-three minutes. Pattie and Bill and Roger said their goodbyes. Diane and Peter were left alone. Alone in the fabulous desert resort, with the neon lights blazing, the slot machines pouring forth coins and the people. All the people, some newlyweds like themselves. All the people sharing a desert sky and yet, for Diane and Peter, there were only each other.

They walked hand in hand out of the hotel’s front door and stood looking out toward the lights of the city. The sparkle in Diane’s eyes matched twinkle for twinkle the brilliance of the low hanging desert moon and the millions of lightbulbs flashing on and off. Then they turned and headed for the elevator. Peter looked at Diane and she looked at him. It was right what Jerry Lewis had said to them: “The good things are worth waiting for.” The good things do take time coming, how well they knew. But nothing mattered. Nothing at all except that they had each other. Nothing else mattered. For better, for worse, forever. . . .





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