SITTING AT A CORNER BOOTH IN A BEVERLY HILLS DELI, Entertainment Tonight cohost John Tesh was munching pancakes while Connie (P.S.I. Luv U) Sellecca doodled absently on a paper place mat. Since it was only 10 days before their April 4 wedding, she might have been sketching hearts and flowers, but her scribbles took no discernible shape. Trying to decipher them, Tesh suddenly put down his fork and pointed to the place mat. "Sperm!" he shouted. "You are drawing sperm!" Tilting her head to get a new angle on her scratchings, Connie laughed. "It's seaweed, John." Rolling her eyes, she added, "I think we had better hurry up and get married."
If Tesh, 39, seemed to have sex on the brain—Sellecca elbowed him each time he dropped another off-color hint—it might have been because she refused to let him have it anywhere else until their wedding night. A born-again Christian, as is Tesh, Sellecca, 36, chose premarital abstinence during their yearlong romance—for religious reasons and "to be a good role model to my son," Gib, 10, whose father is actor Gil (E.A.R.T.H. Force) Gerard, her husband from 1979 to 1987. Snuggling closer to Tesh, she said, "Our honeymoon will be traditional in every sense of the word." Tesh, who was married to actress Julie Wright from 1982 to 1991, grinned. Chuckling, he said, "This is going to be some honeymoon."
It is 10 days later, and the Hotel princess, née Concetta Sellecchia, might as well be named Cinderella. She and her ET insider, a princely 6'6" in Perry Ellis tails, have thrown a wedding worthy of Buckingham Palace, ending in a long and passionate kiss that caused a few of the 270 guests to blush. On hand at the reception to offer their usual commentary on celeb galas (but off the air this time) are ET's Mary Hart and Leeza Gibbons. "The wedding was wonderful," says Hart. "Absolute perfection," chimes in Gibbons.
For their pal Tesh, getting to that long anticipated moment was more nerve-racking than expected. Waiting for the ceremony to begin in the $38 million Beverly Hills mansion he and Sellecca had rented, he impatiently inhaled blasts of Binaca mouth spray. At 5 P.M. his sisters, Bonnie Lillis, 51, and Mary Ellen Grabski, 49, took his hands and walked him down the aisle to the strains of Bach's "Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring," leaving him at the garlanded white platform where Gib stood by as junior best man.
Next the five bridal attendants, including Sellecca's sister and maid of honor, Rosann Mack, 38, entered in off-the-shoulder floral-print black velvet and purple chiffon. Then under the affectionate gazes of costars James (Hotel) Brolin, William (The Greatest American Hero) Katt and Greg (P.S.I. Luv U) Evigan, Sellecca floated down a grand staircase, surrounded by a 15-foot train and 40-foot skirt—in all, $30,000 worth of beaded silk satin. ("I've never seen a bigger dress," says Teri Garr, Sellecca's longtime friend.)
When Connie's mother, Ann, took her daughter's arm and accompanied her to the altar, Gibbons wiped away a tear. Tesh too says, "I started to cry when I saw Connie, 'cause she was so beautiful. So I bit the side of my mouth to stop. I kept thinking I got real lucky, and God was the one that did this."
There were many such Hallmark moments. During the ceremony, led by Pastor Louis Lapides, a former rabbi now a Christian, Gib recited poetry about family unity that left Tesh and Sellecca damp-eyed. When the couple exchanged gold bands, they also gave Gib a ring inscribed with the words WE ARE A FAMILY. As a vocalist sang "Ave Maria," Sellecca's mother began to sob; it was the favorite song of Connie's father, Primo, a Pomona, N.Y., building contractor who died in 1987.
After Lapides introduced the new "Mr. Tesh and Mrs. Tesh" (Sellecca's wedding vows included taking her husband's name—but not professionally), the guests streamed into a 4,700-square-foot clear plastic tent for caviar, stuffed mushrooms, lobster ravioli and Piper Heidsieck champagne. As the newlyweds fox-trotted to Always, a favorite of Tesh's father, John Sr., a chemist who died in 1981, guests mused on the fact that in some ways Tesh's and Sellecca's friends knew the couple more intimately than they had known each other. Said Gibbons: "I can't wait to get together with Connie. I'm going to say, 'Girlfriend, let me tell you a thing or two about your guy' "—which might include the tale of the time Tesh accidentally walked into her dressing room when she was nude.
Jim Brolin, Sellecca's costar for five years, wondered "if she still has that tattoo of a peach on her bottom. I discovered it when we were doing a bed scene together in Hotel."
Until the wedding, to be sure, the bride remained fully clad around Tesh—and neither is saying anything about the tattoo. "Connie is a good girl," says Tesh. "And I am proud of her for it. We wanted to go slow. It wasn't like we were on the couch one night and she was smacking me, saying, 'Get your hands off of me.' We talked about [the abstinence] first." Anyway, swears Tesh, "even if Connie and I could not have sex for the rest of our lives, we would not leave this relationship."
The Bronx-born Sellecca met her Garden City, N.Y.-born swain, who is also a serious composer of instrumental music, last April in Palm Springs, Calif. She was there filming the P.S. pilot, and he was emceeing an IBM awards program. They exchanged handshakes in the hotel gym, then Tesh gave her a tape of his first album, 1988's Tour de France (in July he'll release his fourth).
Back in L.A., he combed through her ET library file and two weeks later interviewed her by phone from her four-bedroom Beverly Hills home when he and a friend filled in as hosts of a radio talk show. "I was feeding my friend the questions I wanted to know," says Tesh. As Sellecca recalls, "He had his friend ask me if I was alone, if I was seeing anyone and if I was naked."
She declined to answer, but when Tesh called back after the show, she agreed to meet him the next week for dinner, which turned into a talk marathon. They continued talking on their car phones while she drove back to Palm Springs. It was the beginning of a beautiful phone friendship that soon became more face-to-face as Tesh began making the 2½-hour drive to Palm Springs three times a week. By July, says Tesh, "I realized I was madly in love."
A week before Thanksgiving, Tesh called Connie's mother in New York City to ask for her daughter's hand in marriage. Ann, who hadn't met Tesh, says, "I knew Connie was very much in love with him. Of course I said yes." She also kept the call a secret from her daughter.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Tesh took Sellecca to Monterey, on the California coast, where he had rented out an entire waterfront restaurant. When they walked in, a string quartet played "Concetta," a tune he had written for her. After dinner he proposed. "I had planned to get down on one knee," he says, "but I was so nervous, I screwed up and got down on both knees."
Moments after she accepted a large round diamond solitaire, an offshore barge launched a 10-minute fireworks display. "We walked out thinking we had just had a private moment," says Sellecca, "and a crowd was gathered outside clapping and shouting, 'Did she say yes?' "
Back at the hotel, Sellecca immediately called Gib, who was thrilled. "John is a great guy," says Gib, who accompanied his new stepfather to the recent Oscars ceremony. "He never loses his temper. He talks things through with me." Says Sellecca: "I always told Gib I would never marry a man he couldn't love or who couldn't love him back."
Before meeting Gib two months earlier, Tesh had pored over a guide for stepdads, given to him by Leeza Gibbons, whose new husband is stepdad to her first child. Gib and Tesh discovered they shared a love of music, and John bought him a piano. "We have duets and trios with Connie," says Tesh. "This sounds like Ozzie and Harriet," he concedes. "The other day it was Connie and I against Gib and a housekeeper playing basketball."
Sellecca had fought Gil Gerard, who admits he had drug and alcohol problems during their marriage, for custody of Gib when they divorced in 1987. Gib now sees his father on weekends. "Gil and I co-parent Gib, but we are not friends," says Sellecca. "If we didn't have Gib, we would never speak to each other."
Tesh too endured a bitter court battle last year when finalizing his property settlement with ex-wife Julie Wright. She has been dating actor James Woods, who publicly accused Tesh of treating her badly. Says Tesh: "I was not abusive to Julie, and I don't remember Mr. Woods standing in my kitchen when my marriage was falling apart, so I don't know how he got to be such an expert on the subject." After the turbulent dissolution of that relationship, Tesh says, "I spent a lot of time in therapy making sure this one was not on the rebound."
In December the couple also started premarital counseling under Pastor Lapides. In those sessions, they learned to handle disagreements. When upset, "I close down," says Sellecca. "He likes to talk it through." Now, when things get heated, they call "hammock time" and plop down together in the hammock outside her hillside home, where they plan to live. (He is selling his L.A. beachfront house.) "Usually we fall asleep and let things calm down," she says. "Hammock time is our favorite thing to do."
On Valentine's Day, the couple flew to Winston-Salem, N.C., where John's mother, Mildred (known as Bunny), who suffers from acute emphysema, lives in a retirement home. (Because she couldn't attend, they videotaped the wedding for her.) At the home, they threw an engagement party for 300 of Mildred's friends. Even Gib welcomed Bunny into the family and now calls her S-Grandma, as in stepgrandma.
In the bloom of love, Sellecca has discovered a new interest in domesticity. She used to hate cooking, she says, but "I like cooking for John. He is a vegetarian, so I learned to make tofu pizza. He loves my cheese bread." They hope to expand their household in a year, says Sellecca, "after we've settled into the relationship. Then we leave it in God's hands."
Back at the wedding reception, before the couple head off to a secret location for their matrimonial night—to be followed by a 10-day Hawaiian trip—Greg Evigan marvels at how "mushy" his friend Connie gets around Tesh. "Connie has a fantasy of how she wants things to be," he says. "She likes the big buildup of love. I just hope tonight the payoff is good. You've got a lot of pressure tonight, John," he adds, raising a glass across the room to the groom, who doesn't hear. "We're with ya."
VICKI SHEFF-CAHAN in Los Angeles
- Vicki Sheff-Cahan.