THE ROCK AND ROLL AND THE RAP music gave way to the make-out sounds of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Under the soft lights in the blue-and-silver bedecked gym at Waukesha (Wis.) North High School, couples held each other closer. It was one of those magic prom moments. For Bill Johnston, however, it was just one moment among many because Bill had pulled off a coup that most other red-blooded American boys don't even dream of: He had a dozen dates for prom night.

Bill Johnston is not a jock or a brain—or president of the student council. But at 6'1" and 220 lbs., this John Candy look-alike is a big man on campus. His fellow seniors voted him Most Likely to be Seen in the Halls, Worst Case of Senioritis and Biggest Gossip. Johnston's altitude toward school isn't exactly workaholic; ("When I go to class, I like it to be a special occasion," he says), and he'll be attending summer school in order to graduate. He hasn't dated a lot. So, as one of his dates noted, "A lot of guys are asking, 'Why are all these good-looking chicks going with Bill?' "

Well, for starters, they are going because he asked. Johnston himself hadn't planned to attend the prom until he was picked by the faculty—mostly because of his personality—as one of the four members of Honors Court, which is reserved for outstanding seniors. Johnston doesn't have a girlfriend, so as a lark he invited two friends, twins Tricia and Tracey Turzinski. Then he asked another girl and another and, before he knew it, 25 girls had accepted his invitation. By the time prom night rolled around on May 18, more than half had dropped out for various reasons, but Johnston still had 12 dates. Their reasons also were varied—from "My date got mono" to "My boyfriend is away at school" to "My boyfriend and I just broke up."

Of course, the girls also happened to like their date. "Bill compliments you and makes you feel special, says Carrie Turner. "He's like a big brother," adds Christine Lindow. And, says Tricia Turzinski, "He's always there to support you."

But even for the most supportive man of the '90s, prom night can seem expensive—especially when a young man is going duodecimal. "I told the girls they would have to buy their tickets and I would buy dinner," says Johnston. "I started figuring that out, and when I got to $500, I said, 'Uh-oh.' "

His only hope was to enlist local businesses in his cause, so Johnston hit the streets. "I would have gone with him to the prom after his spiel," says Bridgit Bowen, assistant manager of Saz's and Pep's restaurant, where the lucky 13 had dinner on the house. Johnston also talked a formal-wear store into giving him a free tuxedo, a limo company into providing transport and a florist into donating the corsages. Bill's final outlay: $62.50 ($12.50 for his prom ticket, plus a $50 tip at the restaurant).

The twins, with their friends Carrie, Christine and Robin Boie, were the first to arrive at the high school. Gradually the others appeared, until all 12 were lined up in the cafeteria, waiting for Bill, who arrived carrying the identical corsages—white silk roses with silk stephanotises. He stopped for a second and admired his entourage. "Everyone looks beautiful," he said. "I have never been surrounded by so many beautiful women."

After a round of snapshots, Bill and his dates piled into their limousines and headed off to dinner. After dining on chicken Kiev and strawberry meringue sundae at Saz's and Pep's, it was back to school, where Bill discovered that a man with multiple dates cannot sit out even one dance. The night progressed, and Bill's bevy gradually dwindled as one girl after another took her leave. Finally, at 2 A.M., the last four girls got in their cars to go home, leaving Bill Johnston alone on the steps of Waukesha North.

"I think I developed a crush tonight," he confided. And who is the special lady? The prom king of Wisconsin simply smiled and said, "I'll never tell."

MICHAEL NEILL
BONNIE BELL and ANNE BURRIS GASIOR in Waukesha

  • Contributors:
  • Bonnie Bell,
  • Anne Burris Gasior.