Headlining a Host of Holiday Hitchings, Tom Cruise Quietly Marries Aussie Nicole Kidman...

updated 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

As Hollywood pundits began tallying their annual lists of the year's 10 Best, Tom Cruise might have been disappointed that his 1990 wheelie, Days of Thunder, did not make the grade. (In fact, the film, which nonetheless grossed $80 million, turned up on a few rosters of the 10 Worst.) But as the year entered its final lap, Cruise raced in with a last-minute entry for Best-Kept Hollywood Secret—and won that category by a mile. With a carefully mapped-out plan that was first hatched last summer and kept celeb watchers and even some close relatives completely in the dark, one of America's most bankable actors took Australia's most popular actress, Nicole Kidman, as his bride on Christmas Eve.

The affair between Cruise, 28, and the redheaded Kidman, 23, which ignited on the set of Thunder early last year—soon after Cruise announced his separation from wife Mimi Rogers, 35—had been out in the open from the start. But the trail of clues leading to and from their covert wedding, held at a rented home in Telluride, Colo., and witnessed by only a handful of guests, was so cold that digging for details could cause frostbite. The biggest mystery: Why so soon? After all, it was just a few months ago that the books were legally closed on Cruise's failed three-year marriage to Rogers. And it was just last August that Kidman, never previously wed, told an Australian magazine, "All that talk about us being engaged is just nonsense. I'd like to get married one day, but I think it would be very foolish to do so at this stage of my life."

There were rumors from the set of Billy Bathgate, which Kidman is filming in North Carolina with Dustin Hoffman, that she was pregnant by Cruise. Their publicists, though, have vehemently denied the reports, and as if to second those denials, Nicole's uncle in Sydney. Barry Fawcett, who heard the wedding news by phone on Christmas Day, said, "They're married because they are in love. It's that simple."

Indeed, there must have been a bumper crop of mistletoe this year: In addition to Kidman and Cruise, Vanna White, Rod Stewart, Mary Lou Retton and Barbara Eden were among those jingling wedding bells over the holidays (see following stories). But whatever the reasons, Tom must have pulled some fast talking on Nick, as he calls her, because by September the couple was scouting wedding locations and booking rental cars in Telluride, a former mining town turned winter playground for the likes of Daryl Hannah, Oliver Stone and Donald Trump (who was spotted there with Maria Maples this Christmastime). The $2 million, six-bedroom house selected for the wedding has "spectacular views" of the snowcapped Rockies, says owner David Skillman, a Chicago businessman, who had no knowledge of the impending nuptials (the couple's intermediaries negotiated the rental arrangements). "I was told a Hollywood agent was having a party on Christmas Eve." he says.

On the morning of Dec. 24, the stately log house was filled with fragrant flower arrangements, including a willow arbor laced with white lilies and red roses. As the sun began to set, Kidman, wearing a white silk gown and long train, joined Cruise, dressed in a black tuxedo, for the start of the 30-minute ceremony, conducted by a civil celebrant. With her younger sister, Antonia, standing by as a bridesmaid, the 5'10" Kidman peered through her veil at the 5'9" Cruise to exchange their self-written marital vows. According to Australian actress Deborra Lee (A Cry in the Dark) Furness, who was among the guests, "Both Tom and Nicole, as well as their families, had tears in their eyes."

All parties, no doubt, are hoping that this union outlasts the groom's previous go-around. The garb, at least, was much more formal than the last time, when Cruise and Rogers, attended by best man Emilio Estevez, pledged their love in blue jeans and bare feet. Kidman herself has slipped out of at least two serious relationships over the past couple of years, most recently with Aussie TV heartthrob Marcus Graham, 27. She was living with Graham in 1989, when Cruise, after seeing Nicole in Dead Calm, special-ordered up a role for her in Thunder as the neurologist-love interest. In January of last year, Graham, who was spending hundreds of dollars in phone bills to Kidman in the States, was looking forward to the end of her shoot. "Being separated from Nicole is very difficult," he said. "She is not just my girl, she is also my best friend." Make that ex. By the time Thunder wrapped. Kidman was going around the track with Cruise, later declaring that he has "a fantastic face and the cutest smile in the world."

If it is true that work-inflicted separations helped spur Cruise's first divorce, it appears he is determined not to repeat that mistake. He has stayed glued to Kidman while she acts in Bathgate. Though she had to head back to that film soon after the wedding, the Cruises will take a honeymoon when shooting ends later this month. Then in June they will co-star in Ron Howard's new romance, tentatively titled The Irish Story, filming in Ireland.

In between gigs they'll likely spend a lot of time in their new $5 million mansion in L.A.'s ritzy Pacific Palisades, despite Kidman's avowal in 1989 that she "wouldn't want to live in L.A. I think you could get very lonely." Happy New Year, Nicole. You're alone no more.

—Jeannie Park, Vickie Bane in Telluride and Maria Eftimiades in New York City

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