The Hitch Parade

updated 09/18/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/18/2000 01:00AM

Debra Messing and Daniel Zelman

The week before Debra Messing secretly wed her live-in beau, actor-screenwriter Daniel Zelman, the Will & Grace actress was still fitting her 1920s diamond-and-platinum wedding ring from L.A. jeweler Neil Lane. "They wanted everything to be perfect," says Lane. "It was a hectic week." But through it all, he notes, "they were very considerate and caring about each other."

On Sept. 3, Messing, 32, married Zelman, 33, before 150 relatives and friends, including Will & Grace costars Eric McCormack and Sean Hayes. The bride (in a Vera Wang gown) and groom exchanged vows at a private house in Santa Barbara, Calif., overlooking the Pacific. The couple, who began dating in 1992 when they were New York University graduate students in acting, have to rush back from their honeymoon for the Sept. 10 Emmy Awards, where Messing will be up for best actress in a comedy series. For now, though, they seem to have their priorities straight. "I'm never happier," Messing said recently, "than when I'm with him."

Brian Littrell and Leighanne Wallace

Soon after they were engaged last Christmas, Backstreet Boys singer Brian Littrell and his future bride, actress Leighanne Wallace, pledged to wed the old-fashioned way–without a prenup. "We don't need one," Littrell told PEOPLE. "I felt I was married the moment I met Leighanne. We believe in marriage, and this will be our only one."

On Sept. 2, in a 35-minute ceremony attended by 298 friends and relatives at the Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, Littrell, 25, and Wallace, 31, vowed to make good on that promise. A throng of fans outside the church craned for a glimpse of arriving bandmates A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough and Kevin Richardson, as Littrell became the second of the quintet to graduate from Backstreet Boy to married man (his cousin Richardson, 28, wed in June). "They look so happy and so in love," bridesmaid Kim Berg says of the couple, who met at a 1997 video shoot. "Seeing them makes you never want to settle for anything less."

The festivities began Aug. 30 with a coed "panty shower" that endowed Littrell and Wallace with piles of his-and-hers underwear. Two nights later the couple hosted a rehearsal dinner at their sprawling home outside Atlanta before checking into separate suites at the Four Seasons Hotel. "Here was the most relaxed person you could imagine," Berg says of Wallace. "I had to have a Valium, but she knew everything would be fine."

Wallace, who wore a champagne-colored beaded gown by Vera Wang (who also designed her six attendants' gowns), hid the dress in "a secret closet [of their home] so Brian would be surprised," says Berg. It worked. "He was breathless when he saw her come down the aisle."

At the reception, guests danced to a swing band and feasted on bourbon-roasted ham and sweet-potato biscuits. Littrell serenaded his wife with a song ("You Are") written specially for the occasion. "There were a lot of teary eyes," says wedding planner Michele Arwood. "It was a very moving moment."

Littrell and Wallace, who will appear together in an upcoming indie film, Olive Juice (due next year), are sure they can keep that moment going. Upon leaving the reception, guests received photos of the newly-weds printed with the inscription "And they lived happily ever after."

Gloria Steinem and David Bale

If Gloria Steinem was hoping to surprise her friend Suzanne Braun Levine, she went about it the wrong way. On the morning of Sept. 5, "Gloria called and said, 'What is the last thing I would do?'" recalls Levine, a journalist and author who has known Steinem since 1972. "And I said, 'You got married!'"

Right she was. On Sept. 3 the feminist and Ms. magazine founder–who once declared that "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle"–wed David Bale, 61, an entrepreneur and the father of American Psycho star Christian Bale. "Though I've worked many years to make marriage more equal," the never-wed Steinem, 66, said in a statement, "I never expected to take advantage of it myself."

The couple, who met in October 1999 at a political benefit, were married at the Oklahoma home of Steinem's close friend Wilma Mankiller, a former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. The sunrise ceremony, which substituted "partners" for "husband and wife," was performed by Mankiller's husband, Charlie Soap, a spiritual person for the Cherokee, and Oklahoma District Judge Sandy Crosslin. Theater director Louise Bale, the third of Bale's four children (he divorced second wife Jane Bale in the late 1970s), flew in from her home in Palms, Calif. But like many intimates, youngest child Christian, 26, knew nothing of the event. "I'm very pleased," says Christian, "that he has found in Gloria a partner who shares his lifelong passions and interests."

And how. Born in South Africa, Bale worked in the antiapartheid movement before relocating to the U.K., where he worked as a pilot. In 1990 he moved to L.A. to support Christian's career and became involved in animal rights, environmental issues and feminist causes. "They couldn't have more in common," says Steinem's pal, actress Kathy Najimy. "They deserve every happiness."

Steve Dougherty, Dan Jewel and Anne-Marie O'Neill
Karen Brailsford, Nadine Mendoza-Province, Pamela Warrick and Paula Yoo in L.A. and Sona Charaipotra in New York City

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