updated 05/26/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/26/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Racking up a year's worth of frequent-flyer miles before moving to Washington, D.C., to be with his girlfriend, Sandra Grossman, Dan Zalowitz knew the airport had to play a part in his proposal. On a trip to see his parents in Memphis in February 2001, Zalowitz, 27, spent the night picking all the thorns off 12 dozen long-stem red roses. On the plane back, a flight attendant announced, "The gentleman in seat 10D is going to propose to his girlfriend and wants all of you to help."
When they touched down in D.C., each passenger exited with a rose. One by one, they approached Grossman, 28, and handed her the flower. "By about the fifth or sixth rose," she says, "I realized this was something really big." The last to disembark was Zalowitz. "I walked right up to her, got down on one knee and said, 'Sandra, will you marry me?' " With their second anniversary coming up in November, he adds, "I don't know how I am ever going to top the proposal. But I can sure try."
MIKE TOMANY & ALISHA CAGE
In May 2000, just a few weeks into his courtship of Alisha Cage, 35, Florida real estate agent Mike Tomany e-mailed her two words: "Flying coconuts." A few days later he sent the enigmatic message: "And a little bit of sand." A final clue rounded out the week: "Has a nice ring to it." Two years would pass before the riddle was solved.
During that time, Tomany, 34, stockpiled coconuts at his Naples home. When he reached 800, he secured city permission to use a protected strip of beach for four hours. While his pals did the groundwork, Tomany coaxed Cage to set aside her aversion to planes and fly with him. Fastened into a Piper cub four-seater, Cage kept her eyes squeezed shut until he persuaded her to look down. There, on the white sands below, in 15-ft.-high letters shaped from stacked coconuts, was the message "Marry Me." The couple, who wed this month, planted 14 of the coconuts. "Now as they grow," says Tomany, "we'll have a great story to tell our kids."
MATT DAY & HOLLY SNIFF
Matt Day had found it tricky building the 3.5-by-4-ft. sign. Trickier still to smuggle it (along with two 8-ft. poles) out of his garage without tipping off his live-in girlfriend, Holly Sniff. And trickiest of all to drag the art project along a mountainous dirt path, past the poison oak and Eucalyptus trees, to its final destination. So in November 2001, after Day, 30, finished mounting his handiwork below California's most celebrated sign so that the message read "H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D You Marry Me?" he figured it was all coasting from there.
Was he ever wrong. Later that morning when he picked up Sniff, 28, to go hiking—a repeat of their first date a year before—she complained that the trail was too short. By the time they neared the sign, Sniff, an avid hiker, was so irritated that she barely paid attention to it. "Hmmm," Day said, feigning confusion. "I wonder what this is." Sniff recalls biting back her immediate response: "You idiot, obviously someone proposed." Desperate, Day read the words out loud. "It went right over her head," he says, laughing. As Sniff turned to walk away, Day abandoned all subtlety and dropped to one knee. "I was completely surprised," says Sniff. "I kind of hyperventilated and actually forgot to say yes." Looking ahead to a July 20 wedding, she adds, "Every time I drive by the sign, I smile."
JESSE LITVAK & RENEE KUNIN
Sentimental movies and TV commercials tend to move Renee Kunin to tears. So Jesse Litvak decided that a big-screen weeper of a proposal was just the thing for his girlfriend of two years. In September 2001 he approached the manager of a movie theater near his Manhattan apartment. A few nights later, when Litvak coaxed Kunin out to see Rock Star, she followed numbly, her thoughts on a friend's brother who had died four days earlier in the World Trade Center attacks.
She barely noticed the preshow commercials until the screen filled with the words: "Sorry to interrupt your movie. But what better time and place to embarrass someone you love. I've never been more sure about the words which are about to appear." Then came, "My dearest Renee, will you spend the rest of your life with me? Baby, will you marry me?" Though the message was signed, "Love, Jesse," Kunin's voice joined the buzz of "Who's Renee?" that filled the theater. Only when Litvak, 28, went down on one knee did she get it. "I was shaking and crying," says Kunin, 27, a dentist who specializes in root canals.
For Litvak, a bond-trading executive, the 9/11 tragedy only bolstered his resolve. "What else do you need to wake up and realize you're lucky to still be around?" he says. The theater crowd seemed to agree. After the successful proposal (the pair married last August), "everybody," says Litvak, "jumped up and started clapping."
MELANIE LASOFF & JOSHUA LEVS
Melanie Lasoff thought nothing of it in October '99 when boyfriend Joshua Levs invited her to tag along on a journalism assignment at the landmark Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Back then, she was a reporter for The Atlanta Jewish Times, he for National Public Radio. On this night, when Levs said he'd be talking to a band called Chatuna, Lasoff didn't suspect that she was the real interview subject—or that chatuna is the Hebrew word for marriage.
At the theater, the Fox's executive director offered a shortcut across the stage. Lasoff followed eagerly, thrilled to be retracing the footsteps of legendary performers. As she and Levs, now 31, approached center stage, the auditorium filled with the piano sounds of Jim Brickman playing "Valentine," the couple's special song. "It took me only a few seconds to figure out what was going on," says Lasoff, 30. "I dropped my purse in the orchestra pit. I dropped my jaw too." When a spotlight hit her, there was Levs on bended knee, posing the question. Ten months later, this time with a rabbi conducting the interview, Levs and Lasoff answered, "I do."
DEAN KENDERDINE & LINDA CASSARD
On Valentine's Day, '96, Dean Kenderdine invited Linda Cassard to the dolphin show at Baltimore's National Aquarium—then made sure she was picked as the evening's audience volunteer. Midway through the show, the dolphin began to chatter. "I don't speak dolphin," the trainer said to Cassard, 37. "Do you?" Gamely, Cassard tried, "Happy Valentine's Day?" Shaking her head, the trainer asked if anyone else understood. On cue, Kenderdine, 51, approached and, kneeling at the pool's edge, translated: "Dean Kenderdine loves you very much and wants you to marry him." As the pair, who wed six months later, went back to their seats, he says, "These teenage boys sitting in the stands said, 'Way to go, dude,' and high-fived me." Says Kenderdine's sister Donna: "Dean's middle name should be Production."
ANGIE HARMON & JASON SEHORN
She thought sitting next to Elton John was going to be the evening's biggest thrill. Instead, when the former Law & Order star appeared on The Tonight Show in March 2000, Jay Leno needled her so relentlessly about her love life that she began shooting what Leno later called "knife eyes" at him. Then he brought out Harmon's main squeeze, then-New York Giants cornerback Sehorn, who dropped to his knee and proposed. To complete the surprise, Harmon's father, Larry, came onstage to give his blessing.
JESSICA SIMPSON & NICK LACHEY
98° singer Lachey worked up a sweat when he proposed to pop sweetheart Simpson on a yacht off the coast of Hawaii in February 2002. "I wasn't scared that she'd say no," Lachey has said, "but I was afraid a big wave was going to come up and the ring would fly out of my hand."
JENNIFER LOPEZ & BEN AFFLECK
When she walked into his childhood home in Cambridge, Mass., last fall, she first noticed candles all along the stairs, then the quilt of rose petals blanketing the floor. As her song "I'm Glad" played softly in the background, Affleck read a long, tender letter, and then, taking out a custom-made, 6.10-carat pink diamond solitaire from Harry Winston, asked, "Will you marry me?" A teary-eyed Lopez said, "Oh yeah." As a friend of the pair's told PEOPLE: "She was very surprised—and she's not used to being surprised."
HOLLY ROBINSON & RODNEY PEETE
True, anything can happen before a live audience. But as a general rule, TV sitcom shoots follow the script faithfully. So Robinson was blown away in September 1994 when she opened a door on the set of Hangin' with Mr. Cooper to discover not the anticipated guest star, but her boyfriend, then-Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Peete. Dropping to his knees, he flashed a 4-carat diamond ring and pronounced, "You are the best thing that's ever happened to me," before asking, "Will you marry me?" Wed in 1995, Robinson has been hangin' with Mr. Peete ever since.
COURTENEY COX ARQUETTE & DAVID ARQUETTE
Since they fell in love on the sets of Scream and Scream 2, it was probably appropriate that Arquette arranged to set his proposal to the noisy blast of fireworks. As pyrotechnics lit up the sky over an East Coast beach in September 1998, he dropped to one knee and shouted, "Courteney Cox Arquette, will you marry me?" She nodded yes, and he slipped a Victorian engagement ring on her finger. "Most guys would never risk that kind of chance of her saying, 'Well, this is too crazy; no, I can't,' " Scream director Wes Craven told PEOPLE. "That was classic Courteney and David, where he did something so unabashed and so heartfelt, and she just went with it."
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