Jeanine LaBonte always dreamed of being a June bride—until her fiancé, Jack Cort, told her to dream on. "He said it had to be in September, because he'd already planned his bachelor party," says LaBonte, 33, a Boston real estate broker. Since then, Cort, 36, CEO of a Massachusetts transport firm, has taken full control, even bugging his bride to work out so she fits into a size-4 wedding dress. "His friends call him Julie McCoy," says LaBonte, "after the cruise director on The Love Boat." Make that the Hell Boat. Future mother-in-law Pam LaBonte, 56, was shocked when Cort turned her rehearsal dinner into a clambake and banned booze lest guests turn up to the wedding hungover. "My husband is violently allergic to seafood," says Pam. "Now he'll host a party where he can't eat." Shrugs Ray LaBonte, 59: "Guess I'll be brown-bagging it." The only thing Cort hasn't picked out is LaBonte's dress, which she's trying to keep secret. "I have three months to break her down," he says. How does he get away with it? In short, says Pam, he's a charmer: "When my younger daughter gets married, I'm going to use him as the planner."
•Vetoed bride's hometown for a $200,000 event on Nantucket
•Wanted to repaint 195-year-old church for 10-minute ceremony
•Bride picked invitations and cake; he changed the orders
•Disinvited sister-in-law's friends and made her cry
A California Groom Crowns Himself an 'Arabian King'
The highlight of most weddings is the sight of the bride walking down the aisle, but when Roger Gershman and Daria Sapirstein tied the knot in November 2000, the groom stole the show. Dressed in a $2,000 purple velvet suit and turban, Gershman, 39, a San Francisco wealth manager, arrived riding a rented elephant and was showered in flower petals by five bridesmaids garbed as harem girls (the bride was carried in on a sedan but got no petal treatment)—all part of a $250,000 Arabian Nights-themed wedding at a 1920s Carmel Valley, Calif., mansion. Says Gershman, the son of a New York event planner: "I wanted to make my dream wedding a reality."
And his bride's dream? "I would have been happy with a backyard wedding," says Daria, now a full-time mom to Alexandra, 10 months. Not so Gershman, who hired Beverly Hills planner Randie Pellegrini (clients include Sharon Osbourne and Kathy Najimy). "He would call me 5 to 10 times a day," says Pellegrini. "I kept saying, 'Shouldn't we call Daria for her opinion?' And he'd say, 'No. She trusts me. Whatever I say is fine.' " Occasionally, his bride, who wore a traditional white gown, tried to put the brakes on. "He considered a camel, which was cheaper than the elephant," says Daria. "I said, 'Please, get the camel!' "
In the end the couple—and their planner—were happy with the results. "It was an adventure," says Pellegrini. "He wants me to do his 40th birthday. Maybe I'll put him, Daria and the baby on three little elephants. That would be cool."
•Rode in on an elephant
•Hired belly dancers, snake charmers and henna tattoo artists
•Created elaborate fireworks show with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon as soundtrack
•Ordered guests to dress in "Sahara chic"
A Take-Charge Groom Takes the Cake
Deanna Robb Baker knew her husband, Daren Baker, was taking over when he fired the pastry chef. "Daren insisted on fondant, and the woman hadn't worked with it," says Deanna, 29, who wed the 36-year-old fellow artist in Fenton, Mich., on June 29, 2002. Instead Daren whipped up a three-layer number with apricot glaze for 100 himself. "He goes totally psycho when he bakes," says his bride. And when he plans: Daren picked out Deanna's dress, oversaw food and wine and built a copper arbor by hand. "He would have driven a wedding planner crazy," says Deanna. But Daren says he just didn't want to bother his bride with details: "It was her special day."
•Picked out bride's vintage wedding gown and matching shawl
•Insisted on decorative arbor for ceremony; when in-laws produced "flimsy plastic" number, spent days designing and building one himself
•With bride's help, designed handmade collage-style wedding invitations
•Created vests for groom and best man
Groom's To-Do List: Bully the Planner
When it comes to strong-arm tactics, Mark Verrico could teach Tony Soprano a thing or two. "Can you say 'jerk' in a nice way?" says Shellie Graham, the planner at Trois Estate, a party venue near Austin, Texas. Verrico, 30, wanted to wed Jill Pehrson, 28, an educational sales rep, on March 29, but another couple had booked the date. "He'd call and say, 'I'll make it worth your while. I'll pay the other couple,' " says Graham. Luckily that couple was late with their deposit, leaving Verrico to obsess about the flowers. "The day of the wedding, someone forgot a decorative arch, and I freaked," says florist Donna Foster. Adds Graham: "She thought he'd hunt her down." Says Verrico: "I just wanted Jill to enjoy her day." Graham eventually warmed to the groom, and it all worked out. Almost. "The chair sashes," he sighs, "were kind of the wrong color."
•Called wedding planner six times a day to get date
•Orchestrated everything from lighting to linens, menus and table settings (square plates, not round)
•Demanded floating flower arrangements in the pool
A Macho Miami Groom Discovers His Inner Martha Stewart
Ever since Gilberto Garcia-Tunon proposed to Vivianne Blanco, his bride-to-be has been stressed out by wedding planning—not that she has much to do with it. Every detail of the couple's October nuptials is under the firm control of her fiancé, the front-of-house manager at Miami's Mandarin Oriental Hotel. "I keep telling Gilberto I don't want a reception, I don't want music, I don't want fancy food," says Blanco, 23, the hotel's assistant spa director. "I would rather elope!" Too bad. Garcia-Tunon, 26, has concocted a $30,000 affair for 100 at historic St. Patrick's Church and the Palms Hotel in Miami Beach, right down to the green neon invitations. "I want it to be an event everyone will remember: the magnificent wedding of Vivianne and Gilberto!" says Garcia-Tunon, who hired a Cuban cigar roller for the reception against the wishes of his nonsmoking bride.
Friends and family say the groom, who regularly works with caterers and florists at the hotel and uses Martha Stewart Weddings as a planning guide, was born to the job. "Gilberto is incredibly social," says his brother Manny, 31. "He'll make everything perfect." For the shy Blanco, perfect would be a trip to a justice of the peace, but she's reluctantly accepted her fiancé's dictates, right down to the traditional long white veil she never dreamed she'd wear. "I'm wearing it for him," says Blanco. "I would rather have peace than always do things my way."
•Ordered meat for the reception; bride is a vegetarian
•Demanded bride wear hair down, the way he likes, not up, as she prefers
•Ordered chocolate cake instead of traditional white cake she wanted
•Commandeered the gift registry
J.D. Heyman Reported by: Shermakaye Bass and Anne Lang in Austin, Michelle Bowers in San Diego, Mary Boone in Seattle, Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles, Christy Casamassima and Molly Lopez in New York City, Phyllis Karas in Boston, Linda Marx in Miami and Ellen Piligian in Birmingham, Mich.