Member of the Wedding

updated 02/10/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

The job calls for tact, taste, compassion—and sometimes more. When Connie Stevens's daughter, Ellen actress Joely Fisher, 29, decided to marry cinematographer Christopher Duddy, 35, last New Year's Eve in front of 700 guests at Hollywood's Raleigh Studios, the mother of the bride helped coordinate the extravagant affair—in between running her cosmetics company and doing a guest stint on Bay watch. "She's my firstborn, and I'm a very traditional person," says Stevens, 58, who planned a midnight balloon drop, filled baskets with party favors and held a morning-after brunch. "I thought I would have a heart attack!"

Not everybody in a wedding party ends up filling the goody bags and footing the bill, of course. "It's a very generous act to give your daughter away," says Anthony Quinn, 81, who last July took a day off from tending his newborn son Ryan (with companion Kathy Benvin, 34) in Rhode Island to fly into New York City to walk his actress daughter Valentina, 44, down the aisle of the UN chapel. "My dad is very happy for me," says Valentina, who married Manhattan firefighter Robert Peters, 36. "He wants his children to be happy."

Providing encouragement is the attendant's mission. During a March ceremony in L.A., best man Mandy Patinkin, 44, called on a higher power to calm the rattled groom, actor Bob Neches, 45. "He was giggling during the ceremony," Patinkin recalls. "I literally closed my eyes and said prayers." Waiting to Exhale star Lela Rochon, 32, who, as a bridesmaid in the 1995 wedding of actress Holly Robinson to Philadelphia Eagle Rodney Peete, threw a bridal shower and mediated pre-wedding disputes between the couple, calls her duties "an honor. She's one of my very closest friends."

Indeed, few jobs yield such instant—and intimate—rewards. After helping her only daughter choose a wedding dress and music for the reception, actress Rita Moreno, 65, couldn't contain her emotions as artist-dancer Fernanda Gordon, 30, wed management consultant David Fisher, 29, last fall at a chateau in Carmel Valley, Calif. "She looked like a walking confection," says Moreno. "As I went down the aisle, great big globby tears were coming down my face."

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