Traditionally, June is recognized as a popular month for blushing brides, marking the beginning of the summer wedding season. Las Vegas, however, is known as a more non-traditional wedding capital where it’s wedding season year ’round and where tying the knot with Elvis has become a Vegas phenomenon. Here at Viva Las Vegas Weddings, we DO perform an awful lot of Elvis weddings and Themed weddings, but our traditional ceremonies still make up more than half of our business. But how, you ask, did Las Vegas become the wedding capital of the world?
The city developed its reputation as a mecca for weddings as far back as the 1930s—long before Elvis—when several laws were relaxed during the Depression in order to stimulate the economy. Mining in Nevada was on the decline at the time, and gambling was legalized to compensate for lost revenue. The state also shortened its residency requirements for couples seeking divorces, and marriage laws became more lenient. The legislation was so successful that wedding chapels sprang up all over to accommodate the resultant demand.
Soon after residency requirements were relaxed to encourage divorce tourism in Las Vegas, the divorce and wedding trades benefited dramatically from the publicity of a national scandal related to the messy affair between Minnie (Mildred) Kennedy and Guy Edward “Whataman” Hudson. Guy had fled Los Angeles in July of 1931 after posting bail on a bigamy charge. Three weeks earlier, he had married Minnie “Ma” Kennedy, a California evangelist and mother of noted evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. The marriage was annulled soon afterward, but Minnie followed Guy to Las Vegas. (When she arrived, Minnie made a well-documented fire and brimstone sermon atop a blackjack table at the Boulder Club on Fremont Street.) After Guy’s divorce was finalized in August, the two again were united in matrimony on a cliff overlooking the Boulder Dam construction site at Black Mountain along the Colorado River. The marriage lasted only a year. “Whataman” went on to entertain in a Colorado nightclub as a “sexologist” and then disappeared from the limelight into relative obscurity.
By the 1940s, Las Vegas became rather notorious for celebrity weddings. Real-life movie star weddings began fairly early on and included Betty Grable and Henry James tying the knot in Vegas in July of 1943. Over the next several years, the trend continued, and in January of 1958, iconic film couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodard married at the El Rancho. A memo to the publicity and promotions office at the hotel read, “Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, Hollywood motion picture personalities, will be married in the bungalow of Mr. Beldon Katleman…EVERYTHING COMPLIMENTARY, PER BK.” It’s touching to remember that despite Las Vegas’ reputation for short-lived marriages, the Newmans were married for 50 years at the time of Paul’s death…
Other famous wedding vows included those of Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy, who married singer/actor Tommy Sands in September of 1960 at the Sands Hotel. The whirlwind romance made all the gossip columns and teen magazines, but the marriage lasted only until 1965. Perhaps coincidentally, in 1966 Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” made it to #1 on the pop music charts. On March 2, 1963, Desi Arnaz Sr., who had been married to Lucille Ball from 1940-1960, married for the second time, also at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Desi and his new bride, Edith Mack Hirsch, were married until Edith’s death in 1985. Desi passed away the following year.
In the years since, many famous folks (and thousands of lesser-known couples) have been married at the dozens of chapels along the Strip as well as in chapels at the resort hotels. Big names have included Angelina Jolie, Michael Jordan, and of course Elvis and Priscilla, who were wed at the Aladdin Hotel, now Planet Hollywood!
Here at Viva Las Vegas Weddings, we’ve had our fair share of recognizable names and faces! Erin Brockovich (her story was made famous by the movie titled with her name) renewed her wedding vows with her husband, and more recently, Shia LaBeouf said “I Do” to bride Mia Goth in an Elvis Pink Caddy ceremony. Several other stars visited the chapel while performing their duties as attendants in the weddings of friends or family members. LeAnn Rimes was a maid of honor at a friend’s wedding, and Matt LaBlanc was best man at the wedding of his father. Talk and game show host Craig Ferguson was at Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel as best man in a wedding that was also attended by Ringo Starr. Sara Ramirez from Grey’s Anatomy even did something of a group BFF “wedding” with all the girls from the show. Jillian Armanante from Judging Amy had the extra honor of having Angelia Jolie as her maid of honor here at Viva. And, Nick Wechsler from Revenge was best man to his best friend from high school.
We DO seem to be name-dropping, but…When you book your fabulous Las Vegas wedding with us—Traditional, Elvis, or Themed–you’ll at least know you’re in good company, historically-speaking. The walls of our lobby are filled with photographs of celebrity couples and guests from the past 18 years, all now part of the wedding history of Las Vegas, and of Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel!