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Sunday, February 18, 2001

True love story on ‘The Princess and the Marine’

Movie details forbidden romance between a Muslim princess and military lover

When a Muslim princess fled her country in 1999 with her true love (who happened to be a Mormon U.S. Marine), it made international headlines. The princess was jailed when they were caught in Chicago. She pled for asylum. They eloped in Las Vegas. And a plethora of trials and lawsuits followed.
  But before the rigmarole, when the news first hit airwaves, my fiancée turned to me and said: "It’s a TV movie in the making."
  Of course she was right. Anything these days with international appeal, lawyers and forbidden actions will inevitably be made into a TV movie ("The Elian Story" and "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town") and sometimes a feature film ("Erin Brockovich"). In the case of Meriam Al-Khalifa Johnson and Jason Johnson, it wasn’t long before they had a TV deal; their story, cleverly titled "The Princess and the Marine," airs tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC.
  Marisol Nichols ("Resurrection Blvd.") and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zach from "Saved by the Bell") star as the Princess and the Marine, and I talked with them (and their real-life counterparts) at the winter press tour in Los Angeles recently.
  Taken into custody
  Johnson and Al-Khalifa Johnson started out as friends. They met through mutual friends at a Bahraini mall, and later in their courtship, the 19-year-old girl sneaked out of her family’s royal mansion to meet her beloved 25-year-old U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Johnson.
  Johnson gave her a forged military I.D. and fake orders, along with baggy men’s clothing. She hid her long, dark hair under a New York Yankee baseball cap, and they boarded a commercial flight to the United States.
  The lovers, who had exchanged hundreds of love letters and one kiss during their courtship, got as far as Chicago before Al-Khalifa was taken into custody and forced to spend three days in jail. For helping Al-Khalifa enter the country falsely, Johnson was court-martialed and demoted.
  "I did the worst thing I could do: I have married a white man, an American and a Christian. All are forbidden to me," said Al-Khalifa.
  Fearing for Al-Khalifa’s safety if she were to be forced to return to her homeland, they are preparing for Al-Khalifa’s fifth Immigration and Naturalization Service asylum hearing early this month.
  Physically intimate
  "Neither of us had any intentions, whatsoever, in becoming physically, intimately, emotionally involved with each other," said Johnson at the press conference. "But the closer we became to each other, the more we talked, the more we did things, the more that we explored each other’s thinking process, thoughts and desires, the more we realized that we had a lot of things in common, the more emotionally attached we became to one another."
  Marines are typically known for following orders and being law-abiding citizens, and although he smuggled a member of the Bahraini royal family out of the country, Johnson said he still believes in the Marine value systems.
  "I wouldn’t say that I broke faith with the Marine Corps," said Johnson. "There were two rights, and I had to choose the greater of the two. And the greater of the two was being more concerned for the well-being of another human being, than by living by some honor code that we have that is gone after your four-year enlistment.
  "Or after 32 years of serving in the Marine Corps and you’re retired, you go and do bigger and better things. But family is eternal, family is forever, and that’s the way that it is. So she was more important to me than something that could have ended in 32 years, four years or within a week because I got hurt or I got killed in a training exercise."
  Honorably discharged
  Johnson was honorably discharged from the Marines last October because of the situation. Al-Khalifa wouldn’t comment on whether her life was in danger should she return to her homeland. So what is the couple doing to pass their days? Nothing different than any other newlywed couple whose lives are the story-line for a Hollywood movie.
  "I’ve been working on the movie," said Johnson. "We have a book deal that we’re working on, so we’re staying busy with those two things."
  The couple served as consultants on the TV movie, and they often helped the actors with pronunciations and idiosyncrasies.
  "The things that I had to learn, such as certain Arabic words, she helped me out with and their cultures and their traditions," said Nichols.
  Added Gosselaar: "It was nice to have them on the set because we could also sort of get a feeling of where they were and what was going on in their head emotionally and physically and sort of get a time frame, because (their relationship) happened over a period of time. We’re trying to condense it into an hour and 40 minutes."
  One of the toughest forthcoming issues within the real-life couple’s lives together could lie in the religious realm. She’s Muslim, and he’s Mormon.
  "Were different when it comes to our religion," said Al-Khalifa. "But I learned about his and he learned about mine. It’s something that helps us understand each other’s point of view when it comes to certain things."
  Strict health code
  Her husband pointed out the similarities between the two religions.
  "Muslims don’t eat pork; Mormons believe in being sparse with the amount of meat that they eat," he said. "Muslims believe in being virtuous and chaste; Mormons believe in no premarital sex and only virtuous relations with your wife. Mormons believe in the strict health code; Muslims also abide by that same health code of no alcohol, no tea, no coffee, none of those things that would affect or scar or diminish your body in any way."
  So they’ll live a virtuous life together without going on a coffee/pork/Long Island Iced Tea binge; but what about their beliefs about God?
  "They believe in Christ as a prophet," said Johnson. "We believe in him as the son of God. But that isn’t a big deal that should affect our marriage or the way we feel about each other.
  "We’re not going to let something like religion destroy what we have."
  Something like religion? Sure, it’s not like religion doesn’t dictate entire countries (Bahrain) or dominate entire states (Utah).
   Other highlights this week include:
  8 p.m. THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE A mother and daughter (Glenn Close and Jena Malone) face obstacles of all kinds as they seek to build a better life for themselves during the California Gold Rush. This new made-for-TV movie also stars Robert Pastorelli. (CBS)
  11 a.m. PRESIDENTIAL PARODY WEEKEND In observance of Presidents’ Day, "Saturday Night Live" episodes featuring presidential and other political impersonations will be shown for eight hours Sunday and Monday. Though the most recent ones won’t be available, there’s no lack of material, including Dana Carvey as the first President Bush. (Comedy Central)
  7 p.m. CELEBRITY HOMES Penn Jillette (the big, loud one in the Penn & Teller magic duo) shows off his seemingly bizarre place in Las Vegas. Also, rocker Sammy Hagar’s Hawaiian home. (E!)
  7 p.m. GOOD WILL HUNTING Should a slacker (Matt Damon) who’s really a genius try to make use of his gifts? Robin Williams won a best supporting actor Oscar as the psychologist on the case in this 1997 movie. (ABC)
  8 p.m. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE A three-part documentary focuses on the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. (PBS)
  8 p.m. THE UNFINISHED CIVIL WAR The people at the History Channel say that this documentary started out to be merely the story of enthusiasts who re-enact Civil War battles. But the matter turned out to be more complicated when the filmmakers found that "the war still rages on" in the hearts and minds of many people. (History)
  9 p.m. DARIA The too-smart-to-fit-in teen returns for another season with sister Quinn and best friend Jane at Lawndale High School. Preceded by a mini-marathon of six repeat episodes. (MTV)
  7 p.m. THE TARGET SHOOTS FIRST A video diary by Christopher Wilcha reveals the "bland absurdities of corporate life" that he encountered as a young college graduate during two years of working for a giant mail-order company. (Cinemax)
  7 p.m. THE GRAMMY AWARDS The 43rd annual ceremony honoring achievements in the recording industry will be shown live from Los Angeles. Scheduled performers include Madonna, ‘N Sync, Dolly Parton and U2; among other leading nominees are Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray and Sisqo. (CBS)
  7 p.m. ANGELA’S ASHES Frank McCourt’s acclaimed memoir about his childhood in Ireland is the basis for this 1999 movie starring Emily Watson as Angela, the mother who perseveres in the face of overwhelming poverty. With Robert Carlyle and Ciaran Owens. (Showtime)
  9 p.m. GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL Generally overshadowed by better-known classic westerns, this one, from 1957, would seem to rate at least an honorable mention. (AMC)
  7 p.m. 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU Julia Stiles, who already seems to have won an extension on her 15 minutes, stars with Heath Ledger in this 1999 teen comedy that borrows from "The Taming of the Shrew" and goes well beyond the usual limits of the genre. (Starz)
  8 p.m. KATE BRASHER Mary Stuart Masterson stars in this new drama as a loving but financially troubled single mother of two teenage sons. Rhea Perlman and Hector Elizondo portray people she encounters who provide help and inspiration. (CBS)
  7 p.m. BOYCOTT Another crucial chapter of the civil rights story is told in this new film about the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that began in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her "whites only" seat. Jeffrey Wright stars as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Terrence Howard portrays Ralph Abernathy. Both men were in their 20s when they assumed leadership of the historic boycott. (HBO)

Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at

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