NEW YORK, MARCH 18 -- Wouldn't you expect Eddie Murphy to have the grace to stage his wedding at Michael Jackson's ranch, or some other remote spot, like any other self-respecting superstar?

But no. Murphy and model Nicole Mitchell, mother of his two youngest children, opted for a black-tie soiree at the Plaza Hotel, mere blocks from the headquarters of every wire service, photo syndicate and paparazzi patrol in the Western world. The media mob was therefore out in full cry, sub-freezing temperatures notwithstanding, even though Ebony magazine had a lock on wedding coverage and all the press could do was shout at arriving guests.

The guests obliged by expressing surprise -- okay, shock -- that this day had come. Murphy, 31, has long honed a reputation as one of Hollywood's leading misogamists (misogamist, n.: one who hates marriage; look it up). Maybe he was waiting until his and Mitchell's daughter Bria, now 3, was old enough to precede them down the aisle as flower girl.

"I thought the guy would never get married," opined sitcom ("Roc") and Broadway star Charles Dutton. So, why was he? "As beautiful as she is, how could he help it?"

"He got smarter in his old age," said director Robert Townsend.

Murphy's family seemed to agree. "How did you know this was the girl for him?" a TV reporter chirped at Vernon Lynch Sr., Murphy's stepfather and best man. His answer was unromantically succinct: "the babies." The couple also has an infant son, Myles. (And Murphy supports two other children he sired.)

This was not a low-key event. The invitations were hefty foil-and-ribbon jobs. The Plaza's gilded Grand Ballroom was completely recarpeted in pristine white for the occasion, then stuffed with rose trees, lilacs, tulips, gardenias and orchids. After the ceremony conducted by the Rev. Calvin Butts of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church (Mitchell's stepsister Wilma Worrell of Washington was matron of honor), there would be dinner in the famed Palm Court (chicken breasts stuffed with truffles and pesto, said an informant who works in the kitchen). Meanwhile, the Grand Ballroom would be refitted as a disco "with many hundreds of lights in the ceiling," according to the Plaza's catering director, and the party would percolate until, oh, about 2 a.m. A video crew with three cameras was taping it all.

The previous record for high-priced Plaza weddings, the catering director said, was set three years ago by a magnate who spent $800 a person for a 400-guest affair. Murphy's 500-guest shindig could top that. But money -- as in the tab or as in prenuptial agreements, existence of and details within -- was not a subject anyone wanted to be very forthcoming about.

Instead, a cadre of flacks from Terrie Williams's agency (she's Murphy's PR woman, as well as D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's) sweetly pointed out that the bridesmaids' dresses were coral, that the flowers were headed for hospitals after the wedding, and that any leftover food would be distributed to homeless shelters. Guests also were advised that Nicole and Eddie were already well supplied with toasters but would appreciate donations to the charitable foundation he launched last year.

Guests began arriving a little before 6 (allowing live coverage by local news broadcasts): Bruce Willis in shades and a goatee, rappers Heavy D and Treach (of Naughty by Nature), Motown CEO Jheryl Busby, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, Donald and Marla, Keenen Ivory Wayans, David Allan Grier, all to the shrieks of about 200 semi-frozen fans barricaded across the street. Arsenio Hall was inside. Also expected: Quincy Jones, Wayne Newton, Bill Murray, director John Singleton, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder and Sugar Ray Leonard.

And a bunch of resourceful tabloid photographers bent on sneaking highly salable photos of the happy couple. And a bunch of large security men bent on preventing them from doing so. A paparazzo working for the National Enquirer had already checked into the Plaza the day before to scope out the prospects. "There it is like Mount Everest waiting to be climbed," Richard Kaplan, editor of the Star, said poetically. "It's not exactly Alcatraz. There are ways into the Plaza, no matter what Eddie Murphy says."

A cynic might almost think that the wedding was held in midtown Manhattan because of the surrounding media infestation. A cynic might even note that after Murphy's last two movies, the sputtering "Boomerang" and fizzling "The Distinguished Gentleman," he could use a high-profile event.

But spokeswoman Williams was having none of that. "They chose the Plaza because it's close to home {Murphy's New Jersey estate, she meant}, it has a rich tradition and it's beautiful," she said sternly. "It isn't a question of seeking or not seeking publicity. They want it to be a private, lovely affair."

Still, there were a few show-bizzy touches. Take the music. The bride was to walk down the aisle to "Don't Give Up on Love," and the couple was to dance the first dance to "Cuteness," a song Eddie wrote for Nicole. Both numbers, the PR "fact sheet" pointed out, were from Murphy's new Motown album "Love's Alright," released last month and available at record stores everywhere.