July 15, 2011 -- Not since Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin has a May-December romance been quite so scandalous.
When 51-year-old Doug Hutchison married 16-year-old Courtney Stodden in May, their 35-year age difference set the world ablaze.
Stodden is not the typical sweet sixteen. The former beauty queen and aspiring actress and pop singer has never been to high school or driven a car. She says that Doug is her first serious boyfriend.
Hutchison is an actor best known for playing the abusive prison guard in the Oscar-nominated movie, The Green Mile. He has said he was down and out -- twice divorced and battling alcoholism -- when he met Stodden last year.
"The way we met was really beautiful," Stodden said in an interview with "Good Morning America" anchor Lara Spencer. "My mother was managing my career. Her friend told my mother that [Hutchison was] holding some workshops for acting. And I was very interested in acting. So what better way than to connect that way?"
"She sent me an email. And our exchange, at first, was just really about business," Hutchison said.
"Totally innocent," Stodden added.
He was in Hollywood, and she was in Washington state: hundreds of miles apart, but slowly growing closer. Hutchison claimed Stodden made the first move toward romance.
"Did I?" Stodden said, laughing.
"Yeah, she was being very flirtatious," Hutchison said.
"Well come on, he's so handsome," Stodden said.
Hutchison said he initially thought the very mature-looking woman he'd seen on her website was well into her twenties.
When he was told she was 16, Hutchison said his "world turned upside down…. It didn't make me want to walk away, but it definitely was a struggle inside my heart … because I had already started falling for her."
They had begun a four-month courtship by email and phone, bonding, they said, on a deep and spiritual level.
"It was a really beautiful and unique way to get to know someone, because we didn't have the distraction of the physical…. We could only get to know each other through our words and our sentiments," Hutchison said.
Courtney's mother, Krista Stodden, monitored their exchanges, aware that Hutchison was decades older than her daughter.
When Doug realized he and Courtney had something serious, he called her parents.
"I said, Krista, I don't know if you know this or not, but your daughter and I are falling in love…. If you and [Courtney's father, Alex Stodden] have any misgivings whatsoever about this … I will respect you, and Courtney will respect you. And we will step back."
Courtney Stodden Bullied Because of Her Looks
Courtney was Krista and Alex's little girl. But they could see her mature looks, which by age 12 had earned her a modeling contract and, at 15, a crown in a local Donald Trump Miss Universe pageant. By the age of 16, Courtney said, she was so bullied by other girls because of her looks that her mother had to pull her out of school and start home schooling.
Beneath the beauty, her parents said, is a deeply Christian girl. So they put their faith in her choice to be with a man more than twice her age.
"So [Krista] said, 'I can feel my daughter's love for you. I can feel it inside of my heart,'" Hutchison said.
"Uh-huh," Courtney affirmed, "inside of her soul."
Hutchison continued, quoting Krista: "'And I can feel your love for her. So rest assured: Me and Alex, we have absolutely no problem with you two falling in love.'"
With parental consent, no sexual emails and no physical contact, Hutchison wasn't breaking any statutory-rape laws. But he didn't think marriage was an option, he said.
"It was Krista who said, 'You know, you guys could get married if you want. There are ways to do that. There are certain states,'" Hutchison said.
In fact, 39 states allow 16-year-olds to marry as long as they have documented parental consent and a birth certificate.
Doug flew up to see Courtney for the first time. Then he got down on one knee and proposed.
They flew to Las Vegas to marry in a chapel just off the Strip. Alex Stodden, four years younger than his soon-to-be son-in-law, walked his daughter down the aisle to give her away. Hutchison's brother was a witness.
"I was a virgin," said Courtney. "I knew that if I kept that, I would really be blessed with a beautiful gift. And God did. He blessed me with my soulmate. So I'm really thankful for that."
Courtney could be sure of this, she said, because she was very mature for her age. "I'm an old soul. And Doug can back me up on this."
"Yeah, I always joke with Courtney that one of the reasons we worked is 'cause she's 16 going on 36, and I'm 51 going on 21," Hutchison said.
Newlyweds Dispel Rumors: 'Courtney's Plastic Surgeon Was God'
"I'm a pervert, Courtney is a whore…. Courtney's parents are the worst parents in the world -- pimps selling their daughter," Doug said, summarizing the criticism. "If [people] need to feel this way … it's OK. I've been called worse than a pedophile in my life."
Courtney and Doug laughed off the widespread view that her voluptuous body is fake.
"It's real," she said.
"It's rill, head to toe…. R-I-double L."
"Courtney's plastic surgeon was God," Doug quipped.
"Thank you, Jesus," Courtney said.
Her lack of plastic surgery was verified to "Good Morning America" by two separate plastic surgeons.
What the public thinks about them and their 35-year age gap is one thing. But what really hurts Doug and Courtney, they said, is when the judgment hits closer to home. Courtney's parents have received death threats, Doug's agent and manager dropped him, his brother has cut ties and his mother wants nothing to do with them.
Doug Hutchison and Courtney Stoddard: The Reality Show?
"She sent me an email, and she said it was almost as if we had done something on purpose to hurt the family and put them in the spotlight and embarrass them and make their lives difficult … because obviously the press is hounding my mom now," Doug said.
"[Courtney] held me in her arms, and I cried a little bit. And we looked at each other afterwards, and we said we knew that this was gonna happen…. And it brought us closer together," Doug said.
Whatever people may think of this teenage girl and this middle-aged man, they've started down a path in the spotlight that few people walk -- a path that is sure to have many, many more bumps along the way.
For now, the only bumps Courtney wants to consider is the baby kind -- she said she wants children at some point. They are considering the possibility of a reality show. And Doug is writing a children's book series based on his Chihuahua, Everette.