Director Alfred Hitchcock once declared that "all actors are cattle." and in its heyday the Beverly Hills Hotel pool became their sylvan salt lick. Esther Williams had a clause written into her MGM contract granting her a guest pass to the pool so she could swim laps there every day. But for an exclusive weekend getaway, there was no place quite like the stately pleasure dome that publisher William Randolph Hearst shared with actress Marion Davies at San Simeon.
The Hearst Castle and its two sumptuous formal pools—the Neptune Pool outdoors for daytime and the Roman Pool indoors for the nights, each the most beautiful pool of its kind in the country—were designed by Julia Morgan, who is widely considered to have been America's first great woman architect.
Hearst was a notorious prig and would stand for no debauchery, but it was all but impossible for him to keep track of everything that was going on in the 345,000-gallon Neptune Pool. When English actor Leslie Howard, one of the stars of Gone With the Wind, visited with his wife, Ruth, anything could happen. "Leslie was like a naughty boy, and his wife would yell at him," wrote Davies, Hearst's longtime mistress, in her memoirs. "Ruth was forty and rather fat, and she treated him like a child. She would say, 'Now, don't go in the swimming pool. You might catch cold.' Just to tease her, he would jump in the pool and lose his trunks."
The Neptune Pool is surrounded by an actual temple facade, massive semicircular marble colonnades from the third and fourth centuries A.D. Nearby is a pool house with 17 dressing rooms for Hearst's intimate little pool parties. The Roman Pool is in a grotto beneath the castle's two tennis courts. Its deck tile is blue and gold—real gold leaf—as are the walls, the ceiling and the pool itself. The bottom is 10 feet deep from end to end. although an optical illusion created by the refraction of light makes it appear that the depth changes as you walk beside the pool. But it has been years since anyone swam in them or even lost his trunks in them to torment an overbearing wife.
The formality of pools like Hearst's eventually led to the design of pools that attempts to recreate—and in some cases improve upon—nature. Film-score composer Barry DeVorzon built a "natural" pool in his yard, and it was such a hit in the Santa Barbara music community that there is now a virtual subdivision thereof painstakingly planned, multimillion-dollar improvisations on Eden. DeVorzon walked his property for nine years before he decided where to put the swimming pool, then called in the cranes to open the earth for it in 1980. "When I saw the size of that hole, I almost killed myself." he says. He spent months scavenging for the boulders that now sit at the water's edge on steel-reinforced shelves, to prevent leakage.
Ross and Janice Bagdasarian also have meticulously strewn boulders around their fake natural pool. Says Janice, "I didn't want to feel like we were in Disneyland with those rocks that are, like, airbrushed in."
The Bagdasarians are the voices of the Chipmunks, the helium-voiced rodents made famous in the '50s by Ross's father, whose stage name was David Seville. Having made their fortune as singing chipmunks, the Bagdasarians might have considered using their pool as a way to pay tribute to their furry little benefactors. "We stayed at the Spence Manor Suites in Nashville when we were making a country album once, and they had a pool in the shape of a guitar," Janice says. "Any thought we might have had of doing our pool in the shape of a chipmunk ended there."
Making sure the water stays heated and properly filtered in such pools is the job of the professional pool man, who wields his telescoping leaf rake with practiced ease. "We've spent years learning how to open and close gates quietly, hoping just once we'll come around the corner and find a voluptuous woman lying there naked." Ventura. Calif., pool man Terry Cowles confessed to the Los Angeles Times last year.
Most companies instruct their pool cleaners to enter a client's property whistling or singing loudly. But there are times when warnings are of little effect. Jim Burkhalter used to service a pool at the home of the owner of a nude bar in Long Beach who regularly invited his dancers over to sunbathe their tan lines away. Says Burkhalter, "I'd go in, do the job, then go to the next place and jump in the water to calm down."
In 1953, MGM built a pool in the shape of the state of Florida for an Esther Williams musical called Easy To Love. The movie was set in Cypress Gardens, where the blue-tiled monstrosity still stands—one of about 700,000 swimming pools in Florida, and not even necessarily the ugliest.