Clip from "The Adventures of Marco Polo" (1938)
As a footnote to the recent post about the 1938 Gary Cooper movie "The Adventures of Marco Polo," while I was doing research into the movie I got to thinking about the game "Marco Polo," which we always used to play in the swimming pool when I was a kid.
I think the clip at the top of this post — in which Ernest Truex, as Marco Polo's faithful assistant Binguccio, searches the canals of Venice for his womanizing friend — may in fact be where the game comes from. This particular version of the clip happens to be dubbed in French, which I think makes it work even better. (You may have noticed that the person whose voice is dubbed for Truex sings like Elmer Fudd.)
The Great Bath in Mohenjo-daro, built ca. 2500 BCE — often cited as the first swimming pool
Not that the idea of a swimming pool is anything new. Public pools have been around for close to 5,000 years, since well before the bath houses of ancient Greece and Rome popularized the concept. But it wasn't until much more recently that swimming pools became associated in particular with kids — and games.
Swimming pool at Dolores del Rio's house, circa 1930s
It was when the swimming pool moved into the back yard — a trend that the stars of Hollywood's Golden Age helped launch — that the pool started to become a fixture of everyday life.
Dolores del Rio with James A. Marcus in "Revenge" (1928): Garden of the Gods in background
Incidentally, Dolores del Rio starred in at least one silent movie filmed on the Iverson Ranch, "Revenge," directed by Edwin Carewe. Born in Durango, Mexico, del Rio had a 40-year career in Hollywood, and is considered the first Latina to cross over and become a mainstream movie star.
Dolores del Rio with Joel McCrae in "Bird of Paradise" (1932)
Speaking of water games, del Rio's skinnydip with Joel McCrae in the sexy pre-Hayes Code tropical romance "Bird of Paradise" made quite a splash in 1932. McCrae kept his skivvies on, but del Rio — or her body double — went au naturel. But I digress ...
The backyard pool
In the decade that followed the 1938 release of the "Marco Polo" movie, the private swimming pool would experience a boom. In the U.S. in particular, the postwar years brought a mass migration to the suburbs, and with it came the proliferation of the backyard pool. The timing was right for the dawning of a new game.
A new TV series about Marco Polo is currently running on Netflix. I haven't seen the new "Marco Polo," but I got a kick out of this interview clip with a couple of the show's actors, Mahesh Jadu and Remi Hii, who were asked about, among other things, the Marco Polo game. It's interesting that Hii, who's Australian, knows all about the game while Jadu, who also is an Aussie, didn't know about it.