The Glorious Pool, with the salaciously seductive image of a nude woman on the cover, is a screwball comedy of a novel about a fountain — er, pool — of youth.
Published at the start of 1934, just a few months before the death of its 42-year-old author Thorne Smith, the novel would have made a wonderfully wacky comedy for that era, except for the fact that two of its characters, an ad executive and his longtime mistress, spend the middle half of the book naked. And there are two other characters — the executive’s wife and a sexy statue that’s come to life — also spend a good deal of time in the buff.
The censors of that censorious age would never have found such nudity in a movie acceptable.
Although, truth be told, for all the leering and lusting that goes on, very little of it is put into action, and what there is takes place off stage. In other words, this isn’t so much about screwing as about acting like a screwball.
In fact, Smith’s comedy here has a lot to do with naked people doing things, such as driving a hook-and-ladder fire engine and having a wild cocktail party, that aren’t usually done by the “mother-naked,” to borrow Smith’s term.
And with illustrations by Herbert Roese of them doing those things.
Think ribald, not prurient.
Three “elderly” people
The Glorious Pool would have had a technical problem as well that the special effects of the time and, truth be told, even today couldn’t solve. It has to do with that pool of youth.
At the start of the novel, three of the characters are described by Smith as elderly or near elderly:
- The ad executive is 60-year-old Rex Pebbles who is distinguished looking but not very energetic or vigorous.
- His mistress is Spray Sommers, a woman in her 50s who has put on a lot of weight over the years and is bedeviled by corns on her feet.
- His wife is Sue Pebbles who, about 50, is desperately afraid of losing her figure and face, and, while she remains thin, she dreads to look in a mirror.
(It should be noted that such ages today aren’t considered all that elderly, but, nine decades ago, people didn’t live as long as they do today, and they didn’t have all the fitness regimes of today, and they didn’t have the rejuvenative medicines of today.)
“A lusty little devil”
The novel opens with Rex coming to the home he has long provided Spray to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his seduction of her (although there certainly is a sense that she was, in her way, a seductress as well as a seductee).
They have a comfortable relationship but one that, for a long time, hasn’t been physical.
“You’re merely the crumbling ruins of a man,” said Spray, pressing the hand that was holding hers, “but I like you just the same. You’re still so much of a fool…
“If I were a young girl and came upon you here, I know jolly well I wouldn’t fall in love with a white-haired man of sixty…I just couldn’t do it. And now I am an old woman I don’t love you for what you are so much as for what you were — what we were together.”
It is a sad commentary on their relationship, but Rex agrees, saying that he keeps close with her
“not for what you are now, but because of old associations, for the things we’ve done and seen together, the good times we’ve had and the bad ones we’ve shared. Like the memory of a dead child, the past holds us together.”
“Beautifully but depressingly put,” murmured Spray. “The past is the only child I’ve ever had.”
“He was a lusty little devil,” said Mr. Pebble. “I wish we had him back.”
Well, they get him back, and this is where the pool of youth comes in.
For old times sake, they decide to skinny-dip in the pool on Spray’s property, and, immediately, they feel much younger. Spray is back to the body she had at 25, and Rex to his at 35.
They take another lap, and Spray is 23, and Rex is 33.
More than good enough, so they get out, and the screwballness of the story starts, in main part because they decide that, young again, they don’t want to cover their beautiful bodies with clothes.
The Glorious Pool is a profoundly silly story and, by today’s standards, far from politically correct. There is a Japanese butler who is a many-layered stereotype. And Smith also creates a stereotypical dense Irish cop.
Not much of the action is reasonable in the sense of this logically leading to that.
Twists in the story seem to come willy-nilly as Smith wants to liven up the narrative. For instance, Rex and Spray end up driving — very poorly — a stolen hook-and-ladder fire engine. Every character is pretty stupid in terms of common sense, except that statue that comes to life.
There was one very logical plot development: A character who’s already gotten younger in the pool takes another swim and ends up a baby.
Despite or maybe because of such irrationality, The Glorious Pool was a surprisingly fun read. Smith, it seems, really knew how to tell this sort of screwball story.
Patrick T. Reardon