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  • Writer's pictureClaire Butler

Greatest Swimming Pools of Classic Hollywood

Discover the most glamourous pools, from Italy to California, that your favourite Hollywood stars took a plunge in...

Esther Williams had a clause written into her MGM contract that gave her a free pass to the Beverly Hills Hotel pool, where she’d swim most mornings. Katharine Hepburn allegedly once jumped in fully clothed, while the Beatles hosted a raucous poolside party amongst the luxury cabanas.

The pool has featured in such classic 1950s women’s movies as Designing Woman, with Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck, and soapy Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful, with Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner.

The Beverly Hills Hotel is an icon of vintage Hollywood glamour. Constructed in the shadow of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbank’s legendary Pickfair pad, the hotel has a Hollywood pedigree like no other. The pool dates back to 1938, when it was known to guests as ‘The Sand and Pool Club;’ and surrounded by sand to give it a beachy vibe.

Faye Dunaway’s iconic poolside photograph, taken by her future husband Terry O’Neill at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the morning after she won Best Actress for Network in 1977, was described by the photographer as “one of the most Hollywood pictures of all time.”

Nowadays there are 11 private poolside cabanas to choose from, each named after an area of Los Angeles. Cabana treats include plush bathrobes, a 46 inch widescreen TV, a mini fridge, a universal phone charging station unlimited sparkling or coconut water, snacks like peanut butter cups and mojito popsicles, organic sunscreen and Evian misters. Swimmers may be surprised to hear music playing underwater.

Marilyn Monroe did her first commercial photo shoot by the Tropicana Pool at the Roosevelt Hotel, located at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. She lived at the hotel for two years when she was a struggling model.

Like the Beverley Hills Hotel, the Roosevelt has a strong classic Hollywood pedigree; the original owners were Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Sid Grauman, and it was the venue for the first ever Academy Award ceremony in 1929.

Nowadays you can stay in the luxurious Marilyn Monroe suite, with a wrap around balcony overlooking the pool, and sunbathe on a daybed beside the pool (exclusive to hotel guests), which now has a $1 million David Hockney mural at the bottom.

A heated saltwater pool surrounded by lush gardens and sensational views of the enchanting Italian Riviera, the pool at the Splendido in magical Portofino was a magnet for celebrities in the 1950s and 60s.

The Splendido rose from the ashes of a former 16th century monastery, to become one of the world’s most celebrated hotels, playing host to Hollywood stars like Clark Gable, Humphry Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Bogie, Bacall and Ava Gardner stayed her during filming for The Barefoot Contessa, while Taylor and Burton used the hotel as an escape from the paparazzi during the height of their much-publicized affair and returned many times after that. It’s rumoured that Burton proposed to Elizabeth on the wisteria-clad terrace.

Swim in Frank Sinatra’s grand piano-shaped pool in Palm Springs from a cool $2,500 per night. Sinatra’s stunning Palm Springs home, designed by E Stewart Williams, one of the founding fathers of ‘desert modernism,’ a style of architecture that’s synonymous with Palm Springs, is available to rent for private vacations or events.

A member of the Historic Hotels of America, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, located at 101 Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, was a pleasure palace for Hollywood VIPs.

As the first beach side hotel with bungalows in Santa Monica, the Miramar attracted stars in search of luxury and privacy. Greta Garbo lived at the hotel for more than 4 years. Jean Harlow was a fan, as was Marilyn Monroe and James Stewart.

The hotel’s nightclub was extremely popular with the Hollywood crowd during prohibition, hosting the likes of Gloria Swanson, Humphrey Bogart and the Kennedy’s.

In 1962, the Miramar doubled for the romantic West Indian Resort that Cary Grant takes Doris Day to in romantic comedy That Touch of Mink.

Fun fact: Britney Spears enjoyed her bachelorette party here, the night before she married Kevin Federline.

The architect Charles Moore, who is often described as the father of post-modernism, once described the pools at William Randolph Hearst’s Castle as a “grand liquid ballroom” for Hollywood Olympians.

Designed by a prolific female architect, Julia Morgan, the stunning pools were inspired by Italian villas, such as Tivoli and the Villa Borghese in Rome.

The pools have hosted Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who loved to play water polo here, 1920s Olympic swimming gold medalist and “Tarzan” star Johnny Weissmuller worked out in the pool, while David Niven was known to have had water fights in the pool with Hearst’s sons.

Howard Hughes, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant have all taken a dip in this legendary paradise in San Simeon. Hearst himself was known to swim in the pool with his beloved dachshund Helen.

To raise money for the upkeep of Hearst Castle, the castle association holds regular pool open days that offer movie fans the chance to swim in exchange for a generous donation.

Another Julia Morgan design, this art deco pool for guests of the Berkeley City Club in California was built in the 1920s and features boldly painted ceramic tiles, storybook-like arches, and triplets of windows framed by classical columns. Non-swimmers can enjoy the beauty from an observation deck.

On the sparkling shore of the French Riviera, between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands the Eden Roc hotel and its saltwater pool that’s been chiselled out of the rocks, built after the war to attract the summer high society crowd. A galaxy of classic Hollywood stars have made the pilgrimage to the Eden Rocand swam in its pool including 5 star retreat that’s been a refuge for the rich and famous for more than 130 years.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used the hotel for inspiration in his final novel, Tender is the Night. A galaxy of classic Hollywood stars have made the pilgrimage to the Eden Roc, and swam Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Yves Montand, Kirk Douglas, The Beatles, Taylor and Burton, Pablo Picasso, Duke and Duchess of Windsor the Kennedies, F. Scott Fitzgerald used the hotel for inspiration in his final novel, Tender is the NightRita Hayworth and Ali Khan went on a date here. Liza Minelli, Frank Sinatra ... Hotel of choice for big stars when in town for Cannes Film Festival Annabella and her husband, famous American leading man Tyrone Power, were both regular guests at the Grand Hotel du Cap and spent many carefree days here.

The Mediterranean-revival style Surf Club opened in Miami Beach on New Year’s Eve 1930, in the final years of prohibition. The pool and its legendary cabanas once played host to the likes of Gary Cooper, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Elizabeth Taylor and the Rat Pack.

History buffs will love the treasure trove of photos on Peacock Alley’s walls. Artist Michele Oka Doner captures The Surf Club’s fabled stories in original black-and-white-photos, which were uncovered in the hotel basement during construction. Le Sirenuse is a standout and the only place stateside where you can taste the Southern Italian fare of the famed Sersale family’s Positano restaurant

Williams, the champion swimmer-turned-Hollywood actress whose 1947 film “This Time For Keeps” was shot partly on location at the pool. The film – a romantic comedy that was included in Williams’ string “aquamusicals” - put the Grand Hotel back on the road to profitability in the lean years after World War II.

BONUS: Beverly Hills High School Pool

OK, you can’t actually swim in this one unless you’re a student, but it’s worth a mention because it featured in one of the most memorable pool scenes in Classic Hollywood (that didn’t include Esther Wlliams anyway). This is the pool James Stewart and Donna Reed tumbled into It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Designed in 1939 by Stiles O Clements, who also designed the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, the pool is hidden under a retractable basketball court and is known as the swim gym. It’s still in use today.

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