Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Women on Top… of Construction Sites

I’d always assumed that Pauline — the running-in-place enthusiast, the Donkey Kong damsel in distress and Mario’s first ladyfriend — was named for the title character in The Perils of Pauline, the Pearl White character who first appeared in the 1914 silent serial as the persistently imperiled beautiful woman. You may know her best as the woman tied to the train tracks.

This YouTube clip illustrates the point well enough, I think.

It’s not the original, but it gets the point across well enough.

Pauline — the film character, that is — appeared in several subsequent cinematic adaptations, including some 1933 serials in which she was portrayed by Evalyn Knapp, a 1947 film in which she was portrayed by Betty Hutton, and finally a 1967 film in which she was portrayed by Pamela Austin. Thus, her constant state of distress seems well known enough that she could have been the inspiration for the poor woman who has taken to the top of the construction site that some crazed ape decided to climb.

But she wasn’t.

If I’m to believe Chris Kohler’s phenomenal book Power-Up — and why wouldn’t I? — the character was reportedly named for Polly James, wife of Nintendo of America employee Don James. The book doesn’t say what Don James did for Nintendo, though a simple Google search says he was Nintendo’s warehouse manager at the time. If the story is true, it would make a nice little parallel for Mario, who was named “Jumpman” until Nintendo of America decided to name him after Mario Segali, the landlord for Nintendo’s American office.

pauline, from her pixelated days to more shapely, more current, more whorish days

Apparently my educated guesses don’t always pan out. That’s not a first, I’m afraid to admit.

Given that Pauline was the first-ever damsel in distress in a Mario game, it’s appropriate that before she was ever Pauline she was known in Japan as “Lady.” If that doesn’t get to the heart of the role of women in early video games, I don’t know what does.

Games and names, previously:

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