Friday, 23 December 2011

The Dancing Countess of Carnarvon : Tilly Losch & Her Husbands

“ The Dancing Countess of Carnarvon :  Tilly Losch & Her Husbands”

By William Cross, FSA Scot

“ My role of ballerina comes first. Second is my work as a choreographer. My acting comes third, my painting fourth, I rate my role as Lady Carnarvon fifth in importance simply because I can’t think of anything interesting to put after painting….”

William Cross, FSA Scot, the author of “ The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon : A Candid biography of Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun Fame” the only full length biography of Lady Almina,  is researching for a new book, a biography of the dancer and actress Tilly Losch, who was the second 6th Countess of Carnarvon.

The new book, a limited edition,  will be published in January 2013.

Tilly was born Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine  Losch, in 1903, the daughter of an Austrian banker. From the age of ten she danced her way right to the very top of show business. In the mid 1930s she was a woman of means,  “earning ten-thousand a year”.  

As a young girl she held the high position of premier ballerina. Later she was dubbed  the  “ very paradigm” of the late 1920s and early 1930s Society”.    After a series of stage and  film roles,  marriages, exhibitions of her paintings  and lashings of high brow living  Tilly  died in New York City on Christmas Eve of  1975. A handful of people attended her memorial service in London. Some years later her last remains were buried in Austria. 

Tilly Losch bedded many; she spat out two husbands and had several notable lovers.  She is best remembered as a fine dancer  and a modest stage and film actress with impressive  roles in Reinhardt’s play The Miracle and on film alongside Paul Muni in This Good Earth. Legendry impresario C B Cochran famed for his dazzling review shows saw her performing in her native Vienna and brought her to London.  He made her a star attraction. She appeared in the same era and on the same bills as Jessie Matthews and Lady Diana Manners.  With her “natural beauty and huge, round pale blue eyes she attracted men like a moth to a light.”  Tilly was seduced by and in turn she became the seducer of  several male personalities of her era. She married two men, both of noble breed, first in  February 1931, in New York,  the enigmatic artist –poet Edward Frank Willis James ( 1907-1984) ( a godson of King Edward VII)  and second, in September 1939, in London, Henry George Albert Marius, Victor Francis Herbert, ( 1898-1987)  the 6th Earl of Carnarvon.  Both marriages ended in highly contentious divorce proceedings.

The James divorce was the most controversial marital expose of its time.  As a foreign incomer to the tight knit British gentry sect Tilly had to be taught what her stark limitations were off the musical stage. She was humiliated in her divorce action with James. The upper classes were in no mood for this brassy continental’s attempt to bring down the godson of a King of England. 

Tilly had committed adultery with a Russian aristocrat, Prince Serge Obolensky, in New York between August and October 1931, being her first year of marriage. Her defence crumbled and it cost her dearly. 

As well as appraising the life and times of Edward James, William Cross is also undertaking a special study of Serge Obolensky’s life and career from various sources, including surviving legal papers and Tilly’s own correspondence. He probes whether there was an establishment conspiracy, which, if true, implicates several highly, placed figures behind Tilly’s fall from grace and favour.

Tilly eventually recovered her fame .  Her later maital conquest was  of Henry, the “randy, rakish Porchey ” 6th Earl of Carnarvon, of Highclere Castle. Theirs was a marriage made in hell if ever there was one, and its bizarre passage listed and lingered from 1939-1947 with Tilly in the USA for practically all of World War Two, and the 6th Earl stranded in England.    

In her later years Tilly was a lively transatlantic partygoer, socialite and hostess. She painted a good deal and exhibited some of her scores of paintings. She also made several cameo appearances on film and in TV and remained one of the enduring Hollywood film sect and photographic icons surviving in picture and on screen in several cult movies.

“ The Dancing Countess of Carnarvon :  Tilly Losch & Her Husbands” promises to be as explosive a tale of High Life scandal as “ The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon”.

William Cross welcomes any snippets, written material, letters, photographs, stories anecdotes, or any knowledge of anyone concerning Tilly Losch and the key players in Tilly’s life, in particular Edward James, Serge Obolensky,  and Porchey 6th Earl of Carnarvon. He is also keen to know  more about Tilly’s close friendship with the London publicist, the late Billy Hamilton, of Billy Hamilton Associates, and the whereabouts of Hamilton’s correspondence and papers, he once lived at Cookham, in Berkshire.   Please contact him by e-mail