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


  1. Catherine and Tilly
    Porchey Carnarvon's Two Duped Wives
    The Tragic Tales of the Sixth Countesses of Carnarvon

    Porchey Carnarvon, Highclere Castle’s Sixth Earl of Carnarvon married twice. First, in 1922, he wooed an American-born beauty named Catherine Wendell and secondly, in 1939, he persuaded the well-known Austrian ballet dancer, turned actress, Tilly Losch to the altar, well, at least to the Registry Office. When they married Porchey, ( who was a life long flirt and sex pest ) the two women were vulnerable and penniless. Their marital capitulation into the chore of being Porchey’s bed mate was nothing to do with his looks or magnetic sex appeal or of being wonderfully romanced, it was instead all down to acquiring a husband who was better off than they were financially. Socially both women made an impact on many men, they were no angels. Whilst Porchey made reasonable husband material on grounds of title, money and property neither relationship was a love match and both women were duped by their family and friends into risking the holy state of matrimony. The marriages proved hell holes for the women. Porchey was an egotist and regularly unfaithful and cruel. Catherine turned to alcohol and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. She tried to kill herself. Tilly escaped to America after just ten weeks as Highclere’s chatelaine, whilst Porchey lined up his next Countess. This is the story of how these two women caught in the trap of being Porchey’s wife overcame the abuses, and their own personal tragedies and health scares, to find inner happiness. Catherine eventually found peace with a man who loved her. Tilly (always the more public and charismatic of Porchey’s wives) became an amateur artist, whilst continuing to ply her trade as one of the iconic symbols of the 20th Century.
    Written and Published by William Cross
    Book Midden Publishing
    58, Sutton Road, Newport, Gwent, NP19 7JF, United Kingdom
    ISBN-10: 1905914253 ISBN-13: 978-1905914258

  2. More on William Cross, FSA Scot

  3. Tilly Losch ( 1903-1975) the Austrian born dancer, choreographer, actress and painter lived and worked for most of her life in USA and Britain, although she began her career in her native Austria. Tilly ( born Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Losch) is not yet the subject of a full length published biography, especially one that draws on her personal papers and memorabilia at The University of Binghamton, New York State, USA. To help to fill this gap, in 2013, William Cross, the British Society biographer compiled a long biographical sketch of Tilly’s life and times for his book “ Catherine and Tilly: Porchey Carnarvon’s Two Duped Wives” The Tragic Tales of the Sixth Countesses of Carnarvon. This new shorter compilation "Tilly Losch 'Schlagobers' Sweet Fragments From Her Life" adds a few further facts and stories recording parts of Tilly’s remarkable life and some of the people she knew.
    Describing herself as an 'Actress, Dancer and Artist', ( which is the inscription on her grave stone ) Tilly’s story and her legacy deserves to be much better known about across the globe. The UK based biographer William Cross, FSA Scot, author of eight books on men and woman ( mainly whose stories have been overlooked ) plans to add other titles to this end about Tilly Losch ( who was briefly the Sixth Countess of Carnarvon). For further details contact the Author William Cross, by e-mail

  4. Arnold Bennett met Tilly Losch in 1928 and wrote in his journal: "To the Trocadero Grill for the Cabaret show, as the guest of Charles Cochran. Doris Zinkeisen (Mrs. Johnson) and husband, and Tilly Losch (formerly premiere danseuse at the Vienna Opera House) and Mrs. C. B. C. were there. Tilly Losch was very simple and sound and very pretty.She is doing the dances for C. B.'s new Revue. The cabaret show was extremely lively. I had gone specially to see Hayes, the juggler, of whom I had heard fine accounts. He was very skilled, imaginative, and comic; but his turn was too short."