Extract from William Cross’s latest book “ Catherine and Tilly: Porchey Carnarvon’s Two Duped Wives”, published 18 November 2013.
Porchey’s Marriage to Tilly Losch
In 1939, to the surprise of many, the forty-one-year-old Porchey Carnarvon began an infatuation with, and married, Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Losch (known as ‘Tilly’), “a very pretty Jewess”.[i] Almost certainly an Austrian by birth, she was a very successful ballet dancer in Europe but later changed her dancing style to attract a wider following, starring on the popular stage and in film. She was closely associated with the Austrian director Max Reinhardt[ii] and the British impresario Charles B Cochran[iii] in England and America. She was a divorcee, having been was married for a couple of years to the eccentric artist Edward James[iv] who greatly preferred men and boys to women. Tilly was famous for her hand ballets and twirling fingers;[v] she also painted and was the star of stage shows written by Noel Coward. She “took London by storm in the 1928 revue This Year of Grace, dancing to all unexpected things as a figurine from a stained-glass window to ‘Air on a G String’ by Bach.” [vi]
In London in the late 1920s and early 1930s and in Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s Tilly oozed glamour, climbing the rankings with her considerable dancing charm and gaining exposure on the silver screen with a variety of bizarre characterisations for directors Sidney Franklin, Herbert Wilcox and King Vidor.[vii] Through Tilly’s stage and movieland contacts Porchey cunningly romped his way through a chorus line of actresses in Britain and America, trying his luck with leading ladies of the era including Jessie Matthews, Deana Durbin and Rita Hayworth. Tilly was also Porchey’s meal ticket for many years in Hollywood, where he appeared at parties, sat on film sets, and was even tested once or twice for the movies. He also boasted of playing golf with Bing Crosby and on being first name terms with film legends such as Humphrey Bogart.
Tilly (described as “pretty as a kitten, with a shrewd eye for this world’s goods”[viii]) hesitated over marrying Porchey in England in 1939. She didn’t love him but he offered money, a safe home base and a title. However, even this did not answer her growing concern about her possible fate; as the Nazi jackboot began to stomp around Europe her Jewish blood would certainly have put her in grave danger were Germany to invade England. In the end she opted for her portly aristocratic Lothario and a civil wedding took place at Caxton Hall, London, a few hours before war was declared. Porchey’s mother Almina and his sister Lady Evelyn Beauchamp stood in as witnesses.
The arrangement of Porchey conquering Austria was short lived. Tilly put up with his attentions but when he was with a woman the Earl’s own pleasure always came first. This was the price she had to pay for the title but since she had an ageing mother living in America (whom she doted on and genuinely missed) and a film career at the point where she was still being offered parts in Hollywood, Porchey could not be allowed to stand in her way.
Thus after only ten weeks at Highclere (which had been converted to accommodate evacuee children from war-torn London) Tilly escaped to America. In July 1940 there was a brief reunion centred on Porchey feigning a near-death plea; he was only ill with a minor ailment but Tilly heard the sound of the cash register and travelled to Genoa where Porchey met her ship. A year after marrying they finally enjoyed a honeymoon at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and spent time together in Paris (only weeks before the Germans entered the city) and finally in London before Tilly hightailed it back to America; whether to avoid further advances from the Germans or from Porchey one can never be sure.
The rest of Porchey’s brief and tangled second marriage was interrupted by the events of the Second World War, as he went back into uniform in a dull, but safe administrative post. Porchey wanted as always to have his cake and eat it, quickly installing one of his mistresses, the actress Jeanne Stuart, [ix] at Highclere almost as soon as Tilly landed in the USA on board the Empress of Britain.[x] Jeanne, briefly married to the businessman Sir Bernard Docker, [xi]was one of Porchey’s persistent old flames. The complete matrimonial farce, with countless secrets and lies on both sides of the Atlantic, was finally ended by a divorce in 1947 which had been preceded by a failed Court action by Porchey a few years earlier on the grounds that Tilly had in effect deserted him in July 1940.
Later Tilly found a role for herself in America, whilst travelling backwards and forwards to a little flat she rented in London. Unlike Catherine she clung to her title of “Countess of Carnarvon”, despite famously declaring:
“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….” [xii]
Catherine died in Switzerland in 1977, Tilly died in America on Christmas Eve of 1975.
Porchey outlived both wives. After the divorces he still tried to charm them and deceive them; he was neither easy to live with as their husband nor to fob off as an ex- husband.
Porchey's attitude to women was like Toad of Toad Hall’s attitude to cars in The Wind in the Willows: if he saw one he had to have it, Poop! Poop! Both of Porchey’s wives, though worldly wise, were shocked by his serial infidelities. As this book will show, Porchey’s demons came from a childhood largely devoid of affection. However a Freudian explanation for behaviour that meant notches were added to the bedpost of his four poster, whether he was nominally married at the time or not, may be a little simplistic. It is certainly true that all this extra-marital activity at times left both wives humiliated. They were, however, as hinted at, not complete paragons of virtue themselves.
[i] Charlie, Mortimer. Dear Lupin: Letters to a Wayward Son. (2012). Constable & Robinson Ltd.
[ii] Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). Austrian born American stage and film actor and director.
[iii] Sir Charles Blake Cochran (1872-1951). Theatre manager in London in the 1920s onwards.
[iv] Edward William Frank James (1907-1984). Wealthy English artist and poet.
[v] George Jackson, the American dance critic writes “There is film of how Tilly Losch danced, not from her initial career in Vienna but from the 1930s and ‘40s. The earliest footage is her Hand Dance (1930 – 1933?). This solo for the hands, arms and upper body was originally co-choreographed with her Vienna colleague Hedy (Hedwig) Pfundmayr. Both rehearsal and performance takes of it are on the Internet [You Tube], the former showing more of her entire body in motion. Tilly’s hands in it are expressive but not fussy.”
[vi] Cartland, Barbara. I search for rainbows. Arrow Books. (1973).
[vii] Sidney Franklin directed Tilly in “The Good Earth” (1937); Herbert Wilcox directed Tilly in “Limelight” and King Vidor directed Tilly in “Duel in the Sun (1947).
[viii] Cartland, Barbara. I search for rainbows. Arrow Books. ( 1973).
[ix] Jeanne Stuart (1908-2003). British actress, born Ivy Sweet. After the Second World War she moved the USA and in 1952 married Baron Eugene de Rothschild.
[x] There seems to be some conflict over whether the ship was heading for America or Canada or both. The romantic novelist Barbara Cartland says in her “Book of Celebrities” Quartet Books (1982) , which has a few pages devoted to Tilly, that they “travelled to Canada together during the war. There were submarines stalking us, the ship was overrun with children, there weren’t enough lifeboats or lifebelts, it was very rough. Tilly lay in bed looking lovely, composed, mysterious and ate caviar.”
[xi] Sir Bernard Docker (1896-1978). Leading industrialist associated with the Daimler Car Company.
[xii] Wyndham, Horace. Chorus to Coronet. British Technical and General Press. London. (1951).