Tilly Losch

Last updated

Tilly Losch
Adele Astaire & Tilly Losch.jpg
Adele Astaire (left) with Tilly Losch in 1931
Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Losch

(1903-11-15)November 15, 1903
DiedDecember 24, 1975(1975-12-24) (aged 72)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1913–1946
(m. 1930;div. 1934)
(m. 1939;div. 1947)

Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon ( née Losch; November 15, 1903 – December 24, 1975), known professionally as Tilly Losch, was an Austrian dancer, choreographer, actress, and painter who lived and worked for most of her life in the United States and United Kingdom.


Early life

Born in Vienna, [1] Losch studied ballet from childhood at the Vienna Opera, making her debut in 1913 in Louis Frappart's 1885 Wiener Walzer. She became a member of the corps de ballet on March 1, 1918 and a coryphee three years later. Her first solo role was the Chinese Lady Doll in Josef Hassreiter's Die Puppenfee. Ballet master Heinrich Kroeller and the Opera's co-director, composer Richard Strauss, promoted her to soloist on January 1, 1924. She danced prominently in new ballets by Kroeller, Georgi Kyaksht, and Nicola Guerra. Outside the Opera, Losch took modern dance class with Grete Wiesenthal and Mary Wigman, and performed dramatic and movement roles in Viennese theaters, at the Salzburg Festival and in Max Reinhardt's 1924 Berlin production of A Midsummer Night's Dream , also choreographing the William Shakespeare play. Losch resigned from the Vienna Opera on August 31, 1927, in order to work more with Reinhardt at the Salzburg Festival and in New York City. She also choreographed Reinhardt's Everyman and Danton's Death.

Losch made her London debut in 1928 in Cochran's production of Noël Coward's musical revue This Year of Grace , and over the course of the next few years, worked in London and New York as both a dancer and choreographer. In New York she danced in The Band Wagon with Fred and Adele Astaire in 1931. Reinhardt encouraged her to extend herself and believed she could also act; casting her in a 1932 London production of The Miracle, Losch's part was rewritten to provide her with the only spoken dialogue in the production (The Lord's Prayer) which she recited to dramatic effect.

First marriage

Losch's first husband, the Anglo-American millionaire and surrealist arts patron Edward James, founded a ballet company for her – Les Ballets 1933, which performed in London and Paris. George Balanchine, whom she had met in Berlin in 1924 and who helped her with some of her choreography, was artistic director and the entire repertory was choreographed by him. Its most popular work was The 7 Deadly Sins with Kurt Weill's music and Bertolt Brecht's text. Losch danced the leading role (a dual figure) and Lotte Lenya, with whom she had a love affair at that time, [2] sang it. Tom Mitford (the Hon. Thomas Mitford, brother of the Mitford sisters) was described as Tilly's regular lover during this marriage. Losch was divorced by James in 1934, after being accused by him of adultery with Prince Serge Obolensky, a Russian-American hotel executive; her countersuit, in which she made it clear that her husband was homosexual, failed. [3]

A permanent reminder of Tilly Losch could be seen at Edward James' former home Monkton House on his West Dean estate. Her "wet" footprints were woven into the carpet on the spiral staircase. As Tilly emerged from the bath, leaving behind a trail of wet footprints as she ascended the spiral stairs, Edward subsequently commissioned the carpet with the motif woven into it as a token of his love for her. After their divorce Edward moved the carpet to West Dean House (now West Dean College, [4] where it can still be seen) replacing it at Monkton with a similar carpet made with his dog's footprint. [3]

Drama and film

Losch pictured in the trailer for the film
The Good Earth (1937). Tilly Losch in The Good Earth trailer cropped.jpg
Losch pictured in the trailer for the film
The Good Earth (1937).

Losch extended her work into drama, and achieved her greatest popularity in England. Her stage success led her into Hollywood films. She appeared in several screen productions including Limelight (1936), The Garden of Allah (1936), The Good Earth (1937), and Duel in the Sun (1946). Her choreography was seen in Song of Scheherazade (1947). Dissatisfied with supporting film roles, she continued working as a dancer and choreographer and acted on Broadway. Losch guested with Ballet Theatre in New York in a work by Antony Tudor and in London danced Léonide Massine choreography. Her best known conception was "The Hand Dance" (a collaboration with her Viennese colleague, Hedy Pfundmayr) which is featured in a short dance film by Norman Bel Geddes. Prominent choreographers who made roles for Losch include Sir Frederick Ashton, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Heinrich Kroeller, Leonide Massine, and Antony Tudor. [5]

Second marriage

A severe clinical depression caused Losch to spend time in a sanatorium in Switzerland and abandon dance. It was during this time that she married Henry Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon. The marriage was performed before opening hours in a London register office on September 1, 1939. [6] Losch began painting, first in watercolors and then later in oils. Her earliest works were self-portraits, but she later created portraits of friends such as Anita Loos, Lotte Lenya, and Kurt Weill, and she received encouragement from Cecil Beaton. Carnarvon, aware of Losch's delicate health, sent her to the United States, where he perceived she would be safe from the growing danger of the war in Europe. She mounted her first exhibition in New York City in 1944, and was well received by critics; the prominent collector and museum founder Albert C. Barnes bought one of Losch's works from her Dutch debut show. [7]

She later combined visual elements of dance into her paintings, and often placed her subjects on a backdrop that evoked scenes of the war in Europe. As her style of painting developed she won acclaim. Her works were eventually purchased by London's Tate and other galleries.

Losch's marriage to Carnarvon ended in divorce in 1947 and she commuted between London and New York City for the remainder of her life.


Losch died from cancer in New York on December 24, 1975. Lord Carnarvon was among the many mourners at her funeral. She bequeathed many of her personal documents, sketches, paintings, and photographs to the Max Reinhardt Archives Archived June 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Tilly's ashes are interred in the grounds of Leopoldskron Castle, near Salzburg.


1936 The Garden of Allah Irena
1936 Limelight Dancer
1937 The Good Earth Lotus
1946 Duel in the Sun Mrs. Chavez(final film role)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Choreography</span> Art or practice of designing sequences of movements of physical bodies

Choreography is the art or practice of designing sequences of movements of physical bodies in which motion or form or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself. A choreographer is one who creates choreographies by practising the art of choreography, a process known as choreographing. It most commonly refers to dance choreography.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bronislava Nijinska</span> Russian ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer (1891–1972)

Bronislava Nijinska was a Russian ballet dancer of Polish origin, and an innovative choreographer. She came of age in a family of traveling, professional dancers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Léonide Massine</span> Russian choreographer and ballet dancer (1896–1979)

Leonid Fyodorovich Myasin, better known in the West by the French transliteration as Léonide Massine, was a Russian choreographer and ballet dancer. Massine created the world's first symphonic ballet, Les Présages, and many others in the same vein. Besides his "symphonic ballets," Massine choreographed many other popular works during his long career, some of which were serious and dramatic, and others lighthearted and romantic. He created some of his most famous roles in his own comic works, among them the Can-Can Dancer in La Boutique fantasque (1919), the Hussar in Le Beau Danube (1924), and, perhaps best known of all, the Peruvian in Gaîté Parisienne (1938). Today his oeuvre is represented by his son Lorca Massine, who stages his works around the world.

<i>The Seven Deadly Sins</i> (ballet chanté) 1933 sung ballet by Germans Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, and Georgian-American George Balanchine

The Seven Deadly Sins is a satirical ballet chanté in seven scenes composed by Kurt Weill to a German libretto by Bertolt Brecht in 1933 under a commission from Boris Kochno and Edward James. It was translated into English by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman and more recently by Michael Feingold. It was the last major collaboration between Weill and Brecht.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ballets Russes</span> Itinerant ballet company (1909–1929)

The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company begun in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo</span>

The company Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo was formed in 1932 after the death of Sergei Diaghilev and the demise of Ballets Russes. Its director was Wassily de Basil, and its artistic director was René Blum. They fell out in 1936 and the company split. The part which de Basil retained went through two name changes before becoming the Original Ballet Russe. Blum founded Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, which changed its name to Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when Léonide Massine became artistic director in 1938. It operated under this name until it disbanded some 20 years later.

The Original Ballet Russe was a ballet company established in 1931 by René Blum and Colonel Wassily de Basil as a successor to the Ballets Russes, founded in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev. The company assumed the new name Original Ballet Russe after a split between de Basil and Blum. De Basil led the renamed company, while Blum and others founded a new company under the name Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo. It was a large scale professional ballet company which toured extensively in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the United States, and Central and South America. It closed down operations in 1947.

<i>The Four Temperaments</i> Orchestral work and ballet by Paul Hindemith

The Four Temperaments or Theme and Four Variations is an orchestral work and ballet by Paul Hindemith. Although it was originally conceived as a ballet for Léonide Massine, the score was ultimately completed as a commission for George Balanchine, who subsequently choreographed it as a neoclassical ballet based on the theory of the four temperaments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Picasso and the Ballets Russes</span> Pablo Picassos involvement and collaborations with the Ballets Russes

Pablo Picasso and the Ballets Russes collaborated on several productions. Pablo Picasso's Cubist sets and costumes were used by Sergei Diaghilev in the Ballets Russes's Parade, Le Tricorne, Pulcinella, and Cuadro Flamenco. Picasso also drew a sketch with pen on paper of La Boutique fantasque, and designed the drop curtain for Le Train Bleu, based on his painting Two Women Running on the Beach, 1922.

Yvonne Mounsey was a South African-American ballet dancer and teacher. Described as "a dancer of glamour, wit, and striking presence," she spent ten years with the New York City Ballet (1949-1959), where she created important roles in the works of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Les Ballets 1933 was a ballet company started by Boris Kochno and George Balanchine, which Balanchine used to create new works that were completely his own, set to music that no one had yet choreographed. The company ran for less than four weeks in 1933 and tailored itself to small, wealthy audiences in Paris and London, but despite its scale, it came out with works that Balanchine later used to instruct at his School of American Ballet, and in the programs of his later companies. Outside a theatre for Les Ballets, Balanchine first met Lincoln Kirstein.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nini Theilade</span>

Nini Arlette Theilade was a Danish ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher.

Oksana Skorik is a professional ballet dancer from Kharkiv, Ukraine and Principal Dancer of the Mariinsky Ballet. She joined the Mariinsky Ballet in 2007 after graduating from the Perm School of Dance in Russia. She was the subject of David Kinsella's documentary A Beautiful Tragedy and was featured on RT Documentary's Ballet, Sweat and Tears.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francisco Moncion</span> Dominican-American ballet dancer

Francisco Moncion was a charter member of the New York City Ballet. Over the course of his long career, spanning some forty years, he created roles in major works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and others. He was also a choreographer himself and a talented amateur painter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leon Woizikovsky</span>

Leon Woizikovsky, originally Léon Wójcikowski was a Polish dancer and ballet master, and later choreographer and teacher. He first came to prominence as a member of the Ballets Russes. Later he worked with various ballet companies, e.g., Pavlova, de Basil, de Valois, Ballet Polonaise, Massine, the London Festival, the Royal Flemish.

Mam'zelle Angot is a one-act ballet in three scenes. The choreography and libretto are by Léonide Massine; the music is by Charles Lecocq. The plot is broadly based on Lecocq's 1872 opéra bouffe, La fille de Madame Angot.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lise la Cour</span> Danish ballerina, choreographer and dance teacher (1944–2016)

Lise la Cour (1944–2016) was a Danish ballerina, choreographer and dance teacher. After training at the company's ballet school, she premièred at the Royal Danish Ballet in 1961 and went on to star in a series of ballets including Bournonville's Napoli, Balanchine's The Four Temperaments and Flemming Flindt's The Young Man Must Marry. From the late 1970s, she was principally a choreographer, creating ballets based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen's, starting with Hyrdinden og skorstensfejeren in 1988. She was Viceballetmester of the Royal Danish Ballet from 1988-1995 and was involved in several large theatre productions in the following years until she was appointed Administrative Director of the Royal Danish Opera from 1999 to 2001, ensuring a smooth transition between the former opera director Elaine Padmore and newcomer Kasper Holten. In 2002, she moved to San Jose, California, where she was appointed school director of the Ballet San Jose until she established her own school, Lise la Cour's LaCademy of Ballet, in 2012.

Lorca Massine is an American choreographer and dancer born in New York on July 25, 1944, to choreographer Léonide Massine, a Russian immigrant. He studied dance with his father, Victor Gsovsky, Asaf Messerer and Anatole Wilzac. Over his career, Lorca Massine has collaborated with world-acclaimed choreographers such as Balanchine, Béjart, and his father, Léonide Massine,.

Angèle Albrecht was a German ballerina.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lois Bewley</span> American dancer and choreographer (1934–2012)

Lois Bewley (1934–2012) was an American dancer, choreographer and designer. She studied at the School of American Ballet before joining the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo. After touring with the American Ballet Theatre and the dance companies of Alicia Markova and Jerome Robbins, she joined the New York City Ballet in 1960. Regarded as the "clown princess of dance", she co-founded the First Chamber Dance Quartet and choreographed original ballets and dance pieces. She also worked as an opera director, costume designer and set designer.


  1. Wilson, Christopher (February 23, 2014). "The real, sex-filled stories at Downton Abbey". Express.co.uk.
  2. Spoto, Donald (1989). Lenya : a life. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN   0-316-80725-7. OCLC   18741852.
  3. 1 2 Coleby, Nicola, A Surreal Life: Edward James, 1907–1984, Exhibition Catalogue, Royal Pavilion (Brighton, 1998).
  4. "Whistler while you work | lady.co.uk".
  5. personal conversations with the late Tilly Losch
  6. "Earl of Carnarvon Weds Miss Tilly Losch," London Evening Standard , September 1, 1939.
  7. "Losch Launched - TIME". December 14, 2008. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008.