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Losch, Tilly (1901–1975)

Losch, Tilly (1901–1975)

Austrian dancer, actress, and choreographer . Name variations: often wrongly seen as Tillie Losch. Born Ottilia Ethel Leopoldine in Vienna, Austria, on November 15, 1907; died of cancer in a New York hospital on December 24, 1975; studied at the Vienna Opera Ballet School; married Edward James (a poet, architect, and arts patron), around 1928 (divorced); married and divorced once more.

A graduate of the Vienna Opera Ballet School, Tilly Losch made her debut with the Vienna Opera in 1924, dancing the role of Princess Teaflower in Schlagobers. Her initial dramatic role was in Leonce and Lena at the Vienna Burgtheater. Losch's first choreographic effort was for Max Reinhardt's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1927), in which she also played First Fairy. She choreographed and danced with Reinhardt for some time, traveling with him to the United States in 1928 and dancing the role of the Nun in his production of The Miracle (1932). While in America, she appeared in several films, including The Garden of Allah (1936), The Good Earth (1937), and Duel in the Sun (1945). She choreographed the dances for the latter film, as well as those for Song of Schéhérazade (1946). Losch, who was heralded as one of the great beauties of her day, was also noted for her "hand dances." She once filmed a piece that featured her hands sensuously intertwining to a Bach melody.

Losch was married to arts patron and British eccentric Edward James, who met the dancer when he was 24 and was besotted. They wed around 1928, although it was an odd partnership. She purportedly had numerous, highly visible, liaisons, including an affair with Randolph Churchill. When Losch finally left James, he tried to win her back by bankrolling George Balanchine's first dance company, Les Ballet (1933), and financing three ballets for Losch, including the notable Brecht-Weill collaboration The Seven Deadly Sins, in which she performed with Lotte Lenya . However, James' philanthropy did nothing to reignite Losch's passion, and they eventually parted. The divorce was a messy affair, with her accusing him of homosexuality, and James counter-charging with claims of adultery. After the dust settled, James moved to Europe where he fixated on Salvador Dali and joined the Surrealist movement. He evidently retained a soft spot for Losch, however, having her bare footprints woven into the stair carpet at one of his several houses. Losch later enjoyed some success as a painter. She died on Christmas Eve, 1975.


Kernan, Michael. "One Man's Fantasy Stands Tall in a Jungle in Mexico," in Smithsonian. Vol. 25, no. 1. April 1994, pp. 60–69.

Phillips, Sue. "Diary of an Edwardian Garden," in In Britain. Vol. 6, no. 5. May 1996, pp. 46–50.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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