All the staff knew a Hollywood celebrity was arriving to stay, which was much more exciting than the usual racing or shooting guests. Smith the Butler was not at all well so Robert Taylor, the first footman, found himself waiting for the car to draw up and then opening the car door. Lord Carnarvon greeted Miss Losch and they walked into the Saloon.
Robert’s role was to walked grandly up the oak staircase, head high in an immaculate dark tailcoat and to lead the way into Mercia bedroom, the slim elegant guest following. The luggage was heavy and he would have to return for a second journey which in this case was rather a positive prospect.
Robert put the cases down and turned round. Miss Losch was a famous actress who had been much admired in London as well in Hollywood. Reaching Mercia bedroom, she walked in and broke into a smile as she looked out of the window at the wonderful views. “How beautiful” she exclaimed and threw herself back onto the four-poster bed. Her dress rode up and just for a minute Robert could not help but stare. He did not think he had ever seen a more wonderful pair of legs. She sat up, with wavy deep brown hair, slanted green eyes and the most amazing cheekbones. Robert rather hoped she might fall in love with their employer.
Robert had arrived as footman at Highclere in 1937 and now, two years later, he would remember this particular day very clearly. Seventy-five years later, I found his typed-up memoirs of his life in our archives.
Tilly was actually Austrian, not American, and a Jew and like many others very fearful of the way the world was going. As a result, she was delighted to make England her home once more. Her career had started as a dancer in Vienna, before she became an actress and later, a choreographer. Coming to London, Tilly began with roles in Noel Coward plays as well as those of Max Reinhardt. In 1932 she was cast in a production of “The Miracle” providing her with the only spoken dialogue which she recited most dramatically. One of the other actresses in the play was Lady Diana Cooper and, in order to ensure she remained centre stage, at one point Tilly sewed up the sleeves of Diana’s costume so that her rival’s dramatic moment was less dramatic. In 1936, Tilly left for Hollywood and where she gained some supporting roles but never actually made lead actress.
She returned to England and knew Lord Carnarvon from earlier parties. They renewed their friendship through mutual friends. They married at the registry office in Caxton Street, Westminster London on September 1st 1939 which was after some persuasion by Lord Carnarvon. It was a near run thing as Tilly said she was not sure and then asked her future husband for financial security. The protracted financial negotiations went on late into the nights before the wedding which took place only after the legal papers were signed. Lord Carnarvon began to feel a little nervous about it all but Tilly said she just wanted to feel safe. She was so beautiful and Carnarvon’s s friends thought he was a very lucky man.
Then war broke out and shortly afterwards Tilly left for New York where she said she felt safer. Her husband missed her and thought, understandably, that she should be playing her part at Highclere. Robert and the Highclere staff missed the glamour and the razzmatazz but she visited occasionally, always arriving every inch the glamorous star.
Despite the brevity of the marriage, the divorce continued for some years. The reports of the private detectives hired by Lord Carnarvon make for the funniest of reading. They were delighted to follow Lady Carnarvon and loved watching her. Through “Friends of Highclere” I am going to hold a monthly book club and I think it might be fun to look at the photographs and archives of this story and share them with you.
Later in her life, Tilly turned to painting and by some lucky chance Geordie and I bought a collection of her paintings as a memory and legacy of her to hold here at the Castle. Her story only touched Highclere briefly but it certainly did bring moments of Hollywood glamour and during the war years and just after, such distractions were vital.