In Hollywood most newcomers feel that they must “put up a front.” Tilly Losch is mouse-like and retiring.
Not that Tilly Losch need be. Her brilliant history with the Vienna Opera Ballet; her work in The Miracle and Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with Reinhardt; her appearances with the Russian Ballet, and opposite Fred Astaire on Broadway in The Band Wagon, in the London revues of Charles Cochran and her other triumphs are enough to impress even the most blasé in Hollywood.
Hollywood intrigues her. She likes the stir and bustle of the screen world.
She admits that she is envious of those who have risen to the heights and adds that “everybody has this feeling, but Hollywood people are afraid to admit it.”
She thinks envy begets emulation, and emulation begets ambition. “With ambitious effort greater success is bound to come,” she declares.
“Envy of a person who has reached a higher position is normal for any ambitious human,” she adds. “I don’t see why Hollywood people won’t admit it. I would like to be as great as Miss Garbo, for instance. As I see it, that is a splendid sentiment, for it will make me strive my best in everything I do.”
When Tilly played the fiery little dancer in The Garden of Allah, she went out almost every night, taking in Hollywood’s sights and sounds. Now that she’s got over the first excitement, she stays at home a good deal.
“A dancer,” she explains, “is something like an athlete; she has to remain in training. There is much to do every day, to keep in practice and condition.
“For instance,” as she indicated a tightly taped ankle, “I am dancing with a sprained ankle. I’m not boasting about it, or pretending to be brave and stand pain.
“What I’m trying to say is, that it’s part of a dancer’s training. It hurts to keep a sprain moving, but if that’s done, it won’t get stiff and will pass away sooner.
“This is one of the first things we learn in the Vienna Ballet. Acrobats will tell you the same.”
Accidents like sprains happen often in ballet work, she adds. Perhaps that’s why ballerinas are superstitious. She admits that she is.
“In fact,” she declares, “I hope nobody tells me any new superstitions, because my life is complicated enough as it is.”
For instance, she regards October 23 as her “jinx day.” On that day in 1932, she relates, a revolving stage on which she was dancing suddenly stopped and she was injured. On that day in 1933, she was in a hotel fire; in 1934, in a car accident.
In The Good Earth she plays the first Chinese role of her career, that of the tea-house girl.
“It is interesting because it is a dramatic part, and at the same time they let me dance in it,” Miss Losch comments.
“I never wanted to give up dancing, but had hoped that I could combine it with dramatic work, and that is what has happened in The Good Earth.”
Incidentally, she adds that playing with fellow-Viennese players has made the task more engaging. Both Paul Muni and Luise Rainer hail form Vienna, and Miss Rainer was with Reinhardt as Miss Losch was. The two girls spent hours discussing mutual friends between scenes.
Miss Losch had no real intention of going to Hollywood, when, en route to New York, she received a wire asking her to play in The Garden of Allah, which appearance resulted in her being signed for Lotus in the Pearl Buck epic of China.
She worked out her own dance for it. Trained twelve years in the Vienna Ballet, she knows, naturally, every type of national and traditional dance. “So I took what I had learned from books, and improvised on it,” she confessed. “The Chinese characteristics are all there.”
Her appearances have been varied. As a ballet dancer she appeared before the brilliant war-time court of Vienna. It was after this that she was discovered by Reinhardt.
“Being a dancer in Europe,” she remarks, “is a matter of systematic study. When I first went into the Vienna Opera Ballet, it was in the first class, the èléve, or pupil, just beginning.
“We were taught exercises, working at a bar. Then when the pupil becomes supple and graceful, she is promoted to membership of the corps de ballet and begins learning steps.
“This is the first salaried work. Then one becomes a cory-here, the rank of expert dancer; then the solo dancer, finally the prima ballerina.”
Covering this gamut of promotion meant twelve years of work and study. She still carries the first silver krone received by her for an appearance. It is her good luck talisman.
She is going to keep the silver shoe buckle used as a “prop” in her scenes with Roland Got in The Good Earth. This she regards as a good omen, marking her first dramatic scene before a camera.
Intensely anxious about her work, she questioned Director Sidney Franklin as to how she was getting on, and negged to see her rushes.
Franklin wouldn’t show them to her.
“You worry too much anyway, and if you saw them, in rough form, you’d worry a lot more,” he told her. “But when you see them in the finished picture, cut into place, you’ll be wild about yourself.”
“No,” she responded. “I think that could never be. All I can hope is that when I see them I’ll like me, I hope, a little.”