Daisy and Violet Hilton

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Daisy and Violet Hilton

Hilton twins as children
Born5 February 1908
Brighton, Sussex, England, U.K.
DiedJanuary 1969 (aged 60)
Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.
Cause of deathHong Kong flu
OccupationEntertainers, grocery store clerks
Known forBeing conjoined twins
 
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Daisy and Violet Hilton

Hilton twins as children
Born5 February 1908
Brighton, Sussex, England, U.K.
DiedJanuary 1969 (aged 60)
Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.
Cause of deathHong Kong flu
OccupationEntertainers, grocery store clerks
Known forBeing conjoined twins

Daisy Hilton and Violet Hilton (5 February 1908 – January 1969) were a pair of conjoined twins who toured in the U.S. sideshow and vaudeville circuit in the 1930s.

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Early life

The girls were born in Brighton, Sussex, England, on 5 February 1908. Their mother was Kate Skinner, an unmarried barmaid. The sisters were born joined by their hips and buttocks; they shared blood circulation and were fused at the pelvis but shared no major organs. Skinner's boss Mary Hilton, who helped in childbirth, apparently saw commercial prospects in them, and thus effectively bought them from their mother and took them under her care. The girls first stayed above the Queen's Head pub in Brighton, but later moved to the Evening Star pub.

According to the sisters' autobiography, Mary Hilton with her husband and daughter kept the twins in strict control with physical abuse; they had to call her "Auntie Lou" and her current husband "Sir". They trained the girls in singing and dancing.

A medical account of the birth and a description of the twins was provided for the British Medical Journal by Dr James Augustus Rooth,[1] the physician in charge at the time of their birth. He reported that subsequently the Sussex Medico-Chiurgical Society considered separation, but unanimously decided against it as it was believed that the operation would certainly lead to the death of at least one of the twins. He notes that these twins were the first to be born in the United Kingdom conjoined and to survive for more than a few weeks.

Publicity

The Hilton sisters toured first in Britain at the age of three as "The United Twins". Mary Hilton took them on to a tour through Germany, Australia and to the USA. In true sideshow manner, their performance was accompanied by an imaginative "history". Their controllers kept all the money the sisters earned. In 1926 Bob Hope formed an act called the Dancemedians with the Hilton Sisters, who had a tap dancing routine.

Hilton twins' vaudeville poster

When Mary died in Birmingham, Alabama, her daughter and her husband took over. They kept the twins from public view for a while and trained them in jazz music. They lived in a mansion in San Antonio, Texas until the early 1930s.

In 1931, the sisters gathered enough courage to sue their managers, gaining freedom from their contract and US$100,000 in damages.[2] They left the sideshows and went into vaudeville as "The Hilton Sisters' Revue". Daisy dyed her hair blonde and they began to wear different outfits so they could be told apart. They had numerous affairs, failed attempts to get a marriage license and a couple of short marriages. In 1932, the twins appeared as themselves in the film Freaks. In 1951 they starred in Chained for Life, an exploitation film loosely based on their lives.

Later life and deaths

The Hiltons' last public appearance was in 1961 at a drive-in cinema in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their tour manager abandoned them there, and with no means of transportation or income, they were forced to take a job in a nearby grocery store.[2]

On 4 January 1969, after they failed to report to work, their boss called the police. The twins were found dead in their home, victims of the Hong Kong flu. According to a forensic investigation, Daisy died first; Violet died between two and four days later.[2] They were buried in Forest Lawn West Cemetery.

Legacy

In 1989 a musical based on the twins, Twenty Fingers Twenty Toes, with book by Michael Dansicker and Bob Nigro and music and lyrics by Michael Dansicker, premiered at the WPA Theatre and ran for 35 performances. The script can be found in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It began as an accurate portrayal of the twins' early life, but then included a wholly fictitious plot by their keepers to have them surgically separated as adults.

In 1997, a Broadway musical loosely based on the sisters' lives, Side Show, with lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger, received four Tony nominations.

References

  1. ^ Rooth JA (September 1911). "The Brighton united twins". Br Med J. 2 (2647): 653–654. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.2647.653. PMC 2332195. PMID 20765808. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2332195/. 
  2. ^ a b c Jensen, Dean. The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58008-758-2

External links