Saturday, November 3, 2012
FORGOTTEN ONES: DAISY AND VIOLET HILTON
The girls were born in Brighton, 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. 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 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.
The Hilton sisters toured first in England 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. 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.
In 1931, the sisters gathered enough courage to sue their managers, gaining freedom from their contract and US$100,000 in damages. 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 cult classic Freaks. In 1951 they starred in Chained For Life, an exploitation film based on their lives.
The Hiltons' last public appearance was in 1961 at a drive in movie theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sadly,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. On January 4, 1969, after they failed to report to work, their boss called the police. The twins were found dead in their home, victims of the flu. According to a forensic investigation, Daisy died first; Violet died between two and four days later...