Daisy and Violet
Hilton were born in Brighton, East Sussex, England on February 5,
1908 to a young, unwed barmaid, Kate Skinner. At the age of two
weeks, the twins were "adopted" by Mary Hilton, their mother's
landlady who was also their midwife. The sisters were pygopagus
twins - conjoined at the hips and buttocks. They shared blood
circulation and were fused at the pelvis but shared no major
organs. Soon after acquiring the twins, Mrs. Hilton put them on
exhibition. They were managed by Ike Rose of Rose's Royal Midgets
fame and exhibited alongside Rosa and Josefa Blazek, probably the
first time in history that two sets of Siamese twins were ever
shown together. Daisy and Violet were later taken on an Australian
tour with Mary Hilton, her husband Henry, and their daughter
Edith. While in Australia, Edith married Myer Myers, a carnival
When Mary Hilton died, she
willed the twins to Edith and Myer. The Myers relocated to the
United States and used part of the twins' fortune to built a
luxurious, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home in San Antonio, Texas.
Daisy and Violet spent the majority of the 1920s touring the
United States on vaudeville circuits, playing clarinet and
saxophone, and singing and dancing. The sisters were a national
sensation, counting among their friends a young Bob Hope and Harry
Houdini, who allegedly taught them the trick of mentally
separating from one another.
By this time, it seems, the
Hilton sisters had already become lightning rods for scandal.
Seeking friendship outside the abusive Myers home, the twins
befriended their advance agent, William "Bill" Oliver. Although
the twins claim in their autobiography that their relationship
with Oliver was strictly platonic, biographer Dean Jensen believes
the twins were two of many mistresses of the smooth-talking
promoter and that he slept with both of them many times. In any
case, Oliver's wife Mildred accused him of "spending too much
time" with them and filed for divorce, and attempted to sue the
twins for $250,000. On the orders of Mrs. Myers, Daisy and Violet
asked for the help of a San Antonio lawyer, Martin J. Arnold.
Arnold inquired as to why the sisters, who were over 21 years old
and legal adults, remained bound to Mr. and Mrs. Myers, and he was
shocked to learn of their situation. He took on the twins' case in
January of 1931, helping them file suit against the Myers to break
their contract and legally separate from their abusive guardians.
Judge W.W. McCrory decided the case in April, awarding the
equivalent of nearly $80,000 to the sisters and allowing the Myers
to keep their San Antonio home.
Newly emancipated, Daisy and
Violet became citizens of the United States and returned to the
only life they'd ever known: show business. In 1932 they appeared
in the movie Freaks, which dared to pose the question of
whether or not conjoined twins can have a love life. Over the
coming decade, it would become quite clear that the answer was
yes. Violet, the more outgoing of the pair, had a string of
celebrity boyfriends, including the musician Blue Steel, boxer
Harry Mason, and guitarist Don Galvan, before becoming engaged in
1933 to bandleader Maurice L. Lambert. She and Lambert began a
nationwide search for a clerk who would issue them a marriage
license. Each of her requests - in 21 states - was denied on moral
grounds, and lawyers were brought in to argue on Violet's behalf.
One New York clerk refused to issue the license because Daisy was
not also engaged. Though briefly engaged to Jack Lewis, another
bandleader, she deemed him too shy for marriage to a Siamese twin.
Unable to get married, Violet
and Maurice split. Two years later, however, the twins' agent
Terry Turner announced that he could arrange for Violet to marry
after all - she only needed a groom. Chosen for the role was
Violet's dance partner and a longtime confidant of the twins,
James Walker "Jim" Moore. The wedding, such as it was, took place
on July 18, 1936, at the Texas Centennial Exposition on the
50-yard line of the Cotton Bowl. Daisy, too, got to experience
wedded bliss when she married vaudeville dancer Harold Estep,
stage name Buddy Sawyer, at Elmira, New York, on September 17,
1941. Their marriage lasted two weeks.
After the decline of vaudeville,
the twins, like countless others, turned to Hollywood. In 1950 the
sisters appeared in the film Chained for Life as Dorothy
and Vivian Hamilton, vaudeville singers. In the film, Vivian takes
a dislike to the musician who is courting her sister. Dorothy, on
the other hand, is so smitten that she begs doctors to separate
her from her twin so that she might marry. In the end, Vivian
shoots and kills Dorothy's beau with a pistol grabbed from a
sharpshooter's prop cart. The judge - and the audience - are left
to decide whether to send innocent Dorothy to jail, or let guilty
Vivian walk free.
Chained for Life was a
colossal failure, banned in many places due to its lurid subject
matter. Having spent nearly all of their fortune and struggling to
survive, the twins opened a hotdog stand, The Hilton Sisters'
Snack Bar, in Miami, in 1955, but the business failed in part due
to the objections of fellow vendors who didn't like a pair of
freaks stealing their business. Short on cash, having been unable
to manage their show business earnings responsibly, the sisters
decided to bank on the cult revival of their first movie,
Freaks. In 1962 they arranged to appear at a drive-in movie
theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here they were abandoned,
penniless, by an unscrupulous agent. A kind grocery store manager,
Charles Reid, hired the sisters to work in his shop, where they
checked and bagged groceries. Reid bought work dresses for the
twins, since all they had were show clothes. On January 6, 1969,
after battling the Hong Kong flu for some weeks, the twins failed
for work. Their boss called the police and the sisters were found
dead in their small trailer. Daisy died first and forensic
evidence suggested that Violet lived for two to four days
afterwards, although this is highly questionable since the twins
shared circulation and she would have bled to death much sooner.
Having no surviving family, the twins were laid to rest beside a
Vietnam soldier named Troy Thompson, the son of an acquaintance.
At death, the twins owned but $1,000, a far cry from their
formerly vast fortune. Those who met them late in life describe
the quintessential "fallen stars": the twins spoke and dressed as
they had in their heyday, well into the 1960s.
Above information courtesy of