Everyone with a sibling knows that familiar feeling of intense connection. Whether it’s out of love or competitive jealousy, growing up as a child in the same house as someone near your age breeds a strange level of intimacy. Luckily, we part ways with our siblings as we get older, just before we’re on the brink of killing each other.
This was something the Hilton sisters never had. Daisy and Violent were born conjoined at the hip. Rather than see this as a hindrance in life, they made a career out of it. Their story even inspired two Broadway musicals.
Daisy and Violet were born back-to-back in Brighton, England, to an unwed mother. Their deformity made their mother afraid, and she refused to feed them. They were adopted by Mary Hilton, their mother’s employer at a bar. Mary started allowing bar regulars a peek at the girls conjoined flesh for a price.
The twins’ popularity grew when Mary took them on tour in Germany and Australia. They even performed a tap dance number with Bob Hope in 1926.
After the death of Mary Hilton, the sisters were essentially held captive until 1931 by their new managers, Edith and Meyer Meyers (Mary’s daughter and son-in-law). The pair would beat them if they did not wish to perform. When the twins got older, they sued the Meyers for $100,000, dyed their hair blonde, and started an immensely popular vaudeville act called “The Hilton Sisters’ Revue.”
Violet fell in love with a man named Maurice L. Lambert, and the two wished to be wed. Sadly, they were denied a wedding license. Daisy pleaded the court to let her sister have this happiness, but judges in 21 states ruled it “immoral” to allow Violet to marry the man she loved.
Vaudeville slowly died, so the sisters turned to burlesque. When burlesque didn’t work out, they toured drive-in movie theaters. When drive-in movie theaters didn’t want them, they moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to spend the rest of their days as check-out clerks. “You only have to pay one of us,” they told the grocery store manager.
Daisy and Violet vowed that when it came time to die, they would both go together. Indeed, a type of flu killed Daisy first. Violet died two days later.
Side Show, a musical based on the Hilton sisters’ lives, was recently featured at the Kennedy Center. The show eventually opened on Broadway (and made a promotional appearance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), only to recently close. The fascination with the girls lives on through various documentaries and characters based on them, such as Bette and Dot Tattler on the FX hit American Horror Story: Freak Show. Their life and stories will forever live in entertainment, a world they loved and lived in for their entire lives.