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March 3, 2019

40 Vintage Photographs and the Tragic Life of Conjoined Twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton

Born in Brighton, England on 5 February 1908, the twins were unofficially adopted by their biological mother’s midwife, Mary Hilton, when the mother rejected the children. From the time that they were infants, they were exhibited at fairs and circuses by Hilton and her daughter.

When Daisy Hilton and Violet Hilton moved to the United States, they became famous for their vaudeville act and their burlesque performances during the 1920s and 1930s; they also appeared in a couple of films. The conjoined burlesque sisters struggled under the heavy hand of their guardians before reaching financial independence.

The Hiltons’ early vaudeville careers were a roaring success, netting them a profit of up to $5,000.00 a week, of which, they saw none. Their various managers and guardians ensured the twins were unable to profit from their own prosperity, and after considering the advice of Harry Houdini, who implored the girls to educate themselves on their public persona through newspapers and other media, the sisters pursued liberation through the justice system. Lawyer Martin Arnold helped to secure emancipation for Daisy and Violet in January of 1931, after which, the twins were awarded approximately $100,000.00 and approached life on their own for the first time.

Even after earning their freedom, they continued to perform in vaudeville productions and, in 1932, they appeared in the film Freaks. In December 1932 the Hiltons sailed to the UK on the Berengaria. They spent most of 1933 in the UK, and returned to the US in October 1933. Violet began a relationship with musician Maurice Lambert, and they applied in 21 states for a marriage license, but it was always refused.

In 1936 Violet married gay actor James Moore as a publicity stunt. The marriage lasted ten years on paper, but it was eventually annulled. In 1941 Daisy married Harold Estep, better known as dancer Buddy Sawyer, who was also gay. The marriage lasted ten days.

They published their autobiography The Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters in 1942. In 1951 they starred in a second film, Chained for Life, an exploitation film loosely based on their lives. Afterwards they undertook personal appearances at double bill screenings of their two movies.

In 1955, the sisters opened a hotdog stand in Miami, which was moderately successful until competitors began complaining about the “freaks” stealing their business.

The Hiltons’ last public appearance was at a drive-in in 1961 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, where they worked for the rest of their lives.

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. They were buried in Forest Lawn West Cemetery in Charlotte.



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