THE HILTON SISTERS – Chained For Life

Violet-and-Daisy-Hilton-siamese-twins-2

 

Contrary to popular belief, outright exploitation was not very common in sideshow. The majority of human marvels displayed themselves for their own reasons and quite often reaped massive financial and personal rewards for doing so. However, of the few performers who were exploited against their will, the tale of Daisy and Violet Hilton ranks as one of the worst.

Daisy and Violet were conjoined twins born in Brighton, England on February 5, 1908. The sisters were born pygopagi, joined at the posterior. The sisters shared no internal organs and all that was truly uniting them was bone, muscle and skin.Their birth name was Skinner however their impoverished and unmarried mother, Kate, could not fathom the responsibilities involved in raising a pair of girls joined. She sold the twins to her boss and midwife Mary Hilton.

Williams instantly saw potential profit in the twins.

According to many sources, including the autobiography written by the Hilton sisters in 1942, Mary Hilton was a strict, physically abusive, exploitive and corrupt human being. The twins were ‘trained’ and ‘groomed’ to sing and dance in the vaudeville tradition. While this training was in progress the horrific abuse and dehumanizing continued. When the girls finally began touring, they were seen as little more than possessions by the Hiltons.

The twins proved to be hugely successful and the toured extensively beginning at the age of three. On stage, the pair likely looked like dolls, their blond hair in curls and bows on their shoes. Violet played the piano while Daisy played the violin.

Billed as ‘The United Twins’, their tours of Germany, Australia and the USA often saw record crowds. The twin brought in enormous amounts of money. Mary Hilton kept every penny.

When Mary finally died in Birmingham, Alabama, the guardianship of the twins fell to Mary’s daughter Edith and Edith’s husband, Meyer Meyers. They were even worse than Mary as they controlled every movement the twins made. They also proved to be poor agents as they insisted on keeping the girls ‘dolled up’ as little girl well past the age it was acceptable. Critics took notice and the twins were allowed to grow up, but only a little.

The mistreatment and corruption continued under the dictatorship of Edith. Edith purchased a mansion in San Antonio with the money the twins earned as a headquarters as the twins spent much of the 1920’s touring the United States on vaudeville circuits. It was on these circuits that they met Bob Hope and their dear friend Harry Houdini. Their popularity, at this point was near its peak and as a result they became subject to scandal.

The twins had befriended their advance agent, William Oliver. Oliver’s wife Mildred was suspicious of the relationship and accused William of improper acts. A postcard from the twins signed to William ‘with love’ prompted Mildred to file for divorce and sue the twins for $250,000. Oddly enough, this frivolous lawsuit was the catalyst for the Hilton’s freedom.

During a visit to San Antonio lawyer, Martin J. Arnold, the truth came out. As the Meyer’s were out of the room the Hilton sisters told the lawyer of their life of abuse and captivity. The lawyer was flabbergasted and immediately took on the twins’ case. He took the twins into protective custody.

In April of 1931 Judge W.W. McCrory awarded a large sum of money – some reports say as much as $100,000, to the sisters and granted the pair their freedom.

The girls had spent 21 years in abject slavery.

Daisy and Violet became citizens of the United States and returned to show business. They hosted their own show, ‘The Hilton Sisters’ Revue’, and stared in the 1932 film Freaks.

violet-daisy-hilton freaks

Everything seemed to be perfect in the life of the Hilton sisters; however the pair soon began to self destruct. Due to too many years of solitude, suppression and deprivation the girl wallowed in excess. They had numerous affairs, legal problems, clashes with that media and a couple of short publicity marriages. Their popularity nosedived. In 1950, the sisters appeared in their final film Chained for Life. It flopped and the pair further failed in an attempted food franchise. By the 1960’s the pair were nearly penniless.

The Hiltons’ last public appearance was at a drive-in movie theater in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1962. Their tour manager abandoned them there, as the tour was a failure and he was tired of losing money. He left them without any money or transportation and the twins simply decided to settle in Charlotte. A kind grocery store manager hired the sisters to work in his shop, where they checked and bagged groceries.

On January 6, 1969, the twins failed to report for work and were found dead in their pious home. They had no surviving family.

Despite the sad end to their lives, the memory of the Hilton sisters still lives on. 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.

image: still from the 1932 film Freaks.
Excerpts of the above taken from the book Very Special People.

Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

21 Comments

  • Reply November 13, 2007

    Erin

    “loosing money”
    I know how you love corrections.

  • Reply May 11, 2008

    such and such

    thats an amazing story… very inspiring being the fact that they led a normal life after becoming nobody… =’)

  • Reply October 14, 2008

    Beth-Anne

    I had the extreme pleasure of having met the Hilton Sisters in Charlotte, N.C. at the Park n Shop. The owner of the store constructed a weighing station for the two of them. They weighed the produce….but they also weighed two other objects. Everytime I went to the store with my infant son Larry, they would insist on weighing him. This became a weekly ritual for us. They would check him for new teeth as time went on. When my second son, Andrew, was born they began weighing him. They would insist that I leave him with them while I did my shopping. This of course was some 40 years ago but I remember thier kindness toward my children. Even in the last stages of thier lives they remained beautiful, graceful and most kind. I truly missed them when my daughter was born. They died a few weeks prior to her birth.

  • Reply January 5, 2009

    Rebekah

    I just recently watched “Freaks” and these two completely stole whatever scenes they were in, in my opinion. Perfectly elegant and charming beauties. It would have been a pleasure to have known them.

  • Reply February 8, 2009

    dottie

    I have recently discovered a signed copy of the “Intimate loves and lives of the Hilton Sisters. I was wondering if anyone could direct me to a collector?

  • Reply August 21, 2009

    Suzanne

    I just saw Sideshow this past weekend and it prompted me to learn more about the real lives of the Hilton sisters. I am fascinated by their unique and tragic story. I also saw Freaks this week and was truly impressed by their charm, beauty, and presence. These girls were absolutely a treasure and it is tragic that they were not able to have a more prominent and successful career.

  • Reply October 22, 2009

    Srinu

    Beautiful girl..!

  • Reply November 21, 2009

    DEVIANCE

    They are cousin of Paris Hilton.:D

  • Reply July 27, 2010

    Tasha

    I think that these sisters were very intreasting very very good artical…. I have learned a lot about them..

  • Reply May 4, 2011

    J. Norman

    Whey in the world couldn’t they have been separated> I know conjoined twins have been separated with less physical attachment risks than they had>

  • Reply May 27, 2011

    V.E.G.

    Hilton has a nephew named Joseph Haestier.

  • Reply June 8, 2011

    Anna

    I believe this is the saddest story about conjoined twins I have ever read…it’s really too bad that they couldn’t be treated with the medical care we have today.

  • Reply July 13, 2011

    Gregory B

    Download link for “Chained for Life”

    http://www.archive.org/details/ChainedforLife

    Beautiful article by the way. It was also very nice to read the comment by Beth-Anne. It nicely emphasized how this is about two human beings who deserved a much kinder life.

  • Reply January 14, 2012

    Maricela

    When I was little I was so fascinated with the lives that these human marvels
    had to endure with such strength and passion to want to be normal but denied everything
    because of the physical appearance is man that cruel to fear everything they can not
    comprehend to hate everything so different The Hilton sisters deserved much more than
    lifes cruel ways may they rest in peace

  • Reply March 20, 2012

    laylaburris

    well this is disturbing but also intriguging….. AND Very Very INTERESTING!!!!!!!!!……. but my uncle samual is conjoined at the head and his conjoined brother his name is steven. I love them so I dont think anything different of them at all.

  • Reply March 20, 2012

    laylaburris

    I agree with you Anna.

    but like i said….. read my thingy you will understand alot more if you ever had a family member that way.
    when they have sex they have to share only one penis together.

    pretty sad though… although you may not want to know that.

  • Reply September 14, 2012

    ROSANGELA JOYCE

    HER IS BEAUTIFUL NOT LEAVE NEVER TALK WHO HER IS MONSTER HER IS QUEENS FOR ME LOVE MUCH MUCH YOURS DOLLYS I HAVE FRIENDS SEPARADE TOO IN MY FACEBOOK WITH MUCH HONOR CERTAINTY OK LOVE LOVE LOVE ALL THIS PEOPLES SPECIALS IS WONDERLAND : )

  • Reply October 15, 2012

    Lin

    It really is too bad that they could not have been separated. There was nothing major that they shared. I think they would have had happy lives if they would have had surgery.

  • […] a snippet of what their life might have been like, check out J Tithonus Pednaud’s article, THE HILTON SISTERS – Chained For Life, on his website Human […]

  • Reply March 15, 2015

    Patrick

    They are both SUPER beautiful! Their disability (or whatever you wanna call it) hinders no physical beauty, and absolutely none emotionally!

  • Reply May 7, 2015

    NK

    The article says “no surviving family”, but as was learned through the 2012 documentary on their lives, “Bound by Flesh”, one of the sisters gave birth at some point in her life and the child was given up for adoption. They likely had at least one living blood relative, they just had no idea where he was.

Leave a Reply