Daisy and Violet Hilton were conjoined twins (joined by their hips and buttocks; they shared blood circulation and were fused at the pelvis but shared no major organs.)
who leaped to fame on the vaudeville scene and were the subject of a series of exploitation films like Freaks and Chained for Life. It was believed that an operation to separate them would certainly lead to the death of one or both of the twins.
The girls were born in England in 1908 to an unmarried barmaid who exhibited them in Europe while they were still children, and toured the United States sideshow, vaudeville and American burlesque circuits in the 1920s and 1930s.
The mother, who believed the girls birth defects was punishment for her wicked ways, called the girls “The monsters” and sold the children to her employer, a mean hustler named Mary Hilton. Hilton put the girls on display in the read room of her tavern and charged customers two cents to see where the children were conjoined. A number of Hiltons various boyfriend and lover, whom the girls were required to call “Sir”, physically and emotionally abused the pair.
Hilton took the girls on tour across the US. According to the sisters' autobiography, Mary Hilton, their road manager, along with her husband and daughter kept the twins in strict control with physical abuse. “When we displeased her” they wrote “she whipped our backs and shoulders with the buckle end of that belt."
When Hilton died, while on tour in the states, the twins were “bequeathed” to Mary's daughter Edith and her husband Meyer Rothbaum, a former balloon salesman. The twins referred to the Rothbaum’s as their "owners," who never, ever, let them out of their sights, even sleeping in the same room with them at night. If the girls complained they were threatened with being left on their own or with being institutionalized. In their early shows, the girls appeared with other freak acts like “The Turtle Man”, “The Human Block head” and “The Monkey Girl”
As teenagers, in the 1920s, they appeared on the vaudeville stage with mega stars of the day like Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope. At the height of their success, the sister were earning $5,000 a week, an incredible amount of money at the time, but the Rothbaum’s stole every cent the girls earned. A court inquiry later showed that the act made $3,800 a week and that the girl, on record anyway, were paid $100 a week, although the sister argued that they never even that small amount. The Rothbaum’s argued that the girls travelling expense and school tutors cost an amazing $100,000 a year, or about a million dollars today.
Finally, in January of 1931, the sisters fled their captures and sued the Rothbaum’s to get out of their contracts and demanded $100,000 in damages, arguing that they had been sold into bondage and that the Rothbaum’s had cost them an estimated $2 million dollars and the court agreed. An accounting of the girls earning was done under court order
Once free of the Rothbaum’s, they dyed their hair blonde, wore tighter, shorter dresses (Although they now wore different outfits from each other) and went on the road as "The Hilton Sisters' Revue". When vaudeville died, they hit the burlesque circuit.
The sister could be charming, warm and witty and easily attracted a string of lovers. The girls allegedly had dozens of affairs. Since they had no physical privacy between themselves, the magician Harry Houdini taught them how to mentally tune each other out while one had sex and the other didn’t. One of their messier affairs was with a married man had them dragged into an ugly divorce. Daisy tried to marry the musician Jack Lewis, (or possibly musician Maurice Lambert) but 21 states refused to grant him a marriage license.
In 1932, the twins agreed to appear in films like Freaks, but they were aging, their act was old, and they began to struggle to get by. There was a publicity stunt marriage in 1936 to a gay actor named James Moore and another publicity stunt marriage to gay dancer Harold Estep, in 1941.
In the 1950s they opened a snack bar in Miami, but it didn't survive and in 1951 the sister starred in another exploitation film called Chained for Life.
In 1961, the girl appeared at a drive-in Monroe, North Carolina. Their tour manager took the money for the appearance and left the sister there, penniless, to make it on their own. With no other choice, they took a job at a local grocery store, the Park and Shop. The store manager put them behind a counter to weight vegetables and had the counter rebuilt to fit their physical problems. The store employees pitched in and bough the girl three dresses since all they owned were stage clothes. The sisters rented a small cottage from the church they attended and otherwise settled into a peaceful routine.
On January 4, 1969, after they failed to report to work for several days, the girls boss called the police who entered the sister tiny apartment and found them both dead from the Hong Kong flu. Daisy died first; Violet died between two and four days later. They were dead on the floor over the heating grate, possibly huddled there for warmth in their final hours. They had just turned 60 years old.
A few weeks before they died, a fan asked the girls if they would like to his collection of photos of them from their days on the stage. 'No,' they said, 'we want to forget those days, forever.' "