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Lightning Rods for Scandal: The Hilton Twins

History Notes by M Bance

Most people today are aware of the socialites, Paris and Nicky Hilton, but they were not the first Hilton sisters to create a splash in the world of celebrities. Indeed, this rather dubious honour should go to two Brighton girls, Daisy and Violet Hilton.

The sisters were born 100 years ago, on the 5th February 1908, at 15 Riley Road, Brighton to a young, unmarried barmaid named Kate Skinner. The babies were pygopagus twins - conjoined at the hips and buttocks. They shared blood circulation and were fused at the pelvis but shared no major organs. Unable to keep them, Kate agreed to the twins being adopted by her employer and midwife, Mary Hilton who lived at the Queens Arms in George Street and later the Evening Star in the West Hill area.

Mary realised the twins’ commercial potential and when they reached the age of three years she started putting them on show in venues across Europe and America. When she died, Mary willed the girls to her husband, Myer Myers, and their daughter, Edith. Daisy and Violet spent the 1920s on the American vaudeville circuit, playing clarinet, saxophone, singing and dancing. They became a national sensation and moved within A-list celebrity circles, including among their friends Harry Houdini and Bob Hope. However, it was not until 1931 that they were able to break away from the abusive and domineering Myers. Newly emancipated, the twins appeared as themselves in the movie Freaks (1932), which controversially questioned the right of conjoined twins to a love life. But away from the screen, the Hilton sisters had a string of celebrity boyfriends, high profile affairs and, at different times, married.

After the decline of both their marriages and of vaudeville, the twins returned to Hollywood and in 1950 appeared in the film Chained for Life, a story based on the relationship between Siamese twins and a lover. Unfortunately, the film was a colossal failure and, having spent nearly all of their fortune, Daisy and Violet opened a hotdog stand: The Hilton Sisters’ Snack Bar, in Miami, in 1955. Not equipped to manage their own finances, this business also failed and the Hilton sisters ended their lives as “fallen stars”, working behind the counter in a grocer’s shop. They were found dead in their small trailer in Charlotte, North Carolina on the 6th January 1969; they died from Hong Kong flu.

Posted in History on Mar 01, 2008