The twins aboard the SS Aquitania, arriving in New York City after a performance in England, October 6, 1933 (www.corbis.com)

Promotional pitchcard, 1930s The twins in 'Chained for Life', 1951. (Hunter) Daisy and Violet Hilton were born in Brighton, East Sussex, England on February 5, 1908 to a young, unwed barmaid, Kate Skinner. At the age of two weeks, the twins were "adopted" by Mary Hilton, their mother's landlady who was also their midwife. The sisters were pygopagus twins - conjoined at the hips and buttocks. They shared blood circulation and were fused at the pelvis but shared no major organs. Soon after acquiring the twins, Mrs. Hilton put them on exhibition. They were managed by Ike Rose of Rose's Royal Midgets fame and exhibited alongside Rosa and Josefa Blazek, probably the first time in history that two sets of Siamese twins were ever shown together. Daisy and Violet were later taken on an Australian tour with Mary Hilton, her husband Henry, and their daughter Edith. While in Australia, Edith married Myer Myers, a carnival balloon salesman.

When Mary Hilton died, she willed the twins to Edith and Myer. The Myers relocated to the United States and used part of the twins' fortune to built a luxurious, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home in San Antonio, Texas. Daisy and Violet spent the majority of the 1920s touring the United States on vaudeville circuits, playing clarinet and saxophone, and singing and dancing. The sisters were a national sensation, counting among their friends a young Bob Hope and Harry Houdini, who allegedly taught them the trick of mentally separating from one another.

By this time, it seems, the Hilton sisters had already become lightning rods for scandal. Seeking friendship outside the abusive Myers home, the twins befriended their advance agent, William "Bill" Oliver. Although the twins claim in their autobiography that their relationship with Oliver was strictly platonic, biographer Dean Jensen believes the twins were two of many mistresses of the smooth-talking promoter and that he slept with both of them many times. In any case, Oliver's wife Mildred accused him of "spending too much time" with them and filed for divorce, and attempted to sue the twins for $250,000. On the orders of Mrs. Myers, Daisy and Violet asked for the help of a San Antonio lawyer, Martin J. Arnold. Arnold inquired as to why the sisters, who were over 21 years old and legal adults, remained bound to Mr. and Mrs. Myers, and he was shocked to learn of their situation. He took on the twins' case in January of 1931, helping them file suit against the Myers to break their contract and legally separate from their abusive guardians. Judge W.W. McCrory decided the case in April, awarding the equivalent of nearly $80,000 to the sisters and allowing the Myers to keep their San Antonio home.

Newly emancipated, Daisy and Violet became citizens of the United States and returned to the only life they'd ever known: showbusiness. In 1932 they appeared in the movie Freaks, which dared to pose the question of whether or not conjoined twins can have a love life. Over the coming decade, it would become quite clear that the answer was yes. Violet, the more outgoing of the pair, had a string of celebrity boyfriends, including the musician Blue Steel, boxer Harry Mason, and guitarist Don Galvan, before becoming engaged in 1933 to bandleader Maurice L. Lambert. She and Lambert began a nationwide search for a clerk who would issue them a marriage license. Each of her requests - in 21 states - was denied on moral grounds, and lawyers were brought in to argue on Violet's behalf. One New York clerk refused to issue the license because Daisy was not also engaged. Though briefly engaged to Jack Lewis, another bandleader, she deemed him too shy for marriage to a Siamese twin.

Unable to get married, Violet and Maurice split. Two years later, however, the twins' agent Terry Turner announced that he could arrange for Violet to marry after all - she only needed a groom. Chosen for the role was Violet's dance partner and a longtime confidant of the twins, James Walker "Jim" Moore. The wedding, such as it was, took place on July 18, 1936, at the Texas Centennial Exposition on the 50-yard line of the Cotton Bowl. Daisy, too, got to experience wedded bliss when she married vaudeville dancer Harold Estep, stage name Buddy Sawyer, at Elmira, New York, on September 17, 1941. Their marriage lasted two weeks.

After the decline of vaudeville, the twins, like countless others, turned to Hollywood. In 1950 the sisters appeared in the film Chained for Life as Dorothy and Vivian Hamilton, vaudeville singers. In the film, Vivian takes a dislike to the musician who is courting her sister. Dorothy, on the other hand, is so smitten that she begs doctors to separate her from her twin so that she might marry. In the end, Vivian shoots and kills Dorothy's beau with a pistol grabbed from a sharpshooter's prop cart. The judge - and the audience - are left to decide whether to send innocent Dorothy to jail, or let guilty Vivian walk free.

Chained for Life was a colossal failure, banned in many places due to its lurid subject matter. Having spent nearly all of their fortune and struggling to survive, the twins opened a hotdog stand, The Hilton Sisters' Snack Bar, in Miami, in 1955, but the business failed in part due to the objections of fellow vendors who didn't like a pair of freaks stealing their business. Short on cash, having been unable to manage their showbusiness earnings responsibly, the sisters decided to bank on the cult revival of their first movie, Freaks. In 1962 they arranged to appear at a drive-in movie theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here they were abandoned, penniless, by an unscrupulous agent. A kind grocery store manager, Charles Reid, hired the sisters to work in his shop, where they checked and bagged groceries. Reid bought work dresses for the twins, since all they had were show clothes. On January 6, 1969, after battling the Hong Kong flu for some weeks, the twins failed to report for work. Their boss called the police and the sisters were found dead in their small trailer. Daisy died first and forensic evidence suggested that Violet lived for two to four days afterwards, although this is highly questionable since the twins shared circulation and she would have bled to death much sooner. Having no surviving family, the twins were laid to rest beside a Vietnam soldier named Troy Thompson, the son of an acquaintance. At death, the twins owned but $1,000, a far cry from their formerly vast fortune. Those who met them late in life describe the quintessential "fallen stars": the twins spoke and dressed as they had in their heyday, well into the 1960s.

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Updated 11.3.2006 with corrections from The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton by Dean Jensen (2006).