Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Hilton Sisters


Recently on a road trip through the Carolinas, I was perusing, a great resource for finding unique and odd roadside attractions.  I came across this entry in Charlotte, for the grave of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.  I had never heard of them, but from what I read, they had made a name for themselves in film and on the stage.

While Six Feet Under Hollywood normally profiles celebrities and notable figures, I do occasionally like to showcase some of the lesser-known residents of our nation's cemeteries, such as the outer space alien buried in Aurora, Texas.  The Hilton Sisters are no less interesting.

They were born in Sussex, England, on February 5, 1908.  As you can imagine, it was a difficult birth.  The sisters were born fused at the hips, and while they shared blood circulation, their organs were all their own.

The twins were unique, in that they were the first to be born in the United Kingdom to survive more than a few weeks.  Doctors considered separating them, but feared it would lead to the death of one or both of them. 

Their mother, Kate Skinner, was an unmarried barmaid. The pub's owner, Mary Hilton, saw great financial opportunity in the girls, and for lack of a better word, she bought them from Skinner.  You read that correctly.  The girls were trained in singing and dancing, then put on display at the Queen Arm's pub in Brighton.

By the time they were three, Hilton was already touring the sisters throughout Great Britain.  In 1911, the tour continued through Germany and Australia, before they finally crossed the pond into America.  Once there, they joined the vaudeville circuit, and Hilton crafted an imaginative backstory to entertain the curious.  I wish I knew what that was.

In 1926, the sisters teamed up with up-and-coming comedian Bob Hope, forming a new act called "Dancemedians."  Any profits the two earned from this collaboration however, went directly to Hilton.  But when she died unexpectedly in Birmingham, Alabama, the twins were bequeathed to her daughter Edith Meyers and her husband Meyer Meyers.  Honest.  I'm not making any of this up.

The Hiltons and the Meyers, circa 1927.

The family relocated to San Antonio, Texas, where the Meyers trained them in musical instruments.  Although the girls were quick studies, it was probably the frequent beatings at the hands of the Meyers that inspired their training. 

Tired of the beatings and the financial servitude, the girls were legally emancipated at age 22.  Really. They sued the Meyers and were awarded $100,000 in damages, or $1.4 million in current dollar totals.

In 1932, the sisters appeared in the Tod Browning cinematic masterpiece Freaks.  Set against the backdrop of a traveling circus, the sisters appeared alongside other famed sideshow performers, including dwarf siblings Harry and Daisy Earles and Simon Metz, a victim of microcephaly with an abnormally small head.  Although the film was a financial disappointment upon release and was banned in several countries, it would achieve acclaim later in the 1960s upon re-release.  Check out this clip on the Hiltons on YouTube.

After the film, they returned to the United Kingdom, where they'd spend the next year on tour.  In 1933, the sisters returned to America, where they tried leading normal lives.  Violet began dating musician Maurice Lambert.  Although the couple wanted desperately to marry, their license to do so was rejected in 21 states.

In 1936 however, Violet successfully married gay actor James Moore, but biographers attribute this to a publicity stunt.  After Freaks, the girls' popularity was in decline, while Moore was trying to make a name for himself.  The marriage lasted for ten years on paper, but the couple never lived as husband and wife.  In 1941, Daisy took a husband of her own, dancer Buddy Sawyer, who was also gay.  The marriage lasted ten days.

In 1952, the sisters starred in the exploitation film Chained for Life (left), which was loosely based on their own personal story.  It too was a financial failure, but that won't stop you from watching it on YouTube.  

The sisters would continue touring for the next ten years, but by 1961, public interest was in decline.  They unknowingly made their final public appearance at a drive-in in Charlotte, North Carolina, where their manager abandoned them. With no money or transportation, the sisters took jobs at a local grocery store, Park 'N Shop, where they'd continue working for the rest of their lives.

 On January 4, 1969, the sisters failed to report to work.  The store manager notified police, who went to their home and conducted a welfare check.  Both sisters were found dead, victims of the Hong Kong Flu.  An autopsy would later reveal that Daisy died first, while Violet lasted another two to four days.

The Hilton Sisters were laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Charlotte.  They were buried in a single coffin (imagine the logistics of that) in a donated plot. 

Location: Section M, Lot #313
Inscription: Beloved Siamese Twins.

Rest in peace, girls. 


  • The Hiltons were chronicled in a number of books.  Check out these titles on Amazon:
     * Violet and Daisy: The Story of Vaudeville's Famous Conjoined Twins, by Sarah Miller (2021)
     * The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins, by Dean Jensen (2006)

  • During their vaudeville years, the sisters learned self-hypnosis from Harry Houdini, as a means of being alone.

  • In 1997, the musical Side Show opened on Broadway, telling the story of Daisy and Violet Hilton.  Although it received four Tony Award nominations, the production closed after just 91 performances.

  • Just one week before this blog was published, a commemorative plaque honoring the sisters was erected at their birthplace.  Note that it gives their birth name of Skinner.

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