Many decades before another pair of namesake sisters were grabbing headlines, there was conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Born in the English coastal town of Brighton, Daisy and Violet were joined at the hips and buttocks. While they did share blood circulation, they shared no internal organs. Their mother, an unwed barmaid named Kate Skinner, sold her daughters to her employer, Mary Hilton, who saw exploitative dollar signs. Mary trained the girls to sing, dance and play musical instruments through a regimen of threats and physical abuse. Using the stage name “The United Twins,” Mary took the girls on tour through England, Germany, Australia, and eventually the United States, performing primarily in circus sideshows. Mary kept tight control on both the money and the sisters.
After Mary died, her husband continued the tour. In 1931, Daisy and Violet sued for their freedom and were awarded a settlement of $100,000. Soon afterwards, they were cast in Tod Browning‘s controversial film Freaks. They entered vaudeville, performing expertly on the saxophone and violin and often dressed differently to reflect their individuality. In 1951, they appeared in Chained for Life, a biopic loosely based on their lives.
They performed regularly into the 1960s. After a publicity appearance at a drive-in theater in Charlotte, North Carolina, they were abandoned by their tour manager. Left with no money or means of transportation, they were forced to find employment at a local grocery store.
In January 1969, they failed to report for work. Their boss at the grocery called the police. The sisters were discovered dead in their home, victims of Hong Kong flu, part of a pandemic that claimed over 33,000 lives in the United States. Investigation revealed that Daisy had died first and Violet passed several days later. They were 60 years old.