An old Morning News story presents a different narrative about the lives of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton than the 2014 documentary “Bound by Flesh,” which popped up on Netflix this month (recommended for you).
But both indicate that the twins’ visits to the State Fair of Texas in Dallas caused massive buzz.
Leslie Zemeckis spent years researching the twins before producing “Bound by Flesh,” and probably offers more reliable history.
Daisy and Violet were born to a young mother who believed their condition was punishment for the affair that resulted in the pregnancy. She was repulsed by them and refused to touch them. She sold them to Mary Hilton, a midwife who helped care for the babies in their first days. But Mary had plans beyond mothering the girls—she saw in the attractive, otherwise healthy conjoined children a cash cow.
As far as I can tell, the entire anecdote leading the News’ article was fabrication. The twins didn’t have the father it describes, and it portrays their guardian as a doting “aunt” who helped raise them. Based on the movie, they were abused, exploited and robbed of their earnings.
Viewers of American Horror Story will find the tale quite familiar. In the “Freak Show” season, Sarah Paulson portrayed Daisy and Violet and Jessica Lang played Mary.
By the time they came to Dallas, the sisters’ popularity was on the decline. They arguably were the world’s most famous children during their heyday. Mary Hilton brought them to America. After some trouble getting the kids past immigration, they became citizens and the most popular vaudeville sideshow performers ever. They knew how to play all sorts of instruments and sing.
Yet they were never to see any of the money, reap any of the financial benefits later in life, because Mary, and later a foster father, hoarded all the earnings and kept the twins isolated in order to stave off awareness of their situation. It wasn’t until 1931 that the girls sued him and obtained independence.
As they aged, movies became the new form of entertainment and vaudeville withered.
They apparently appeared at the State Fair of Texas when they were about 17, which is when that first article was published. They told the reporter they would never marry, which is ironic because they did marry, sort of, and the wedding took place at the same fair.
In 1936 they used the State Fair of Texas as backdrop for what shortly thereafter was revealed as a publicity stunt—a wedding. Violet would become the first “Siamese twin bride in Texas history,” papers reported. About 4,500 onlookers witnessed the ceremony, a rather disappointing turnout that further signaled their declining relevance.
While the marriage was fake, the young women did have lovers.
They received romance advice from Harry Houdini. The magician taught them to mentally detach from one another when privacy was desired. They wound up living and dying in San Antonio, but watch the documentary to learn the details, which are fascinating.