Stars of Vaudeville #114: The Hilton Sisters

The Hilton Sisters (no, not Paris and Nickey–NEVER them) were the ultimate sister act – they were Siamese Twins, joined at the base of the spine. Jack Benny told an anecdote about one night answering a knock on his dressing room door and receiving Daisy and Violet Hilton, whom he’d performed with on a bill many years before. “Remember us?” one of them asked. He did.

The girls were born in Brighton, England in 1908. They first worked in circuses, but the mitigating factor was that they were both too pretty and too talented to stay in a freak show. They played clarinet and saxophone and did an impression of the Duncan Sisters; that already made them too classy for a sideshow. Vaudeville manager Terry Turner realized their potential and got them a booking on the Loew’s circuit in 1925. They received top dollar for their act: $2,500 a week, a sum very few vaudeville artists were privileged to receive. One of Bob Hope’s very first jobs was as a dancer, touring with the Hilton Sisters.

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The girls even had a film career, appearing in Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks and a 1951 film, supposedly based on their real life called Chained for Life.

The 1997 musical Sideshow is loosely based on their lives.

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In 2013, Leslie Zemeckis, director of Behind the Burley Q, made a new doc about the Hilton Sisters called Bound by FleshLearn all about it here.

To learn about the roots of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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4 Responses to “Stars of Vaudeville #114: The Hilton Sisters”

  1. [...] Byrne. Among their memorable engagements in the three years they were together was a tour with Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Siamese Twins. In 1927, at a gig in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Hope was asked to announce upcoming shows – his [...]

  2. [...] two, two Dollies in one! The Duncan Sisters were more talented, the Hilton Sisters were more freakish, but no sister act was more beautiful, or more beautifully outfitted, than this [...]

  3. [...] with a very rare screening of the notorious 1951 film Chained for Life, starring the conjoined Hilton Sisters. To give you some idea — their other major movie role was in Tod Browning’s Freaks. And [...]

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