Today is the birthday of Rosa and Josefa Blazek (1878-1922). They were a pair of conjoined twin sisters from Bohemia (now Czech Republic). Exhibition of the girls at local fairs began from the time they were one year old. Their career began in earnest after they went to Paris to meet with doctors to assess the possibility of separation at age 13. (The two girls shared lower vertebrae, making it impossible to separate them at the time). To enhance their act, they learned to play the xylophone, then progressed to the violin, on which they played impressive duets.
Their first trip to the U.S. was to take part in the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. In 1910 interest in the act was enhanced by the birth, to Rosa (the more vivacious of the two), of a son, whom she called Franz. It was said that the father, also called Franz, died in World War I. While at the time the birth caused scandal and much salacious chatter, and there seemed to be some legal trouble surrounding the marriage to Franz Sr. (questions surrounding bigamy), there is speculation now that Franz Jr. was adopted and Franz Sr. didn’t exist at all! Real or contrived, the resulting publicity was good for the act.
The Bohemian Twins and little Franz came to the U.S. in 1921 for a vaudeville tour, making their home base among the large Czech community in Chicago. Unfortunately, the sisters caught influenza in 1922 and passed away within 12 minutes of each other. (This, I feel, is why this remarkable act is not far better known today — they are easily as extraordinary as the Hilton Sisters).
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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