I watched Tod Browning's "Freaks" yesterday, a highly controversial film from the 1930's. Browning used a cast largely comprised of actual sideshow freaks, and the film was banned not long after its release. One woman sued the film makers, claiming that she suffered a miscarriage after watching it. That's not so unbelievable; the film is shocking and I can't imagine how it affected audiences in the 30's.
I was doing a little research on the film and came across the sad story of Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins and stars of the film. They were born to a barmaid in Brighton, England in 1908. Their mother's employer "bought" the girls and proceeded to shop them around as an attraction. The girls were forced to call her "Auntie Lou" and her husband "Sir." The girls never saw a dollar of what they made and were beaten severely for tiny infractions. When "Auntie Lou" died, the girls discovered they had been "willed" to her husband and daughter. Luckily, they were falsely sued in a divorce case and taken to see a lawyer, who asked "Sir" to leave the room. As soon as he left, they begged and pleaded for help. At long last, the girls had gained independence.
After "Freaks," the girls toured around up into the 1960's. They were at a drive-in theater in Charlotte, North Carolina when their agent abandoned them with no money and no means of transportation. They stayed in Charlotte and got jobs at a grocery store, living in a trailer. In 1969, their employer went to their house after not hearing from them for a few days and called the police, who busted open the door. Violet and Daisy were dead and curled up on a heating grate in the hallway (probably to keep warm). Daisy had died first, while Violet lingered on for two to four days after.
I can't imagine such a life, nor can I imagine being attached to my dead sister for two to four days. Here's to the Hilton Sisters, who were dealt a crappy hand in life. They were beautiful girls!