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Before Paris and Nicky, Charlotte's own Hilton sisters – conjoined twins Daisy and Violet – experienced the dark side of fame


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It wasn't as simple, however, as conjoined twins who had grown accustomed to being exploited and knew no other way in the world -- Daisy and Violet were not unattractive women. Their looks, therefore, provided them with a fetishistic sexual allure that made their condition more palatable in light of the possibilities they might provide a man.

In fact, it is perhaps the love lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton that has garnered them the most attention. One of the highlights of Tod Browning's 1932 cult classic film Freaks is Daisy and Violet revealing to the world that conjoined twins do have romantic escapades.

But the year prior to that, Daisy and Violet were at the center of a sex scandal involving their agent, William Oliver. It was the kind of story that tabloids today would kill for, considering the very minor controversies that have come to dominate the pop detritus of our times. A sex tape of a hotel heiress? Please. A married guy banging conjoined twins? Now that's scandalous.

But the novelty of the conjoined twins ultimately became just that, and the potential for them to draw a crowd to their vaudeville act waned. They went through a series of shady managers, with nearly each one ripping them off. Daisy and Violet even tried to open a hot dog stand on the beach in Miami in 1955, only to be run out because the other vendors felt the twins had an unfair advantage in attracting customers because of their condition. Their other notoriety prior to these years, apart from personal appearances, resulted from a series of attempts to get married. They were successful (both Daisy and Violet) in getting hitched for brief periods. (One of these weddings took place on the 50-yard line of the 1936 Cotton Bowl.) But usually their applications for a marriage license were turned down on moral grounds. After all, any sexual contact with one of them certainly meant the other sister would be there too, and states are not in the business of sanctioning kinky sex.

Their last big bid for fame and fortune came in 1952 when Daisy and Violet starred the film Chained for Life, a story of conjoined twins, romance, and murder. The film was a flop, perhaps in large part because it was banned in many places because of the salacious nature of its content -- once again, Americans couldn't handle the notion of a three way. At least not a three way of the decidedly odd variety.

After the failure of Chained for Life, Daisy and Violet took up an existence common to many former stars: trying to cash in on past fame. With the revival of Browning's Freaks in the early 1960s, there was a market again for their personal appearances. Once again, Jensen does a more than thorough job retracing their experiences during this time. Each appearance seems to be at an ever-declining quality of mom-and-pop owned rural drive-ins, laden with humiliation. And that is how the Hilton Sisters, born in England, formerly San Antonio's "Siamese Twins Sensation," came to live in the now-defunct mobile home community Patsy's Park on Wilkinson Boulevard.

According to several journalists who have previously written about the twins, Daisy and Violet were abandoned by their manager in Monroe without any money and were eventually helped by some business people to relocate to Charlotte. Though, as someone who has spent some time in Monroe, somehow I suspect that the townsfolk were eager to help the Hilton sisters on their way for a variety of reasons.

In Charlotte, Daisy and Violet crossed paths with Charles and LaRue Reid, owners of the Park-N-Shop grocery store on Wilkinson Boulevard (no relation, by the way, to the current Reid's Fine Foods grocery chain in town). Their biography paints a picture of the twins in the thick of destitution, but still clinging to the image of their past grandeur, much like twin Norman Desmonds. They still wore their makeup in a fashion more suited to chorus girls on a stage, but they were now in their 50s, their looks having faded, and dressed in ragged clothes.

Charles Reid was not only a grocer, but he employed various magicians and clowns and advertised heavily on locally produced children's programming. As Jensen tells it, part of Reid's business philosophy hinged on luring children to the store for entertainment purposes, making the logical leap that parents would buy things once they were there. Although all accounts portray the Reid's as a benevolent couple -- securing living arrangements for the Hilton sisters, getting them involved in a church (for roughly two months), employing them in the grocery store -- one cannot help but be struck by the coincidence that Reid was, in his own nominal and local way, a show business promoter. It seems for the Hilton twins there was no possibility of escaping what they were destined to be: a curious attraction.

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