- Movie: Chained For Life
- Book: The Intimate Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters
- Musical: Side Show
- Freaks and Facts
- Music Clips from Chained For Life
Film: Chained For LifeChained For Life is a vanity project designed as film noir that was released in 1951. I hesitate to call it exploitation because people exploit themselves. (Isn't that what we do?) It's not a very easy movie to watch as the sisters are ... um ... exploited with many of the plot points fictionalized from experiences in their real lives including a sham marriage and private paeans for love.
Aped 47 years later by the creators of Side Show
Best public copy; Amazon Prime version is good too
Book: The Intimate Lives and Loves of the Hilton SistersThe Intimate Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters is also a vanity project - a slight autobiography written by Daisy and Violet Hilton to coincide with the release of Chained for Life. The first seventeen pages of the $2 trade-sized paperback are devoted to the Hilton's story with both sisters taking the pen; the concluding 33 pages are a novelization of the tale told in Chained For Life. Takeaways from the autobiographical section include:
- The sisters were born in Brighton, England.* No birth year is mentioned but there is a sentence that reads In 1929 we became legally of age. If this means 21, they were born in 1908. The twins early years were also documented in a medical journal article published in 1911 called The Brighton United Twins (PDF will download.). It discusses the medical details of the infant twins (they shared an anus, separation would cause death). Again, no birth year is given but a photo of the toddlers captioned Present day confirms their birth year as 1908.
- At two weeks old, the sisters were given to Mary Williams (Auntie) who raised (and beat) them. They lived above the Queens Head Pub in Brighton before moving to San Antonio, Texas. Auntie had five husbands and daughter Edith.
- During their youth, Daisy and Violet were trained to read and play music, recite, dance, and sing. Auntie (and Edith when the former died) managed their performing career which took off internationally and in the United States. They were headliners and played vaudeville with luminaries of the day like Harry Houdini, Sophie Tucker and Jimmy Durante.
- In 1927, unbeknownst to the sisters, Edith and her husband enslaved them in a guardianship. The Hiltons went to court in 1930 to get their freedom and dissolve any business arrangements that had been (illegally) put into place. This is when they found out about their birth home in the UK.
- The case was decided in the sisters' favor. All existing contracts were dissolved and they were given $67,000 in bonds, $12,000 in cash and $20,000 in personal effects.
- They crafted a revue in which they played violin, piano, and saxophone, did ballet and adagio dancing, and performed in sketches.
- Violet married as a publicity stunt in Texas (after 21 other states denied request for a marriage license). They were still married (at the time of publication) although Violet acquiesced that the marriage had no meaning and Jim could have a divorce anytime he asked.
- Daisy married a few years later for love. The sisters awoke on the tenth day and found the groom was no longer there. Daisy initiated divorce proceedings and they never saw him again.
Musical: Side ShowIn 1997, Side Show opened on Broadway with Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley starring as Daisy and Violet (respectively). This musical version of the sisters' story has book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger, played 91 performances, and was nominated for five Tony awards (Best Musical, Book, Score and actresses). The New York Library for the Performing Arts Theatre on Film Archives has an archival video recording of the show.
- A scene in which the musical Daisy dreams of being separated from her sister, dancing and cavorting with her lover in a garden. (Did they really just ape that scene from Chained For Life?)
Norm Lewis played Porgy on Broadway in 2012
- A scene in which the phenomenally talented Norm Lewis electrifies (us and) the musical Violet with You Should Be Loved (soaring ballad), a juxtaposition which not too subtly equates the Hilton's struggle with the African-American struggle.
Pretty fuckin' incredible
Freaks and FactsInterestingly, the sisters' autobiography has only one sentence that refers to the performance for which they are most remembered. As Terry figured, the [marriage] stunt paid off. We went to Hollywood and made several films. One of those films was Tod Browning's film Freaks.
Daisy: I'm Daisy
Violet: I'm Violet
Daisy & Violet: We're nothing alike
Violet: I'm to your right as you watch our show
Daisy: She thinks she's always right. Not so. I'm Daisy
Violet: I'm Violet
Music Clips from Chained For Life
Every Hour of Every Day
Never Fall In Love
*In England, the sisters' home was above the Queens Head pub; their manager chose this location for its proximity to the Brighton Train Station. They were born in a house on Riley Road on the outskirts of Brighton.