Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Quirky Book - and Then Some

"Almost Famous Women  by Megan Mayhew Bergman   Scribner   235 pages   $25   

This is a brief look at  women such as Standard Oil heiress, Joe Carstairs on her personally-owned island.  I should have stated that she was a cross-dressing, cigar chewing heiress.  Marlene Dietrich frequented her island and was a ... close-personal friend.

Others who were out shadowed by a more famous relation include Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's wild niece Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister Norma and James Joyce's troubled daughter Lucia.

But the most interesting has to be Daisy and Violet Hilton, co-joined twins.  They were born in Brighton, England, to an unmarried barmaid on February 5, 19908 and died aged 60 in Charlotte, NC , January 1, 1969.

A woman named Mary Hilton helped to deliver the babies and as they continued to survive  as the only pair of  Britain's co-joined twins  to survive -  , she began to see commercial possibilities so she offered to buy them from the barmaid who accepted her offer with alacrity.

True to her word, she had them out touring as The United Twins by their third birthday.   Home conditions at the Hilton were not warming.  They were kept as virtual prisoners, forced to learn to tap dance (four legs, four arms) and later to play music instruments - saxophone and violin. 

They did relatively well financially first in vaudeville and when that died in burlesque.  In 1931 they made changes - Daisy dyed her hair blonde and they quit dressing alike.  They were co-joined at the hip and buttock but did not share any major organs, only blood.  Despite their forced proximity they had a series of affairs with various show biz types.  One of them wanted to marry but the judge wouldn't issue a license  saying it was illegal to issue one to three people. 

They spent their last years in Charlotte, NC, working as grocery store clerks.  When they didn't show up for work, the store manager sent someone to the house to check on them.  Both were dead of the Asian flu.  The coroner decided that Daisy died first and Violet followed her two to four house later.  How chilling is that?  I can shudder right now, thinking about it.

It's a good, brief read; you might like it.

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