New Documentary Tells Compelling Story of Vaudevillian Conjoined Twins

Before Paris and Nicky there was Daisy and Violet, the world's first famous pair of Hilton sisters. Born conjoined at the hips in 1908, Daisy and Violet were sold to a promoter who exploited them for financial gain by turning them into a sideshow sensation. Bound By Flesh, a new documentary by IFC Films, tells their tragic life story.

You might recognize Daisy and Violet from Tod Browning's 1932 cult classic horror film Freaks, in which they play conjoined twins in a traveling circus. It wasn't too far off from what their real lives were like.

The girls, who were born to an unmarried barmaid, were immediately sold to a woman named Mary Hilton who used the girls as cash cows for her family, turning them into a sideshow act and eventually "vaudeville royalty." As the UK's first pair of conjoined twins to survive infancy, the girls were world famous, but they never saw any of the money. In 1931, they sued their managers for their freedom in a widely-publicized trial. But ultimately, the Hiltons—who, it turns out, could've been easily separated, as they were only fused by skin and didn't share any organs—didn't have a happy ending.

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Bound By Flesh is director Leslie Zemeckis's meticulously-researched, totally comprehensive account of the Hiltons' lives. And it goes where few documentaries about conjoined twins have gone before, explicitly discussing the Hiltons' very active sex lives and how, exactly, that worked.

Bound By Flesh is in theaters, on demand and on iTunes June 27.