How Real is 'Freak Show'?

Over the previous three iterations of FX's American Horror Story, showrunner Ryan Murphy has enjoyed bringing famous figures to the screen in new and twisted ways. In Murder House there was the Black Dahlia; in Asylum we met Anne Frank; and in Coven, Marie Laveau reigned supreme (pun intended). So it's safe to assume that Murphy will be adapting even more historical personalities for Season 4, AHS: Freak Show . But the characters I'm most excited to see this season are Sarah Paulson's "two-headed woman," conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler.

Given Murphy's predilection for real-life grotesqueries, the question is: are Bette and Dot real people? The short answer is no — they are fabrications of Murphy's imagination. The longer answer is... maybe. There's a good chance that at least the idea of the Tattler twins was inspired by two very real sideshow performers: Daisy and Violet Hilton.

Even though we haven't even officially met Bette and Dot yet, they already have a lot in common with the Hilton sisters. Obviously, both sets of twins suffer the rare abnormality that occurs in only 1 out of 200,000 live births, according date from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Both the Hiltons and the fictional Tattlers made a living performing in vaudville/sideshows. Both lived most of their lives under very close supervision: the Hiltons under the thumb of their abusive "owner" Mary Hilton (the midwife their unmarried mother sold them to shortly after their birth); the Tattlers under the hopefully more supportive guidance of freak show manager Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange). Both were alive during the 1950s, when Season 4 takes place: the Hiltons starring in the semi-biographical film Chained For Life ; the Tattlers as members of Mars' carnival in Jupiter, Florida.

So what Freak Show spoilers can we glean from the lives of Daisy and Violet? Not many, considering we don't know how closely the Tattlers' lives will hew to their real-life counterparts. But hopefully it's at least safe to assume that Bette and Dot will survive the terrifying siege of Twisty the Clown: the Hiltons died in 1969 at the respectable age of 59. However, even though they weren't murdered by a deranged clown or killed during a botched separation surgery, the Hiltons didn't exactly have a happy ending. They succumbed to the "Hong Kong Flu," a 1968-'69 influenza pandemic that claimed the lives of one million people around the world. Daisy died first... and Violet only perished between two to four days later. That's a sadly horrific end to what must have already been a very difficult life.

We can hope that Bette and Dot have a happier life than Daisy and Violet — but knowing Ryan Murphy's twisted mind, that seems highly doubtful.

Images: Frank Ockenfels/FX