Two women with styled dark hair stand in patterned dresses and stockings hold large brimmed matching hats in their right hand with left hand on hips. Photo Credit: Hennepin County Public Library

Photo Credit: Hennepin County Library

The Dolly Sisters

Hungarian identical twin performers

Excerpts from Sonny Watsons Street Swing:

The twins arrived in Brooklyn, NY when they were just five years of age. Roszika (Rosy) and Jenny (Yansci) of the famous Dolly Sisters were internationally known as a single sex dance team, or a tandem act. They were not the first sister act to come along, but they were one of the best. The twins were managed by their uncle and using mirrors, light and shadow techniques, and identical clothing, they would imitate each other’s dancing movements to perfection. The sisters started ballet training with the urging of their mother and started dancing professionally early in life in local beer halls. They made their American debut in the operetta entitled “The Maid and the Millionaire” in 1907.

However, because of their age they would not be allowed to perform in New York for two more years. Frustrated, they entered the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit and toured the Midwest until 1909. They returned to New York in the Keith Circuit and by 1911 were with the Ziegfeld Follies, billed as the Dolly Twins. Rosie later claimed that the name Dolly was inspired by a friend who said they were as cute as dolls. It was here that they got their theme “Siamese Twins,” which they used throughout their career. Later, passing an important audition for Oscar Hammerstein, the Dolly Twins became International Stage headliners, but in so doing they found that their private life would be strained.

The twins made a fortune from their dancing and performing as well as various marriages and more importantly suitors, including the Prince of Wales, the Aga Khan, and King Alfonso of Spain, department store tycoon Gordon Selfridge and many more, who would lavishly shower them with gifts, from a vast amount of jewelry to Rolls Royces and Real Estate. Their collection of jewelry alone was incredibly excessive, but unfortunately, they would not be able to keep it. Gambling is rumored to have played a part of their fortune as well, having claimed to have broken the bank in Monte Carlo—four times.

Jenny Dolly was in a serious automobile accident, driving over a cliff located along the French Riviera in 1933 with her fiancé Max Canstant. The pair survived the automobile accident but one of Jenny’s lungs was punctured, her skull was fractured, her stomach displaced but, for her, the worst of it was that the right side of her face was torn apart. The beauty that had brought her wealth and fame was ruined. She almost died but for the next six weeks she underwent over 15 painful and unsuccessful plastic surgeries to restore her beauty, later cursing the doctors for saving her life. This necessitated the sale of most of her jewelry. Financially destitute and emotionally exhausted, Jenny never fully recovered mentally or physically from her auto accident. She described herself to friends as a “broken shell,” and committed suicide by hanging herself at the Shelton Hotel in 1941. Rosie, who attempted suicide in 1962, died of a heart attack in 1970.

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