Who Are Those Matching Ladies, Mommy?

When I was a little kid and went downtown Kalamazoo with my parents, I would often see a pair of identical twins who drew my attention. Two blonde adult women, dressed to the nines, always in matching outfits, promenading the outdoor mall. Twin boys lived behind us, Timmy and Tommy, both redheads and they wore striped Tshirts. But they weren’t nearly as fascinating as these women who walked as if they had learned to walk with dictionaries on their heads and whose outfits often included matching hats and gloves.

My dad and Uncle Frank were twins, but fraternal, and they looked nothing alike. But they did have that “twin thing” going on. They were very close. Nevertheless, unless you knew they were twins you might have thought my dad was younger when they were kids as he was smaller and that my dad was older when they were adults because my dad went prematurely gray and Frank didn’t.

But to see adult twins who looked identical–wow, that was something I couldn’t forget.

Imagine my surprise when I went on the Vanished Kalamazoo website a few years ago and discovered that these women were very well known in the city–and that they became even more famous as The Brown Twins when they moved to San Francisco.

Marian and Vivian Brown were born 25 January 1927 in Kalamazoo and, after being co-valedictorians at their high school, went to Western Michigan University, which is in Kalamazoo (and my alma mater). 

According to their Wikipedia page, “In Kalamazoo, the Brown twins were often seen in the Kalamazoo Mall, dressed identically. Both were petite at 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 98 pounds. They were always seen together. They dressed alike, walked in lockstep and ate at the same speed, even lifting their forks in unison. Neither married, but they said they had double-dated twins they met at a twins’ convention.”

In 1970 the twins moved to San Francisco in search of better weather.

“For more than 40 years, the Brown twins were an entertainment fixture of the San Francisco social scene. They appeared in public in identical outfits, becoming neighborhood celebrities. They gained wide exposure in a 1988 television advertisement for Reebok, which led to appearances in talk shows and modeling in advertisements. They appeared on television with Richard Simmons, Tom Snyder and Vicki Lawrence. They were featured in over 25 television advertisements over the years. Corporate advertisements in which they appeared included IBM, San Francisco Chronicle, Pay Less, Virgin Atlantic, Joe Boxer, Macy’s, AT&T, Dell Computers, and Apple Inc. The Brown Twins appear in an establishing shot in the film 9 to 5, ostensibly set in Los Angeles.” (Wikipedia)

These lovely ladies are now gone. With their branding of their uniqueness, I think they were ahead of the times. They took what life gave them and created exciting lives for themselves.

Did you have memorable characters on the periphery of your childhood?


Filed under #amreading, #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, #writingcommunity, History, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture

47 responses to “Who Are Those Matching Ladies, Mommy?

  1. My initial answer is no but there was one woman, not famous at all, who worked at our local drugstore. She wore makeup like I had never seen before. High arching almost black eyebrows and hair that was surely dyed. Scarlet red lipstick always perfect. As a kid I was fascinated with her. Even at this age, I knew it wasn’t natural looking. It never mattered what time you went there, the makeup was still the same. I wondered if she fixed her lipstick every hour. I’m pretty sure I bought my first lipstick based on her. It was chrysanthemum orange and neon. I mostly wore it to bed because it was so bright.

  2. Definitely characters! I had an aunt who whose appearance and behaviour is still a topic of conversation even though she passed over twenty years ago.

  3. Amy

    That’s amazing that these two sisters you remember became so well-known. I have often wondered whether being an identical twin robs you of something or gives you something special that the rest of us are missing. These two seem to represent both. Yes, they had a special bond that stayed with them for life. But it also seems that they lost a lot—a life independent of each other.

    • I agree. I do think they were happy and chose that life they lived, so maybe in their case we feel bad for them that they never had those independent lives because we are thinking with our non-twin brains? But I can imagine that sometimes people just don’t know because of their upbringing. And that could be The Brown Twins. I was sort of imagining what their mother was like earlier this morning. Don’t you think she probably made a huge deal about the matching clothes so that they got a lot of attention from a very young age and began to crave it? Similar to a stage mom?

  4. Wonderful – The Brown Twins sound fascinating. I find twins in general to be intriguing.
    My paternal grandmother introduced me to many fascinating folks she monitored from her window over her kitchen sink or her Saturday afternoon customers at my grandparents’ dry cleaners next to my grandfather’s barber shop on Main Street, the only paved road in town.
    Wash Klawinski was an older man who frequently walked in her view on the dirt road separating my two grandmothers’ houses. He walked to town from his home two miles outside of Richards, bought a bag of lemons from Haynie’s grocery store, and then walked home eating those lemons. I won’t tell you what she called him because he had a peculiar gait and of course I just thought she was funny for making up the name.
    Now I recognize the walk as someone who probably needed knee or hip replacements and had figured out that lemons helped his arthritis.
    Joni Mitchell and I have looked at life from both sides now – and neither of us like Joe Rogan.

    • I was just reading that about Joni Mitchell. You go, girl!
      Poor Wash! Look what people went through before they had our medical care. I know that’s an old story that I bring up all the time, but he must have suffered a lot and didn’t have our pain killers either. Your grandmother would have thought I was a weird kid because for a while there I would eat lemons. And green beans with vanilla ice cream. I had to figure things out for myself, I guess. Thanks for introducing one of your childhood characters, Sheila!

  5. The exotic characters from my childhood were George and Sarah Emily Schoenhut. (Sarah Emily was my grandfather’s first cousin.) They both had MFAs in theatre from Yale. George’s claim to fame was designing the theatre-in-the-round at Dartmouth College, where he was a professor for a number of years.

    • Oh, they sound interesting!!! Please tell me that George wore a cape instead of a coat and that Sarah wore bright colors in unusual combinations!

  6. So interesting, Luanne!
    (When my two children are out together, they often have been asked if they’re twins, even though they really don’t look alike. You can definitely tell they’re siblings though!)

    • I wonder what your kids think about being asked if they were twins. Do you remember a trend when we were really little about mothers and daughters being dressed in matching outfits? Or sisters wearing matching clothes? There was one year (I was very young) that my grandmother, mother, aunt, mother, and I all had matching blue and white gingham dresses.

      • It didn’t happen when they were little–only when they were older and out together. They thought it was funny. They’re three years apart in age.
        I don’t think we ever really did matchy stuff. My little sister and I had some matching jumpers that my grandmother made when we were little, and then she got stuck wearing them forever because she had mine to wear when I outgrew them.

  7. I think in many ways, it would be so cool to have a twin, but there is always the other side of the situation. You could be blamed for things you didn’t do. Very interesting post, Luanne.

  8. Wonderful post, Luanne. I can’t recall any unusual characters in my growing-up years. Enjoyed this story of the twins though.

  9. I enjoyed reading about the twins, Luanne. My nieces are identical twins they fought like cats and dogs, but always did everything together. Girl, I could write a book about the unusual characters during my early dating years.😉 When I was younger there were a lot of unusual mothers in the neighborhood.

    • I am laughing out loud at that. Haha, when are you going to start sharing these weirdos in print? Your nieces have what sounds like a healthy sister relationship.

  10. What a delightful story! What you found fascinating as a child apparently intrigued a lot of other people. I like how they developed a career around their twinhood. Remember all those twins in the Doublemint Gum commercials?

    • I had forgotten, but as soon as I read this I remembered those commercials. Seems like they used the same ones for years. They were so squeaky clean, weren’t they?!

  11. A magical story which I can’t begin to match

  12. I absolutely loved this! They must of had so much fun…even before they became celebrities. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing this!

  13. Very interesting. What unique lives these women lived. Kind of the Olsen twins of their time.

  14. Incredible and striking women and they lived remarkable lives and making the most of being twins! A fascinating post, Luanne and the Brown girls were probably the ultimate of twins!

  15. What a fascinating story. I don’t remember any twins in my childhood, nor any major characters, though I’m sure there must have been!

  16. This post was dee-light-ful. I have known twins, but not many, and have always been fascinated by twin-language and twin-telepathy.

Leave a Reply