Q: I have a vague recollection of a pair of identical twins from Belleville who once appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” I would guess that the men were in their 70s at the time and that the segment aired sometime in the early 1980s. Can you provide any further details? Thanks!
Dave, of Belleville
A: They may have been just 5 feet tall and barely 90 pounds each dripping wet, but when it came to causing double trouble, William and Amos Caulfield were giants at their craft.
“Whenever I didn’t want to go to work, I would just send Amos,” William told us once. “My boss couldn’t tell one from the other. We did the same thing in school. When one of us got detentions, we would take turns serving them.”
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In fact, even they weren’t sure who was who, they claimed. When sister Stella Hill bathed them as infants, she had to remove the pink and blue ribbons that helped the family tell them apart.
“I’m not absolutely sure I got the right ribbons back on the right babies,” Hill admitted.
No wonder the two merry pranksters blew away the competition to earn the title of the most identical set of twins in Illinois in March 1981. In a promotion staged for the Illinois Lottery’s then-new Double game, the Caulfield brothers were picked as one of three finalists from more than 200 entries. Then, they swept the popular vote to win the contest. It earned them a $1,000 prize and, when asked what they wanted to do next, they didn’t hesitate to say they wanted to be introduced by the king of late night television.
Six weeks later, their wish was granted.
Inside, they may have felt a little like tuna fish in Kansas. During their first 77 years, the lifelong Belleville residents had always lived together and had never ventured past Peoria. William worked as a stove mounter at the Enterprise Foundry in Belleville, while Amos served as the duo’s housekeeper. When Carson asked them why they never married, William joked that their mother had always taught them that it wasn’t sanitary for two people to sleep in the same bed.
Early on, relatives frequently were unable to tell the young boys apart until Amos lost a front tooth. But believing it was more fun when they could fool the family, Amos said he pulled the same tooth in William’s mouth so they could continue their duplicitous high jinks.
They didn’t double their pleasure all the time. William recalled one time when he was beaten up at a dance by a group of men who thought he was Amos.
“And when we were children, our father used to have to beat the both of us to make sure he got the right one,” he said.
But the Caulfields certainly made the most of their late-found fame. To pick up their prize, they took their first plane ride to Chicago, where they enjoyed breakfast in bed while adding a pile of menus, matchbook covers and publicity photos to the scrapbook that the brothers had kept all their life. William even showed his impish self when he asked one reporter, “I have a thousand dollars — want to go out with me?” The only somewhat scary moment came when Amos became separated at O’Hare Airport and found himself stuck on an elevator he didn’t know how to operate because he had never been on one. His ups and downs ended when he finally spotted his niece, Bernice Ehret.
Six weeks later, they and Ehret were safely ensconced in a plush, chauffeured limousine en route to the NBC Studios for a chance to cut up with Carson. They proved up to the task. When asked where Belleville was, William deadpanned, “Next to Millstadt.” Afterward they regretted only that the seemingly ageless George Burns hadn’t been invited to join them — and that it all didn’t happen sooner.
“I wish it had happened 25 years ago,” Amos said. “I would have enjoyed it more.”
His comment proved prescient. Less than four years later, Amos, who had been in poor health, died of a heart attack at age 81.
“My buddy’s gone now,” William told us at the time. “I’m going crazy now thinking about him. I wish he was back. We used to raise hell with one another. Now I wish I’d never raised hell with him. But everybody has their spats. Even husbands and wives have their spats. That’s love.”
Just over a year later, William died at 82.
“He wanted to die,” sister Edna Hill said. “He just didn’t want to eat. He wanted to be with his brother.”
We can only wonder if they immediately tried tricking St. Peter.
(You can watch their entire 11-minute Carson appearance at www.youtube.com/watch?v=auDRBeGTr7M&t=29s or search for “carson caulfield belleville” at YouTube.)
During World War II, what famous actor reportedly sawed Johnny Carson in half during a USO magic show?
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