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Even in a city known for exotic characters, San Francisco’s Vivian and Marian Brown stood out more than most.

The petite identical twins, natives of Kalamazoo, Mich., arrived in San Francisco together in 1970. They quickly became local icons of eccentricity, thanks not only to their vivacious personalities but also their habit of going everywhere together in elaborate identical outfits — red dresses, cowboy boots and and faux-leopard-skin hats, for example. (“We tried dressing differently for six months,” Marian once explained to an interviewer. “We didn’t like that at all.”)

The Brown sisters were cast in cameo roles in films, appeared in ads and commercials and graced civic events with their presence. They were frequently approached by tourists who wanted to take their picture, and by various reports, always cheerfully agreed. As the San Francisco Chronicle once explained, “These two ladies with their elegantly arched brows, full-blown coifs and tiny, tailored suits, embody a spirit that makes the city so distinctive.”

Sadly, San Francisco’s sister act is no more. But Vivian Brown, who passed away on Jan. 9 at age 85 in San Francisco, will be fondly remembered for helping her adopted city to be just a bit more flamboyant. Here are some intriguing facts about Vivian and her surviving sister Marian.

  • Vivian was the elder of the sisters, by eight minutes.
  • The Brown sisters were schoolteachers in Michigan before they decided to move to San Francisco, where they initially found jobs in different workplaces — Marian at a bank, and Vivian at an insurance agency. But eventually they quit their jobs because they had difficulty being apart during the day.
  • The sisters had a flourishing career for years as actresses in commercials. Over the years, they appeared in TV ads for Reebok, IBM, Payless Drug Store, the Joe Boxer brand of underwear, AT&T, Dell,  Apple and Virgin Atlantic Airlines. The latter’s founder, Richard Branson, was so charmed by them that he flew them to London and took them on a shopping trip at Harrods, the famous department store.
  • They really did do everything together. Once, for example, they simultaneously purchased identical white Oldsmobiles.
  • Though the twins never married, they briefly double-dated twin brothers, whom they met and danced with at a convention for twins in Milwaukee. Their would-be boyfriends balked, however, when the twins decided that they wanted to swap one for the other.
  • Last year, after an article in the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Vivian was hospitalized and the sisters were having financial difficulties, local residents responded with an outpouring of generosity. One man, for example, called Uncle Vito’s, the Nob Hill restaurant where the sisters frequently dined, and offered his credit card number to pay for $150 worth of pizza and chocolate cake, Marian’s regular order. Others offered to pay for taxicab rides so that Marian could visit her sister in the hospital. One person even offered them two side-by-side burial plots in a local cemetery, so they could remain together eternally.

From YouTube, here’s a short video of the Brown sisters, shot by a visitor to the city, who wrote in the caption that “they are awesome. I hope age gives me their spunk.”

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