June 13, 1986 • Sherman Oaks, California
June 13, 1986 • Sherman Oaks, California
Twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have been in front of the cameras since before they could walk or talk. With a career that began on television in 1987, the Olsens went on to star in their own series of video movies, which sold millions of copies each and gave them a devoted fan base among American girls aged four to fourteen. They created a brand identity for themselves, and oversaw an empire that ranged from their own magazine to "marykateandashley" toothpaste long before they took their college-board exams. Each has an estimated net worth of $150 million, but both remained modest about the subject of their wealth. "That's not interesting to us," Mary-Kate told CosmoGirl! writer Lauren Brown. "Because we would never be like, 'Oh yeah, we're worth such-and-such.' If we don't care, no one else should."
The Olsen twins' birthday is a well-known one: June 13, 1986. Ashley was born first, followed a few minutes later by Mary-Kate. They grew up in Sherman Oaks, California, in the San Fernando Valley, and had an older brother, Trent. Their father, Dave, worked as a mortgage banker, and their mother, Jarnette, had once danced with the Los Angeles Ballet corps. One day, their mother met a friend's friend, who was a casting agent, and mentioned that she had twin daughters. The agent asked to see a photograph, and then arranged an audition for the girls for a new ABC sitcom called Full House. Because child-labor laws restrict the amount of hours a minor may work, television series or films often hire a set of identical twins so that the production schedule can continue along uninterrupted. The Olsens were not identical twins but rather fraternal, but they looked enough alike to win the job.
Full House first aired in September of 1987, and the reviews were not kind. The show starred Bob Saget as a recent widower with a large brood; his brother-in-law and a friend move in to help out. The twins were cast as Michelle Tanner, the youngest member of the household, and the Olsens' first on-screen appearance came when John Stamos, who played the friend, Jesse, carried one of them into the room. No one remembers which twin it was that day.
"If we feel strongly enough to say no to something, then that's what happens. It's our line, it's our names and our brand—it's coming from us, Mary-Kate and Ashley. I've learned that 'No' is a full sentence."
Mary-Kate Olsen, CosmoGirl! , May 2003.
During the first two years on the air, Full House did not even make it into the Top 30 list of most-watched television shows. By the 1989–90 season, however, it did, and climbed to the No. 14 spot the next year. It peaked at No. 7 by the end of the 1991–92 season. Little Michelle's cuteness factor seemed to boost the show's popularity, but the Olsens' parents were still show-business novices. The twins were still earning Screen Actors' Guild "scale," or minimum wages, which amounted to about $4,000 per episode. Reportedly, parents of other children who were on the show suggested they negotiate for a higher fee. Dave and Jarnette found an entertainment lawyer, Robert Thorne, who had cut deals for pop superstar Prince, and he got them a higher rate.
Thorne wound up becoming the Olsen's agent, and later their business manager. He suggested they branch out with a pop record, Brother for Sale, which was released in 1992. A television movie, To Grandmother's House We Go, was also released in 1992. It was an adventure yarn set during the Christmas holidays. As the twins' popularity and star-potential increased, Thorne created the Dualstar Entertainment Group in 1993 to manage their careers. To Grandmother's House was followed by a slew of other films, nearly four dozen in all, that went directly to video as planned. Nearly all of them caught on with the legions of young girls who were the Olsens' most devoted fan base, the four-to-ten-year-old set. Then their fan base began to grow up along with them, and in some cases the later movies like Passport to Paris and Our Lips Are Sealed were among the top-selling titles that year on the kids' video charts.
The Olsens' first feature film, It Takes Two, grossed $19 million at the box office in 1995, but took in almost four times that in video sales. Full House ended its eight-season run that same year, and the twins remained off the small screen until ABC gave them their own short-lived sitcom, Two of a Kind, in 1998. Meanwhile, their multimedia empire continued to expand. Offers came pouring in, when executives of other companies began to realize that nearly anything that had their name and image would sell, and usually sell very well. A series of Olsen twins adventure novels, published by Scholastic, sold in the millions, and they also branched out into a clothing line, introduced at Wal-Mart in 2001. When Mattel began selling a line of Mary-Kate and Ashley dolls, only the company's flagship product, Barbie, outsold them.
The Olsens had become immensely rich even before they entered their teens. At the age of ten, they were the youngest millionaires in America whose wealth had not been inherited. They began to receive executive-producer credit on their films, and usually worked about five months of the year. The rest was spent at a private school in the Los Angeles area. In press interviews, they stressed that they led average lives and liked to take part in the same activities—sleepovers, horseback riding, dance classes—as their friends and fans. Their life was not without stress, however: in the mid-1990s, their parents divorced. The girls, their brother, Trent, and younger sister, Lizzie, divided their time between both parents' homes, but reportedly only one of them attended the ceremony when their father remarried.
In 2003, Mary-Kate and Ashley began their senior year of high school. It was also their most profitable year to date, with their clothing lines at Wal-Mart and related ventures bringing in $1 billion in sales at cash registers across America. Their official Web site received about two billon hits annually, and a slew of other Web sites were devoted to their stardom. Surprisingly, the twins also found a new group of fans as they grew into young adults: teenaged boys and young men. Even business journalists began to profile the duo and their company, Dualstar, and the fact that long before they had earned their high-school diplomas, each had an estimated net worth of $150 million. Thorne, who ran their company, confirmed reports that both Mary-Kate and Ashley were actively involved in every aspect of their business. They signed off on each item in the clothing line, for example. As Thorne told People 's Michelle Tauber, "It's always two calls" he needed to make for any deal. "And I very rarely get, 'Let my sister handle that.' They're equally voracious to know what the company is up to."
The Olsens have been described as one of just a handful of child stars who managed to maintain their appeal as they grew up. Their access to the media had been strictly controlled, but that began to change after they earned their drivers' licenses and received matching Range Rover sport-utility vehicles for their sixteenth birthdays. The twins also seemed inseparable, and many wondered if they would head to different colleges in the fall of 2004. They both chose New York University, and readied for the school year by purchasing a four-bedroom apartment in the West Village for $3 million. Both noted that they would concentrate on their academic careers for the next few years, putting their other activities on hold.
In the lead-up to that, however, the Olsens had a memorable rush of PR buzz in the spring of 2004, both good and bad. Their long-awaited next feature film, New York Minute, tanked at the box office, and was drubbed by critics. They graduated from high school on June 7, and turned eighteen six days later, but there were reports that only Ashley had been seen with friends at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool that day. She then reportedly headed to Mexico with pals for a celebratory vacation jaunt.
Days later, the news broke that Mary-Kate's father had forced her into a treatment center just before she turned eighteen, when he could still legally do so. It was described as a "health-related" disorder, which seemed to confirm rumors over the past few months that the darkerhaired Olsen twin was suffering from an eating disorder. Both twins are thin, but a backless dress Mary-Kate wore to one well-photographed event that spring revealed a near-skeletal frame. Other reports surfaced that Mary-Kate had a drug problem, especially when it was learned she had entered the Cirque Lodge in Sundance, Utah, a drug- and alcohol-abuse treatment facility. But company executives, the Olsen family, and even Ashley herself denied the cocaine-addiction rumors. She was released from the facility in late July, reportedly six pounds heavier.
Mary-Kate and Ashley were looking forward to their new college adventures in New York City. Mary-Kate was considering fine arts as possible major, while Ashley was leaning toward studying psychology. There had been fears that their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores would be leaked to the press, but they had remained sealed. They did reveal to People, however, the topics of their admissions essays. Mary-Kate had explored "a big fear that I have. It was a lyric by Ben Harper that said, 'When you have everything, you have everything to lose.'" Ashley used a work by the late Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock to discuss her outlook on life for her essay, especially her life in the spotlight for the past eighteen years. The dense color swirls of Pollock's Number 1, she explained to Tauber in the same article, allowed the viewer "to get exactly what you want out of it, and it's kind of like our life has been, being in the public eye. People can judge it whatever way they want."
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