Question: This one can't be true, so please tell me it's not. A friend tried to tell me that instead of being angry former child stars, the Olsen twins have more money than they did when Full House was on. Urban legend, right? — Patty S., Rushford, Minn.
Televisionary: Wrong, Patty, although I'll admit it's surprising, given the all-too common scenario played out by those who've gone before. If the twins' childhood careers had followed those of other, more unfortunate, kid stars, they'd be cursing their thieving parents on E! right about now.
But it hasn't happened that way. Matter of fact, Mary-Kate and Ashley, who switched off playing wee Michelle Tanner during the hit ABC comedy's 1987-95 run, are basically a living brand. And between clothing, beauty and fragrance products being sold at 2,800 Wal-Mart stores and various other items (CDs, posters, etc.), that brand is expected to pull down more than $1 billion in sales this year. (Yup, that's a B.)
It all started when the fraternal twins' parents, egged on by a friend, sent their snapshots to a talent agency. "We didn't think anything would come of it," their dad, Dave, told TV Guide in 1990. But it led to the Full House role, which required twins because child labor laws limit how long an infant can work. "We saw seven sets of twins," creator/executive producer Jeff Franklin recalled. "There was no contest. The other kids were crying. Ashley and Mary-Kate had a great time."
And working with twins also allowed producers to grab whichever Olsen was right for the scene. "Ash is the rougher, tougher, spunkier twin," their acting coach and teacher, Adria Later, explained. "We use her in scenes when Michelle has to have a real attitude. For a sensitive scene, we use Mary-Kate. Mary-Kate will do something 20 times if I ask her. Ashley's had enough after five or six."
Now, star power is formidable, and the twins realized just how formidable early on. Franklin described the time a scene called for Mary-Kate to cover her hands with peanut butter — and didn't like it: "[She] wanted us to wash the peanut butter off. She said, 'If you don't, I'm going to start singing and I'm not going to stop.' That's exactly what she did. It was her first realization that she could actually stop production."
Around that time, it looked like she wasn't the only one likely to stop production on the show, which focused on the child-rearing efforts of a widower (Bob Saget), his brother-in-law (John Stamos) and his pal (David Coulier). Initially, the missing audience was a bigger factor. After a year on the air, Full House was in the ratings basement. But ABC hung in there with it (something they fail to do with more interesting fare, like The Job) and by late 1992, it was in 11th place in the Nielsens. (And no, I can't for the life of me explain why. There are shows that are so sweet they make your teeth hurt and then there was Full House, which was akin to pulling out your fillings with a Sugar Daddy, then emptying a couple Pixie Stix into your mouth. But that's probably a question better answered by Mr. Roush.)
By late 1993, the girls were a phenomenon. They already had met with success in the TV-movie, music and music-video arenas. Their show was the longest-running sitcom on ABC at the time, and their Q rating (a measure of public recognition and popularity) was higher than anyone else's on the show or the network, with the exception of Family Matters's Jaleel White and Home Improvement's Tim Allen. "We probably turn down nine out of 10 requests for their services," their dealmaking attorney said at the time. "We could be doing Saturday-morning cartoon deals, toy deals, merchandising deals, poster deals. But we're not interested in burning them out."No, those things came later, when it became apparent the girls couldn't burn out. Since that time, in addition to the aforementioned products, Mary-Kate and Ashley video games, books, board games, cosmetics, bedding, Sweet Sixteen dolls and other merchandise have laid claim to fan money nationwide. (Granted, their ABC sitcom Two of a Kind only lasted from September 1998 to July 1999, but that's a minor blemish on an otherwise shining record.)
One assumes Mary-Kate is now more cognizant of her wealth than she was at the age of 7 when, her father said, "[she] asked me if she had more money than I do. And then I realized she was talking about the $45 in her piggy bank."
She has quite a bit more money than her dad these days. But a good chunk of it is in trust funds, and she won't have access to it until she's 18.