by Dana Kennedy
Since leaving "Full House", the Olsens have spun their cute stitch into a show biz
empire. Is it too much too soon?
Not to brag or anything," says 9 year old Mary-Kate Olsen, part-time fourth grader
and full-time multimillionaire, "but I'm pretty tough." Her twin sister, Ashley, would have
to agree. "You don't want to get on her nerves," she says. "Sometimes she gets mad, and
it's not a pretty sight."
Fresh from a business meeting with their high-powered entertainment lawyer at
his plush Century City, California., office, the two are lunching with him and a business
associate at the LA theme restaurant Dive! And Mary-Kate, unfazed by her sister's
unflattering description, is digging into an enormous basket of fries. That she is the
bossier twin is acceptable to both. "She's good for me," says Ashley, sucking down a
mega-fruit shake. "No one tries anything around her."
Forget Full House, the high-rated ABC series that first showcased the oddly
appealing girls. Since its cancellation last year, the twins, who shared the role of
Michelle Tanner, have become one of Hollywood's booming entertainment empires,
worth upwards of $10 million. In addition to a list of credits rivaling those of stars twice
their combined ages (two top-selling children's albums, three TV movies, eight hugely
successful musical mystery videos, and the feature film It Takes Two), the girls have an
equally impressive future: two feature films for Warner Bros., a TV series for ABC
(expected in January), five more videos, and a 14-book Scholastic Inc. publishing deal.
So it's fortunate that at least one of these kids is tough--and not only because of
heavy workloads and the pressures of child stardom. The tabloids have triumphed the
February breakup of their parents, Jarnie and Dave, who jointly manage their daughters'
careers. The latest upset was Ashley's reported absence from Dave's March wedding to a
former coworker from his mortgage company: she apparently stayed home with Mom
while Mary-Kate attended the ceremony. Sounds like a family disaster of Macaulay
Culkin proportions. But the twins and their father (their mother declined to comment)
agreed to their first interview since the split-- if only to set the record straight.
The reality is that the transition has been very smooth," insists Dave Olsen, who
also shares custody of the twins' older brother Trent and younger sister Elizabeth.
"Everyone sees eye to eye. The girls are fine."
It's safe to speculate that these kids have not had a normal childhood, and chances
are that problems could develop as a result of the upheaval in their family life -- and their
huge success. But for two kids who grew up on a TV soundstage (they made their Full
House debut at 9 months), they appear to be relatively unaffected by fame. "We do
everything other kids do," claims Mary-Kate, who like her sister, receives a weekly
allowance of $10 in exchange for cleaning her room. "We go to school, play with our
friends, see our pony, have sleep-overs. Some people at school are jealous, but most like
Some people at work have been envious too, according to more than one person
close to the Full House cast. Indeed, three of the Olsens' former costars -- John Stamos,
Candace Cameron, and Jodie Sweetin -- declined to comment for this article. "There's a
little jealously," admits Judy Savage, Sweetin's agent. "It's like, why did they get to have
all the success?"
Savvy management would be one reason. Although Jarnie took the twins to the
Full House audition on a lark, she and Dave left little else to chance. By the time the girls
turned 4, their parents had fired their agents, replacing him with lawyer Robert Thorne,
whose firm represents such clients as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. It was Thorne
who created the twins' company, Dualstar, in 1992 and who has accompanied them to
Dive! today. "We're positioning them as Shirley Temples for the '90s. Our long-term goal
is for them to be little Jodie Fosters," says Thorne. "We want them to be able to produce
and direct if they want." He turns to the girls.
"When you're filming, don't you guys sometimes make suggestions to the
director?" he asks. The girls look at him blankly. "You like talking about how the shots
are made, right?" The girls stare at their fries. "You're not going to help me out with this,
right?" says Thorne. The girls just smile.
Fortunately, for those who might question Thorne's enthusiastic "goal" for his
charges, there is someone who is concerned only with their emotional welfare. Former
actor Paul Peterson (The Donna Reed Show), head of the 350-member watchdog
association of former child stars called A Minor Consideration, says the group monitors
the Olsens, along with many other kid actors. Petersen admits that he worries about the
twins' workload. "How much work is enough?" he ask. "They've worked since they were
babies. Kid actors always say they're normal. But the reality is they're a meal ticket. They
don't have a clue that they're missing out on a real childhood."
Thorne and Dave Olsen both bristle when asked if the girls are being exploited.
"We've made a conscious effort to give them a normal like," says Olsen. "My kids are
who they are. They work in Hollywood, but they don't live it."
Maybe, maybe not. The twins' father says their contracts are arranged so they
work about five months a year: the rest of the time they attend private school mode but
are excitedly looking forward to a trip to Hawaii for a video shoot. "We ask them about
each project and only go ahead if they say yes," says Thorne. "If they didn't want to act,
they wouldn't." He looks at the twins again. "If you wanted to stop, you'd just say, Mom, I
want to stop, right?" Mary-Kate, as usual, answers for both of them. "That's what we
would say if we wanted to quit," she says, twirling a french fry over Ashley's head. "But
we're not going to say it because we like doing this."