Though their combined age makes them younger than Julia Roberts, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sit atop an entertainment empire that is poised to generate $1 billion.
After the 15-year-olds were named by The Hollywood Reporter as among the 100 most powerful women in Hollywood, they gave Connie Chung a behind-the-scenes look at their lives — and their career as the twin princesses of self-packaging.
Bribed With Candy as Toddlers
When the fraternal twins were still in diapers, a family friend got their reluctant mother to take them to a TV audition.
"The producers held us … and we didn't cry," Mary-Kate said. "That was our only audition."
But that one audition was more than enough. It was the first step on a fast track to fame and fortune that would leave little time for the simple pleasures of childhood.
Tag-teaming it on camera, the twins shared a starring role on Full House from 1987 to 1995. While most kids their age were learning their first words from parents and preschool teachers, they had their lines fed to them by scriptwriters and professional handlers.
"There would be somebody standing off-camera bribing them with Gummy Bears to get them to say their line," remembered David Coulier, who played Joey on the show.
The prompting worked. As young Michelle, the twins stole the best scenes, and Full House became a ratings smash. But after eight seasons, the show was canceled.
"When we got home, I think we sat down and we cried," said Mary-Kate. "We cried away."
Little Girls, Big Business
But there was someone in the wings who saw that the little girls could be big business. Robert Thorne, their entertainment attorney, set out to market the innocence that had endeared the twins to millions.
He cast Mary-Kate and Ashley in their own made-for-video adventures, targeting an audience of girls under 12. He created a company called Dual Star, and gave the girls real power as pint-sized executive producers.
"If they didn't want to do something, or they wanted to do something differently, their voice ruled," said Thorne — referring to the time since the girls were 4. "I couldn't say 'Do this.' I couldn't order them."
Thorne and the girls produced 38 different video titles, which have raked in more than $500 million in sales.
"They were really smart tapping into the young female audience, which has been terribly underserved," said The Hollywood Reporter's Paula Parzi. "Boys have a lot of product, everything from Star Wars to Pokémon, and girls really didn't have that kind of product."
CDs and cassettes followed, as did a video and videogame franchise, a fashion line at WalMart, their own Mattel dolls, a magazine, a book franchise and a top Internet site. They are expected to generate $1 billion in sales this year from their corporation.
'We Don't Go Around Flaunting Everything'
Until recently, the twins — whose parents divorced when they were 7 — were on a $10 weekly allowance. When they turned 15, they were given credit cards with a $500 monthly limit. Despite their money and fame, the twins say they are careful to stay level-headed and act maturely.
"We feel like we're responsible for what our brand our company represents," said Mary-Kate. "We don't go around partying and doing bad stuff that we could be caught for."
Ashley explained, "We are very wholesome and we don't go around flaunting everything … We're not really rebellious. We're not trying to be something that we're not."
Asked if they would ever go the Britney Spears route of fame, Ashley said, "I'd rather be known as a little girl than as a sex symbol."
Going Separate Ways?
Together the girls are keeping their careers moving forward, but some critics wonder just how long the twin thing can last.
"I don't see much of a need for 35-year-old twins out there," said Parzi. "They're going at some point to have to face that separation, and then see what they can make of themselves as serious entertainment figures."
Asked if they would consider parting ways, Ashley said: "Well, eventually, when we're older … I think we're going to try to do things on our own maybe, I don't know. Maybe she directs and I act, or I act and she directs, and I think we'll always have some things going on together."
Living far apart from each other, they agreed, would be too difficult. "I think we're too dependent on each other," said Mary-Kate. "When you have a twin, it's so much closer than your best friend. It's like a certain connection."
If the twins and Thorpe have their way, the fun will continue — possibly until the girls have a line of geriatric videos as they grow old together.
"I don't really have a set goal of what I want to do, like what this is all for," said Ashley, "but I always like to just keep going until I have to stop."