FULL HOUSE'S TYCOON TOTS
The Olsen twins of Full House are normal 7-years-olds, except they're rich, rich, rich!
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the cute-beyond-measure, sparkle-eyed twins who share the role of Michelle on ABC's Full House, act just like any other 7-year-old girls. They are shy around strangers, giggly when left to themselves. They share secrets. They like ice cream and ponies and swimming-pool slides. And, like most little girls, they fidget when they're sleepy and pout when they're angry.
"I want a tiger, Daddy," Mary-Kate kept saying, over and over, squirming in the back seat of the limousine that was taking her and her sister to the Las Vegas Convention Center, where they'd be posing for pictures at a video retailers convention. It was the morning after the girls had seen Siegfried & Roy's smoke-and-mirrors dis-appearing-animals magic show, and ever since, she'd been asking for a stuffed tiger.
"They cost too much, honey," replied Dave Olsen, a softspoken, 40-year-old mortgage banker and father of four, two of whom happen to be the most famous twins in America. "But I want one. I want a tiger. Why can't I have a tiger?" "Mary-Kate." Olsen was using his dad voice now, the one that means business. "Don't start with me. The answer is no."
Dave Olsen may be strong enough to say no to his girls, but lately it seems no one else can. Certainly not the television, recording, and musicvideo executives who over the last few months have agreed to a series of precedent-shattering deals with the pint-size performers: at least $10 million worth of agreements that include the creation of their own company, a new Full House contract that takes them through the 1994-95 season, and guarantees of their own series after they leave Full House. They will also star in their second ABC TV-movie ("Double, double, toil and trouble," to air this Halloween) and release a second album of children's songs plus a half-hour music-video collection called, cleverly enough "Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen: Our First Video."
And there's more. Discussions are ongoing for the twins to star in a feature film next summer, and it seems likely they'll host another variety special (their Mother's day special last spring was a big hit) on ABC. But, says attorney Robert Thorne, who engineered the deals, "We probably turn down nine out of 10 request for their services. We could be doing Saturday-morning cartoon deals, toy deals, merchandising deals, poster deals. But we're not interested in burning them out."
As monumental as the dollar figures are for Mary-Kate and Ashley, Thorne says that what the Olsen family wanted most were deals that would, in the end, give the girls control over their own destiny. "What's more important than the money is that it will give them opportunities down the road, not just to act but to do other things," says Thorne. ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert recognizes there may be some risks in signing a development deal with 7-year-olds who, after all, may decide next year that they'd rather be cowgirls than actresses. "But taking risks is what we do for a living," Harbert says.
ABC is willing to bend over backward to keep the Olsen duo on board, because full house, entering it's seventh season this fall, is curently their longest-running sitcom, and audience research indicates that the twins -who were only 9 months old when the show premiered- are a key reason for its success. Their Q ratings -the all-powerful numbers that indicate which performers are most likable and recognized- are higher than anyone else's on the show, higher in fact than anyone on the entire network excepting Family Matters' Jaleel White and Home Improvement's Tim Allen.
That translates into clout, and not just with the network. Bob Hinkle, president of Zoom Express/BMG kidz, which distributes the twins' recordings and music videos, says the 25 million weekly Full House viewers represent a "substantial constituency" That helped make Mary-Kate and Ashley's first record, "Brother for Sale," one of the best-selling children's albums in the country last year.
For Dave and Jarnie Olsen, all of this has been more than a little mind-boggling. When Jarnie took her 6-month-old twin daughters to a baby audition 6,5 years ago, she had no expectations of launching them on a show-business career. "After the first season, we almost pulled them off the show because we worried whether it would be too disruptive to them and to the rest of the family," Dave Olsen says. "But Mary-Kate and Ashley really enjoyed being there, and we eventually decided that as long as they were having fun we'd let them keep doing it." Unlike most child actors, who work five days a week and are exclusively by studio tutors, Mary-Kate and Ashley work only three days a week, three week a month. The rest of the time they attend school.
"They're regular little kids with regular friends who don't treat them any different than anybody else," Dave Olsen says. "And it's the same at home. We've got four kids (including older brother Trent, 9, and little sister Elizabeth, 4), and it's mayhem in the house in the mornings." But illusions of normality are not always easy to maintain. When they're on the set or on the road, the girls, inevitably, are the center of attention, catered to by adults who tell them how smart and pretty and talented they are. During this weekend in Las Vegas, there will be a press conference, a roomfull of adults asking the girls questions, asking them to smile for the cameras. Later they will be taken to the convention floor, to sit in a booth promoting their music video while a long line of video retailers wait to have Polaroids taken with them.
They have no concept of how famous they are or of how much money they've made. Their allowances range from $1 to $5 per week, depending on how well they do their chores. Still, Dave Olsen knows it's only a matter of time before they come to him with the big question. A few weeks ago, he tought that moment had arrived.
"Mary-Kate asked me if she had more money than I do," he said, recalling how his mind spun at the prospect of explaining to a 7-year-old about trust funds and development deals and how she was, in fact, much richer than her daddy ever would be. "And then I realized she was talking about the $45 in her piggy bank." But someday, Olsen knows, the question will be about more than the contents of a piggy bank. He has done his best to protect as much of the twins' money as he can, putting into trust funds (to be held until their 18th birthday) considerably more than the 25 percent required under California's Coogan Law, the satute enacted in 1939 after it was discovered that the parents of child star Jackie Coogan had stolen and squandered more than $4 million of his earnings.
The Olsens, according to attorney Thorne, have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the twins' income and avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing. Besides the trust funds, they have also arranged for the hiring of outside attorneys who answer only to the girls' estate, not to the parents. They also hired professional business managers, nannies and welfare workers for the kids. Some of the most publicized abuses of childstar assets -case including Patty Duke, Jay North (who starred in Dennis the Menace on TV), and Gary Coleman- stemmed from parents who also acted as their children's managers and/or agents, paying themselves exorbitant fees and leaving little behind for the children.
Another question facing the Olsen twins, one that haunts all child stars, is what will happen when, inevitably, the attention shifts away from them, when they're no longer cute little kids.
But for now, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen do seem like any other 7-year-old girls. Not glib, like some other TV kids, not given to mugging or smart remarks. All weekend long, in fact, they seemed oblivious to the commotion they cause. They didn't seem to notice the ripple effect as they passed through the casino of the Mirage Hotel as they exited Siegfried & Roy. They weren't aware of the steady wave of turning heads and pointing fingers, the murmur of recognition that followed in their wake.
They didn't hear the woman, looking up from the Quartermania slot machine just in time to see them go by. "Look, it's those little angels," she said, admiringly. "The ones on TV."
TV Guide, August 7, 1993