Family & Companions
A collective billion-dollar multimedia empire before they were old enough to drive, fraternal twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen proved a testament to the value of savvy marketing and keen business management - to say nothing of being downright adorable babies. The sisters made their collective screen debuts in 1987 as seven-month-old infants on the television series, "Full House" (ABC, 1987-1995). Remarkably, their fame only seemed to increase with the cancellation of the show. The sisters eventually retired from actingm choosing instead to focus on their fashion design empire with acclaimed labels The Row and Elizabeth & James.
Born on June 13, 1986, in Sherman Oaks, CA to parents David and Jarnette Olsen, Ashley was the elder sister of Mary-Kate by two minutes. The adorable sisters, soon to be known the world over as "the Olsen twins," were picked out of hundreds of potential twins to play the role of newborn Michelle Tanner on "Full House" - a popular sitcom exploring the comedic goings-on of a house full of men raising 3 young girls in a San Francisco brownstone. As was customary in Hollywood when dealing with on-screen toddlers, the producers of "Full House" intentionally cast twins in order to circumvent California's strict child labor laws. By having the extremely photogenic twins take turns before the camera between tapings, producers were effectively able to maximize baby Michelle's screen time without violating the law. Indeed, each girl brought her own unique take to the role, with Mary-Kate acting out the comedic scenes while Ashley was often used for the more serious ones. Initially reluctant to reveal that Michelle was, in fact, played by twins, producers originally credited the Olsen sisters as "Mary-Kate Ashley Olsen" - implying a single actress (albeit, one with a long name) played the role. However, as the show's popularity exploded in the early 1990's, producers modified the billing to show the twins as two separate individuals - a move which brought in more viewers, all anxious to check out these tiny tots who would, effectively, grow up in front of America.
Unlike many of their "Full House" contemporaries, the Olsen twins enjoyed an incredible amount of success in the 1990's outside of their television roles. During the eight-season run of "Full House," Mary-Kate and Ashley actively diversified into other side projects, creating a distinctive brand identity. Capitalizing on their massive kid-friendly appeal, the Olsen sisters starred in a string of made-for TV movies including "To Grandmother's House We Go" (ABC, 1992) and "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble" (ABC, 1993). They expanded their career with the release of Brother for Sale (1992), a children's pop album. Next they formed Dualstar Entertainment, a production house in association with ABC, to develop and produce projects for the pair. Their empire grew with the release of their second album, I'm the Cute One, and the home video, "Mary-Kate and Ashley: Our First Video." While largely ignored by the industry at first, the success of these and other Olsen-related projects quickly caught Hollywood's money-minded attention. By the mid-nineties, it was clear that Mary-Kate and Ashley were a commercial powerhouse, with both becoming the youngest self-made millionaires in American history before they were 10 years old.
Following the 1995 cancellation of "Full House," the nine-year-old Olsen sisters made the most of their fame by heavily merchandising their image(s). Tapping into the then-still unknown market of 'tween-age girls, the twins took the world by storm by promoting their cute, wholesome images on such diverse products as clothes, dolls, fragrances, magazines, movies, and posters. The sisters also starred in a succession of phenomenally popular videos entitled "The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley" (1995-99) and the "You're Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley's" series (1995-2000). The Olsen twins made their feature film debut with 1995's "It Takes Two" and continued to crack out those numerous direct-to-video projects, varying from straight storylines to mysteries to sing-alongs to videotaped "parties."
In 2001, the twins briefly returned to television in the faux-reality show, "So Little Time" (ABC Family, 2001-02). In it, Mary-Kate and Ashley played Riley and Chloe Carlson, two Malibu sisters separated by their parents' divorce. Universally lambasted by critics and audiences alike, the series attempted to present a semi-reality-based portrayal of the twins' lives. Criticized for its uninspired premise, poor scripts, and intrusive laugh track, "So Little Time" died a quick death in appropriately little time. Despite this setback, no one could deny this sister act was one of the most lucrative in town. Worth an estimated $150 million each, the twins were named the "Most Powerful Young Women in Hollywood" by the industry publication Hollywood Reporter. Although as children they were labled cute-but-awkward-looking, they blossomed into very attractive young women, suddenly garnering a male fan base as well. Media attention surrounding the Olsen twins had been whipped into a frenzy on the eve of their 18th birthdays in 2004 - especially since they sat atop an empire worth an estimated $2 billion.
That same year, the Olsen twins starred in their first movie as legal adults - the anemic comedy, "New York Minute." Filmed almost entirely on location in Canada - never a good idea for any movie with "New York" in its title - the film failed to be the breakthrough project the Olsen sisters had hoped for as adults. In addition to being largely dismissed by the critics, the $40 million "New York Minute" failed to score even at the box office, raking in a disappointing $14 million in domestic ticket sales. But the worse was yet to come for the previously infallible sisters.
It was during the promotion of "New York Minute" - starting in April of 2004, when the sisters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - that photographers snapped pictures of a dangerously thin looking Mary-Kate (or M.K. as she would become known in the press) kneeling down with the rest of her family to snap pictures with her star. The weight loss quickly became the topic du jour - with tabloid magazine and TV programs speculating everything from drugs to stress to an actual eating disorder. M.K. cut short her promotional duties in June, 2004, when her family checked her into a Colorado rehab center for six weeks - citing the official reason as anorexia nervosa. The diminutive actress put on about five to seven pounds immediately after her rehab stint - all chronicled on a daily basis by the hounding paparazzi. There was an upside to the sad turn of events - because of one twin's public slide toward self-destruction, they had finally become separate entities in the public's mind. Bearing the brunt of this imposed demarcation, M.K. was the shorter, dark-haired Bohemian-type and often cast in the role of the troubled, out-of-control twin; Blonde, glamorous and protective Ashley was cast in the clichéd role of the more stable, "good sister."
Shortly after the release of "New York Minute" - but before the shocking rehab visit - the Olsen sisters had announced that they would be taking a break from their life-long acting careers to attend college like any other young adults. After M.K.'s rehab stay, the twins attended New York University in the fall, where they studied at the Gallatin School for Individualized Study - Ashley choosing as her study, psychology; M.K. choosing culinary arts. A year later, however, M.K. left NYU and returned to California alone, causing much speculation in the tabloids - had she had an anorexia relapse? Some speculated it had been too soon after her disorder bout to deal with the stresses of moving away from her family to attend college. A fed-up Ashley publicly came to her sister's defense and dismissed all rumors about her sister's decline as rubbish. Not surprisingly, shortly thereafter, the tabloids retaliated by putting Ashley Olsen herself in the hot seat. In 2006, The National Enquirer printed unflattering photos of an inebriated looking Ashley on its cover, with the headline reading, "Ashley Olsen Caught in Drug Scandal!" Ashley fervently denied the allegation, stating that she was not - nor was she ever - a drug user. To make her point further, Ashley then filed a libel suit against the tabloid for a whopping $40 million.
Their booming joint career not withstanding, the Olsen twins both proved capable of performing as solo acts. In 2006, M.K. landed a small role - sans sister Ashley - in George Hickenlooper's star-studded biopic "Factory Girl" (2006). As the very private sisters attempted to mature into women under the ever-watchful and increasingly harsh eye of the media, it became fairly obvious that the attention shown them as children, into teens, into young adults was not about to abate. With each new change in hair color or boyfriend, both M.K. and Ashley Olsen were guaranteed headliners - though sadly, it was no longer for their onscreen talents, but increasingly, their personal lives.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Special)
Acting debut at nine months (with twin Mary-Kate), "Full House"
TV movie debut, "To Grandmother's House We Go"
Released first album, "Brother for Sale"
Released second album, "I'm the Cute One"
Released first home-video, "Mary-Kate and Ashley: Our First Video"
Formed production company Dualstar Productions in association with ABC
Feature film debut, "It Takes Two"
Starred in the direct-to-video release "Passport to Paris"
Returned to series TV in the Fox Family Channel sitcom "So Little Time"
Debuted clothing line at Wal-Mart
In March, published premiere issue of "Mary-Kate and Ashley", a magazine aimed at teenage girls
Released clothing line with sister Mary-Kate for Walmart
Had Cameo role in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"
The sisters' home video franchise, Dualstar signed a multi-million-dollar, 10-year distribution deal with Warner Home Video (September)
Co-starred with her sister Mary-Kate in their first major motion picture "New York Minute"