Rich Girls: The Olsen Twins

Twins May Be Billionaires Before They Can Vote

Even in Hollywood, where rich girls are a dime a dozen, these two 17-year-olds stand out.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen aren't just rich and ambitious, they're mini-moguls. And they're already worth, by some estimates, $40 million each and counting.
Since 48 Hours Investigates first reported on the Olsen twins last June, they've completed a film called "A New York Minute," which will be released in spring 2004, shortly before they turn 18.

Last week, Mary-Kate and Ashley were both accepted to New York University, where they'll start in the fall. Correspondent Erin Moriarty has their story.
The Hollywood Reporter named the Olsen twins as two of the 100 most powerful women in Hollywood.

Do they feel the power? "No," says Mary-Kate, laughing.

"I mean, we definitely do everything for our company," adds Ashley. "In that sense, we feel powerful. But you go home, and no. You have kids running around the house. We have our little sister, our big brother. And a dog."

Ashley and Mary-Kate may be the most financially successful child stars ever, but their "diapers-to-dollars" fairy tale is not just the story of two talented teens.

It's also the story of a creative behind-the-scenes lawyer who turned the Olsen twins into brand names.

Fraternal twins Mary-Kate and Ashley had been splitting a role on the television network sitcom "Full House" since they were 9 months old and in diapers. Three years later, they were still only making scale wages.

"They were the lynchpin of the show and I was aghast when I saw what they were making," says manager Robert Thorne.

Thorne was able to get them an astounding raise: $150,000 apiece per episode. And when "Full House" was cancelled in 1995, he didn't wait for Hollywood to come calling.

He cast Mary-Kate and Ashley in their own video adventures - and struck gold.

What Thorne had stumbled upon was an audience that, until then, had been largely ignored by Hollywood: "tweens" or kids who are too old for cartoons, but too young for racy teen films.

That market was just right for the kind of wholesome entertainment that Ashley and Mary-Kate were offering.

Thorne created a company, Dualstar, and did something else that no Hollywood producer would do: He made the twins, 7, executive producers.

"Well, they and I cast, hire directors, hire writers and oversee everything they're doing," says Thorne. "And there's no element that we don't do. Everything is controlled by us."

Along with the videos, which have generated an astounding $500 million in sales, the girls began to make CDs. It was so successful that Thorne sensed that "tween" consumers, with allowances to burn, would be willing to buy even more.

According to Thorne, there are about 52 categories of entertainment, fashion and lifestyle that are part of the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen line – including clothes, fragrances, cosmetics, shampoos, videos, books, CDs and home furnishings.

Thorne says they made $970 million globally last year. "We'll probably double that in 2004."

If all goes according to plan, Mary-Kate and Ashley could be billionaires before they can vote.

When People Magazine put the twins on the cover as among the richest kids in the world, the Olsen twins hated the comparison.

" We were put against kids who have inherited a whole bunch of money and we earned it," says Ashley. "It's not like it just was given to us. And we've worked very hard for everything we have."

"We've worked for 16 years," adds Mary-Kate.

And, as natural as Mary-Kate and Ashley are in front of the camera, neither claims to be a great actress. It's also fair to say they both could use some voice training. But if adults find it difficult to understand the Olsens' incredible appeal, their pre-teen fans say they love them.
What the Olsens are selling is a clean, wholesome image that appeals not just to young consumers, but also their parents. For that reason, you won't see them at Hollywood parties, and Thorne obsessively controls what the public sees of them.

Maybe it's because they don't lead a celebrity lifestyle that Mary-Kate and Ashley --for all their money - seem to be normal.

Ashley describes Mary-Kate as outgoing, smart and talented – an amazing cook, a best friend. Mary-Kate sees her sister as beautiful, gorgeous: "You look at me and I'm, like, why do you look so pretty and I look ugly?"

Ashley is a bit taller and more reserved than Mary-Kate, who's always been a bit of a tomboy and spends her free time riding horses. The two, however, claim to be best friends.

"We honestly couldn't do this if we weren't best friends, if we weren't really close," says Mary-Kate.

"Yeah, [we'd] rip each other's heads off, I mean, being with each other as much as we are," adds Ashley.

Ashley and Mary-Kate split their time living with their parents, who divorced when the girls were 9. Their dad, Dave, says he leaves the business to Thorne and concentrates on being a father.

What about their allowance? How does a parent give allowance to two multimillionaires?

"Well, I mean, obviously, now they drive and you know their needs are a little greater," says David Olsen. "So usually they'll ask me for some money during the week -- maybe $40, $60 here and there. They all ask me for some money. They all hit me up."
The Olsens plan to produce and star in their first feature-length film this summer, and attend college in the fall of 2004. Not surprisingly, they are looking at the same colleges.

Once they're in college, some fans are betting that they'll start to shed their wholesome image. There are even Web sites counting down the days until they turn 18.

"Oh, boys will be boys," says Mary-Kate.

Does this mean that the twins will have to take on a sexier image to keep fans interested as they grow older?

"I don't even want to think about that," says Dave Olsen. "Geez, why did you ask me that question?"

But both Ashley and Mary-Kate insist they won't have to go the route that Britney Spears went to keep her fans.

" She's 21. She wants to do whatever she wants. Good for her," says Mary Kate. "Do whatever you want. But this is what we want to do, and this is the image we want to give off."

Do they see themselves as more like Brittany once they turn 21?

"We are not sexy," says Mary-Kate. "Don't know how to explain it "

"Do you think I'm sexy," asks Ashley.

"Umm mmm, you're not sexy," says Mary-Kate, laughing. "I mean no!"
  • Rebecca Leung

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