Could there be two different girls who look the same at Sweet Valley, Sweet Valley Highhhh…?
The answer is yes.
For four sweet seasons, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield ruled Sweet Valley High, each in her own way. Jessica was a wild, party-loving extrovert, and Elizabeth was a down-to-earth, humble introvert. Which one did you prefer?
The teen drama ran from 1994 to 1997. But the story behind it spread for decades. The show was based on a book series, which included roughly 152 books in total! Through her books, the author, Francine Pascal, encouraged teenagers all over the country to sit down and read.
Here’s a glimpse into the twins’ lives today.
It Was Supposed to Be a Soap Opera
When the author of the book series, Francine Pascal, wrote the “Sweet Valley High” series, she was already an accomplished author with three successful adult novels to her name. Originally, she had considered the idea of writing a soap opera, until a friend suggested books would be a better route.
She decided that twins would be the main characters in the book because she “always felt they were two sides of one person, the good and the bad.” Her idea was sold almost immediately after she handed it to her publisher.
She Used Ghost Writers
Even though Francine technically came up with the general idea of “Sweet Valley High,” she didn’t actually want to write it. For that reason, her agent, Amy Berkower, suggested it may be better to hire ghostwriters and have Francine supervise the whole thing.
Francine wrote outlines and references for ghostwriters to follow. They would get a book outline with critical plot points and fill in the rest as they thought fit. Once they were done, they would send it to Francine who would either approve it or send it back for fixing.
Pascal Had a 100-Book Contract
While it’s common for publishers to sign contracts with celebrated and successful authors, Francine Pascal may have landed one of the most substantial contracts in the book industry. The book publishing company Bantam signed the author to a 100-book deal!
In total, the series ended up growing to roughly 152 books in total, not including spin-off projects like Sweet Valley Twins, which took on a thriller vibe and followed the girls in grade school as they solved murders and other crimes.
The First Teen Book to Make the New York Times Best Seller List
In just a few short years, nearly every teen had a copy of Sweet Valley High on their nightstand. Young adults across the country devoured the books one by one, hardly containing themselves when waiting for a next one to come out.
Perfect Summer, which was released in 1985, became the first young-adult fiction book to crack the prestigious New York Times Bestseller List. The following year, 18 young adult spots in Waldenbooks and B. Dalton were occupied by the Sweet Valley High Series.
The Equivalent of “Junk Food”
While Sweet Valley High encouraged young teens who may never have picked up a book outside their school’s assigned reading, some literary critics believed the series was like “junk food.” They said it was vapid and didn’t really contribute to the readers’ imagination or intellect.
Francine Pascal dismissed those snarky reviews, saying that it didn’t matter so long as it got teenagers to read. “I don’t know that they’re all going to go on to War and Peace, but we’ve created readers out of nonreaders,” she told People magazine back in 1988.
The Books’ Cover Artist Painted the President
The books’ cover artist, James Mathewuse, was a highly regarded painter. He was sought after by many publishing houses in New York. He did covers for works like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.
He also painted about 250 Sweet Valley covers. For teen books like Sweet Valley High, James said he skipped any heavy symbolism and went straight for pastel colors. “A symbolic cover is probably over the teenagers’ heads,” he said in 2010.
Fun fact: Around 20 years earlier, he was asked to paint President John F. Kennedy.
Early Mornings on Set
When Francine’s books were turned into a TV show, the hired actors were asked to come to the set super early in the morning. “A normal day would probably begin at about 5:30. We would have to be in for hair and makeup — in the morning!” said Brittany Daniel, who played Jessica “Jess” Wakefield, the party-loving, wild Wakefield twin.
Brittany admitted she loved having her hair and makeup done, despite the early hours. Her twin on the other hand, Cynthia Daniel, who played Elizabeth “Liz” Wakefield, the down-to-earth, quiet Wakefield twin, didn’t like sitting in the chair for hours.
Finding the Daniel Twins
Unsurprisingly, when the popular book series was turned into a TV series, producers felt a lot of pressure to find the perfect girls to play the lead roles of the Wakefield twins. They had to do the book justice!
They interviewed a ton of twins, but the second they found the Daniel twins, they knew they had found their girls. “We interviewed countless twins, but when we met the Daniel twins, we knew right away that we had to have them,” said Abbie Charette, one of the show’s co-producers.
A Possible Reboot?
Kids who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s will surely be excited about this: “Sweet Valley High” is coming to the silver screen! According to several media outlets, Paramount Pictures is working on a movie. They have hired co-writers Kristen “Kiwi” Smith and Harper Dill to do the job.
Kiwi is best known for writing mega blockbusters like 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde, whereas Harper has worked on the Fox series The Mick. Both writers have got plenty of storylines to choose from. So far, there’s not much news about how things are going. All we know is that it’s in the making!
Readers Thought Francine Pascal Was a Teenager
Despite being an adult, Francine Pascal had this incredible ability to know all the ins and outs of being a teenager. Readers were always able to relate to her stories. So much so, that many readers assumed she was a teenager, not a 40-year-old woman.
Pascal admitted later that she stole a few ideas from her teenage daughters. She also mentioned that at one of her book signings, a 13-year-old girl waiting for an autograph looked at her in shock and said, “I thought you were going to be 16!”
Just Three Curse Words Allowed
The book series had many scandalous plot lines surrounding things like drugs, addiction, and teen pregnancy. However, according to one of the ghostwriters of “Sweet Valley High,” Ryan Nerz, they were obliged to follow a strict protocol when it came to using “bad” words.
Ryan said they were only allowed to write words like “hell,” “damn,” and “b-ch.” That’s it. Those were the three main words they could say, but sparingly! Ryan didn’t really listen, and instead, wrote those three words all over the place.
The Chemistry on Set Was Great
It’s pretty common for teen drama series to have as much drama behind the scenes as there is when the cameras are rolling. Put a bunch of hormone-crazed young adults in one room, and you’ll likely get an authentic, cheesy soap opera.
But that wasn’t the case for Sweet Valley High’s cast members. They got along great, likely because Brittany and Cynthia got along very well. “You can just see the chemistry between the cast as they’ve gotten to know each other,” said the show’s co-producer Abbie Charette.
Brittany Loved Her Wardrobe on the Show
Brittany Daniel starred as Jessica Wakefield, the more free-spirited and outgoing twin. Like in the books, the show’s producers differentiated between the two twins through their wardrobe.
Elizabeth Wakefield, for example, tended to be a lot humbler and more reserved than her twin sister. Stylist Julie Rae Engelsman revealed that Brittany loved dressing up for her wild character because it was completely different than who she was in person. “Brittany always tells me, you know, ‘I love getting to do this’ because in real life she’s not really that way,” she dished.
The Girls Were Put on a Diet
In 2008, the Sweet Valley High series was re-issued but with a few changes to suit contemporary readers. Some of these modifications were, for example, the girls’ red Fiat car, which became a Jeep Wrangler instead.
Weirdly enough, they also shrunk the dress sizes of the twins, from the “perfect size 6” noted in the original books, to a “perfect size 4.” Hmmm… there’s no doubt that this move prompted some critics to voice concern that the change might provoke disordered body image in readers.
The Board Game Was Dull
Among other things (like mullets and Farrah Fawcett hair) the 1970s and 1980s were famous for their – board games! Really, there were only a few pop culture trends that escaped the board game craze.
Sweet Valley High was also plagued by the fad. As part of their merch, they released Sweet Valley High: The Game, in which players could acquire material goods and “trade boyfriends” to win the game. Sounds like a joke, right?
A Central Character Died of an Overdose
Even though Francine Pascal was a bit reluctant to explore taboo issues like teen pregnancy and drug addiction at first, she eventually warmed up to the idea. The 40th book in the Sweet Valley High series, On the Edge, told a harrowing tale about the twins’ friend, Regina Morrow.
In the book, Regina goes to a party where she tries cocaine for the very first time. And then, just like that, she drops dead (she had a heart defect). This plot twist affected kids around the country, many of whom claim to have never tried drugs as a result of her death.
The Original Series Had a Disastrous Ending
Teen literature doesn’t normally deal with things like natural disasters and tragic worldly events. But Sweet Valley High wasn’t your normal young adult fiction series. Francine Pascal wanted to go out with a bang, and as a result, wrote a harrowing ending that startled her fans.
The final books in the franchise revolve around an earthquake that absolutely demolishes the town. One of the most depressing things that resulted was the death of classmate Olivia Davidson, who died after a fridge fell on her.
They Came Back as Adults
Even though Francine Pascal once said she wasn’t interested in having the twins go above the age of 17 (according to her, she wanted to “keep them at the stage where everything is intense and pure”), she ended up exploring their adulthood in 2011’s Sweet Valley Confidential.
It was the first book she wrote entirely by herself. She was motivated to do so by the many letters asking what happened to the Wakefield twins after the series ended. While the book wasn’t as adored as the others, it sold well enough for her to follow up with an e-book version called The Sweet Life.
The Twins Were Really Different in Real Life
Just like their on-screen characters Jessica and Elizabeth, real-life twins Brittany and Cynthia Daniel have completely different personalities. According to their makeup artist, Zepture, Brittany loved makeup, while Cynthia didn’t.
In a behind-the-scenes video interview, she said that “It takes about 30 minutes to do their makeup… Brittany loves makeup!” whereas Cynthia “fidgets the whole time.” Just like Jessica and Elizabeth, one was more “posh” than the other.
Francine Pascal Had a Favorite Twin
Since Francine Pascal created both fictional twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the girls became her literary children. And even though it’s practically impossible for a mother to choose her favorite kid, Pascal says she has a bit of a preference.
When asked which twin she favored, Pascal responded, “I would say that I’m more of an Elizabeth with some bad Jessica tendencies. I definitely have the same morals and work ethic that Elizabeth does, and we are similar in a lot of other ways, so she is definitely my favorite.”
Pascal’s Daughter Found Them
The show’s casting directors are the ones who ended up hiring Brittany and Cynthia. However, they can’t take all the credit for finding the perfect twins. Sweet Valley Unlimited —a fan site devoted to all things Sweet Valley High — interviewed Francine Pascal at the height of the show’s popularity and managed to get some interesting information.
As it turns out, her eldest daughter Jamie was the one who discovered them. “I thought the casting was close to perfect. The Daniel twins were amazing, and we were so lucky to have found them. It was actually my eldest daughter Jamie who discovered them. We couldn’t have asked for better actors… it was as if the Daniel twins were made to be Liz and Jess!” she told SV Unlimited.
It Was Almost Sweet Apple High
It’s difficult to imagine Sweet Valley High being called anything but Sweet Valley, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the original name of the fictional town created by Francine. When she first began writing the series, she named the Wakefield twins’ California hometown “Sweet Apple.”
Interestingly, the name was already used to dub another famous fictional town. “Do you know the musical Bye Bye Birdie? Sweet Apple was the town in that. My brother wrote it!” She continued, “And it’s so strange that I didn’t even connect it with that play! So, then when I showed him what I had written he said, ‘No way, Francine!’ So, then it became Sweet Valley.”
Pascal Criticized the Series
Given all the energy and time Pascal put into creating the Sweet Valley High franchise, it’s only natural that fans would be interested to know what the author thought about the TV show. Sweet Valley Unlimited asked the series’ creator a lot of burning questions. Here’s what she had to say.
In regard to the casting, she said it was close to perfect, but did she think the show captured the tone well? Well, she actually “thought it was too cartoonish.” She said she “wanted more heart and truth, but unfortunately, [the producers] didn’t listen.”
What Are the Twins up to Now?
For four years, twin sisters Brittany and Cynthia Daniel starred in the television version of Sweet Valley High. Britany Daniel played Jessica and Elizabeth Daniel played Cynthia Wakefield, two teens who lived lives of drama and romance.
Only rarely did these fictional girls do their homework and other dull, human responsibilities. As the seasons progressed, the show began to fade and both sisters moved on to different projects. Let’s see what they’ve been up to ever since.
What Is Brittany up To?
At 16 years old, Brittany’s first big acting gig was on the teen show Swans Crossing (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar). Then, she joined her twin sister at Sweet Valley High. The show’s popularity earned both girls a Young Artist Award in 1995 for playing the Wakefield twins.
After graduating Sweet Valley High, she landed the role of Eve Whitman in the third season of Dawson Creek. She also starred in Joe Dirt (1 and 2), White Chicks, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and That 80’s Show. In 2007, she won Best Actress for her role in Last of the Romantics.
Cynthia, on the Other Hand, Quit Acting
While Brittany continued to work after Sweet Valley High ended, Cynthia put her acting career aside (her last acting gig was in 2002). Instead, she became a professional photographer and today owns her own studio, Five Arrows Photography.
Cynthia doesn’t talk much about her former life on her website. However, she does mention that her astrology sign is a Pisces, and that’s she’s a “sun chaser,” who’s down for photographing anything. Currently, her photos focus on things like family, babies, and pregnancy.
Brittany Is Engaged
After dating actor Joshua Jackson and then her White Chicks co-star Keenan Ivory Wayans (not while they were working together), Brittany Daniel got engaged to real estate broker Adam Touni in the winter of 2016.
Adam proposed on a cliff overlooking San Francisco Bay. Cynthia helped design Brittany’s engagement ring with their friend, Jeanette Blacy who owns Blacy’s Fine Jewelers. Brittany told E! News that some health issues she struggled with made the engagement all the more special.
“Finding love after surviving such a serious health crisis makes me feel such gratitude for finding a true partner and makes me believe that anything is possible,” she shared.
She’s Also a Cancer Survivor
In 2011, at the age of 36, Brittany received some startling news. She was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She took a break from her work on The Game (eventually returning in 2014) and devoted herself to getting better.
Thankfully, she’s now in remission and has since then opened up about the difficulties that came with recovering. “It was hard for me to go, ‘Y’all I’m sick,'” she admitted in 2014. “It was something that I needed to handle privately but I wanted to be able to tell my fans, ‘It’s not that I don’t love y’all’.”
She’s an Ambassador for Stand Up to Cancer
Since being cancer-free, Brittany has decided to devote herself to working and advocating for cancer charities across the country. She is not the only person in her family affected by cancer; her father died of lung cancer in 2009.
Among her many philanthropic endeavors, Brittany Daniel is one of the ambassadors for Stand Up to Cancer. She has written about her dad’s cancer journey. She has also participated in several rides of Cycle for Survival.
Cynthia Is a Proud Mom
Cynthia Daniel (who now goes by Cynthia Hauser) and her husband, actor Cole Hauser, had been dating for a long time when they tied the knot in December of 2006. Today, they are happily raising three children – Ryland, Steely Rose, and Colt.
Even though Cynthia quit acting after Sweet Valley High, she still has some famous mom friends. While pregnant with her second kid in 2008, she was spotted going to the gym with supermodel Camila Alves, who was then pregnant with her (and Matthew McConaughey’s) firstborn.
The Sweet Life
In 2017, the Daniel sisters launched a website for a project called “The Sweet Life.” In it, they began posting about the benefits of creativity and art. They discuss the benefits of crafting with feathers and other trendy DIY fads.
On their joint Instagram account, they post photos of them doing things together like cooking and baking. From chocolate cookies to cooking chicken in a slow cooker, the twins really know how to do it all. The recipe for their treats can be found on the posts.
They Want a Reboot
In 2015, Brittany Daniel told Entertainment Weekly that she and Cynthia were slated to have a talk with the book’s author, Francine Pascal, and that they were “definitely interested in doing a reboot.”
Even though nothing has been mentioned since, the director of the film Juno, Diablo Cody, started working on a movie version of the book series with Pascal back in 2009. “Sweet Valley High is fantastic, fabulous, a little bit campy, and — dare I say it — cinematic,” she noted.
They’re Into Health and Wellness
In addition to the twins’ Pinterest-worthy recipes and DIY projects, these former Sweet Valley High girls are also into anything health and wellness related. It’s not surprising, considering Brittany’s past health issues and living their lives in the spotlight.
On their Instagram account, the Daniel twins take the hashtag #workoutwednesday seriously. They do a lot of yoga and advocate positive thinking and a healthy work-life balance. Recently, Cynthia has shared a post about her cleanse, telling fans the importance of doing it with someone supportive by their side.
They Love to Travel
In 2016, the twins documented their jealousy-provoking adventures traveling the globe together, posting pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #thetwintravelers. They also opened another Instagram account called @thetwintravelersexperience.
They traveled to Mexico where they learned to surf. They also went for a wine-tasting tour in Tuscany. When the twins turned 40 back in 2016, they embraced their entrance to a new decade by hashtagging #40isthenew30 and #adventureskeepyouyoung.
So, What’s Next for the Girls?
Will we see these two darlings in a Sweet Valley High reboot? Will Cynthia return to acting in order to reunite with her twin on the silver screen? There’s really no telling where these sisters might pop up. If not Sweet Valley High, then maybe the Food Network, or travel channels.
They’ll probably continue to work on their Instagram empire. And of course, there’s the joint business, The Sweet Life, which shares even more details about these iconic sisters. We’re excited to see what the future holds for them.
Ryan James Bittle
What about the rest of the cast? Let’s see.
Ryan James Bittle, who played Todd Wilkins, Elizabeth Wakefield’s boyfriend in the high school show, has continued to develop himself in acting. Now in his 40s, Ryan has a number of impressive performances on his resume.
Ryan has starred in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Boy Meets World, and has also landed a recurring role as Jessica Biel’s lover on the show 7th Heaven. In the early 2000s, he tied the knot with Jennifer Davis. However, the pair divorced three years later.
Bad Boy, Brock Burnett
Despite starring in just the first season, Brock Burnett left a memorable mark on the show’s viewers. He played bad boy Bruce Patman. After the show, Brock kept acting but landed gigs in small, lesser-known productions.
Despite not making it big as an actor, Brock didn’t give up on his dream of working in the business. He opened up his own small production company that produces movies targeting things like social justice and change. He’s been married since the turn of the century to Lexi Jayde.
Michael Perl played Winston Egbert, Todd Wilkins’ best friend and sidekick. After Sweet Valley High ended, Perl applied to theater school and earned a bachelor’s in fine arts in theatre from UCLA’s prestigious School of Theatre, Film, and Television.
He then set up a production company in 2010 with his wife, Melissa Lugo. They called it – Burton Street Productions. As of today, Perl still acts here and there and usually posts snaps from his auditions on his social media account.
Harley Rodriguez starred in the series Sweet Valley High as Manny Lopez. When the show ended, Harley kept going, landing gigs in other shows like Price of Glory, V.I.P., and The Amazing Race. Unlike his other co-stars, Harley didn’t open a production company.
After several years of acting, Harley threw in the towel and moved on to other endeavors. Today, he works in Barry’s Boston Gym as a personal trainer and floods his Instagram account with inspiring fitness-related pictures.
Bridget Flanery starred in the show as Lila Fowler, Jessica Wakefields’s best friend at Sweet Valley High. Flanery is one of the few cast members who went on to have a relatively successful acting career after the show wrapped up.
She starred in productions like Will & Grace, Two and a Half Men, and Desperate Housewives. As for her personal life, Bridget married composer Brandon Christy back in 2009. As of today, she teaches acting in LA’s Studio School.