Three's Company : Monica, Leanna and Joy Creel May Look Alike, but These Triplets Are Trying to Break the Mold

Even if there weren't three of them, each of the Creel sisters would be considered a unique girl.

After all, it isn't every day that a champion track athlete makes her school's homecoming court, or a budding actress remains as friendly and down to earth as the class clown.

But to most people, their friends included, the only thing unique about Monica, Leanna and Joy is that they are identical triplets.

"When we shut our mouths, dress alike and do our hair the same, people cannot tell us apart," said Monica, the youngest of the three by six minutes. "They tell us there is not one difference in the way we look."

Joy, 17, agrees that most people, including some of their closest friends at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, can't tell which sister is which. But the ones who can, she said, are the ones who care.

"The people who make an effort to know us as individuals are the ones who can tell us apart," Joy said.

Leanna, the oldest and most assertive of the sisters, said it "isn't fair" that people are constantly watching and comparing her with her sisters.

"No one understands what it's like to share your reputation, your identity, with two other people," Leanna said. "I've had to really fight to stand out, to be my own person, because we do have the same basic personalities and a lot of the same characteristics."

One area in which the triplets don't mind being one another's clone is in show business. In the summer, when Joy was a foreign exchange student in Denmark, Monica and Leanna taped an appearance as twin cheerleaders on the ABC TV series "Growing Pains."

"Leanna and I had a good time doing the show," Monica said.

"It wasn't that stressful of a job actually," she continued, making reference to their characters, the Schwartz twins, who made two brief appearances, during which their only lines consisted of high school cheers.

It wasn't the girls' first appearance before the camera--all three were in a Nissan commercial a year ago and before that, they spent more than 200 hours each acting in a Cal Arts student film--and it won't be their last.

The triplets are taking acting lessons and attending workshops in preparation for roles in a Walt Disney Productions made-for-TV movie.

The Creels, realizing their fortune in missing out on the endless job hunting and interviews that the average young actress goes through, are thankful and point to a higher source.

"God has just set everything up for us," Leanna said. "The parts we got just turned up, we didn't go searching for them. And the (movie) company we've had to deal with doesn't ask us to sacrifice our values. It's as clean-cut as we are."

The marketability of triplets is another reason for their success, and this is not lost on the girls.

"It's really just because we're a novelty," Joy said. "If we weren't triplets, we wouldn't be making it."

Leanna explained that the family had been approached by agents when the girls were younger, but their parents, Christine and Winston Creel, wanted them to "be normal."

"If we've turned out semi-normal, it's because of our mom and dad," Leanna insisted.

Until the Creels' agent decided the girls should get the same haircuts, their mother had always tried to dress them differently and give them different hair styles.

"All through this Hollywood thing, we told them that even though they have to look the same on the outside, they can be as different as they want on the inside," Christine said.

All three sisters are outgoing, friendly and extremely talkative. Joy said they were obliged to develop the latter quality at a young age, fighting for their parents' attention.

"I'd come home from school and say, 'Mom, guess what?' like all kids do when they want to tell about their day," she said. "But my mom, who'd just seen Leanna and Monica, would say, 'I already know.' So we all talk a lot and very fast."

Getting attention is one thing none of the Creels are shy about, which helps them when they're in front of the camera.

"Acting is something that fits all our personalities, and I like being in front of the camera and having the attention focused on me," Joy said. "We all do."

The Creels also get along better when they are acting because they all play different roles and can help one another.

"If we go into the studio fighting and yelling, we always come out laughing and talking," Leanna said. "It's brought us closer together."

When it comes to dating, however, the Creels' tastes are far from close.

"I date mostly surfers, the laid-back, athletic type," Leanna said. "You can't categorize Joy's boyfriends. She just wants to have fun, and she goes out of her way not to get serious. But Monica follows her heart, she really falls in love."

Athough Monica can see "some truth" in that statement, she insisted that she doesn't fall in love blindly. "I like a guy who has some inner qualities, some moral beliefs," she said. "He has to be sensitive and dedicated to something."

Another reason for their closeness is their interest in similar activities, where they are careful not to get in one another's way.

Since Leanna and Joy were both interested in student government, they decided in the beginning to remain on separate cabinets so they wouldn't be in constant competition. Leanna is president of the senior class, while Joy is student body vice president. Monica, on the other hand, is involved in songleading and the production of the school yearbook.

Until Monica injured her knee, the triplets ran cross-country and track and played soccer together. Now, Leanna and Joy continue in track but run separate events, careful not to invade "each other's area," Leanna said.

"We've had to go out of our way to give each other space, to achieve alone," Leanna said. "I think that's why I'm something of an overachiever. I'm always trying to see what I can do by myself."

One competitive area that turned into a sore spot for the Creels was the contest for homecoming queen.

An opportunity that is usually every girl's dream became every Creel's nightmare.

"Making court was a family disaster," said Joy, who was named a princess, while Leanna won the tiara as homecoming queen. Monica also tried out but was not a finalist.

Rather than congratulations and excitement, the girls didn't talk about the subject at home, and felt awkward and embarrassed around their mutual friends.

"When it's just one girl in a family, everyone's happy and behind you," said Leanna--who was accompanied to the homecoming dance by Kirk Cameron, one of the stars of "Growing Pains"--"but not when you're running against your sisters. It just wasn't fun because Monica didn't make it."

Monica, unlike some candidates who fumed because they thought they were better qualified than the finalists, had trouble accepting the decision simply because she and her sisters are "supposed to be the same."

"I ended up looking at myself and saying, 'Why can't I do that? Why can't I excel like she does? Why her and not me?' " Monica said.

While Leanna is willing to try everything--art, piano, photography, soccer, skiing--Monica is confident that she will stand out when her time comes.

"I know someday I'll really excel in something," Monica said. "I feel like I always come up short in comparison with my sisters, but in a way, that's OK. At least I know we're different."

Joy can also "get really down" when she starts comparing herself to her sisters.

"Sometimes I think Leanna has such an awesome boyfriend, she's MVP in cross-country and track, she's senior-class president . . . everyone loves Leanna," Joy said. "And then I think, what does Joy have compared to all that?

"Sometimes, I'm insecure when we first meet someone, because I wonder if they really like me or just my sisters."

When Joy went to Denmark this past summer as a foreign exchange student, Leanna and Monica would also have liked to go abroad.

"We could have gone to different continents," Leanna said. "But this was something Joy wanted to do for herself. So, she was the Creel that got to go to Denmark."

Joy, who still carries pictures of her Denmark family attached to a school folder, said the trip was "really exciting for a normal person," but for her it was "three times better" because her sisters weren't there.

"I missed them, and I was always talking about them to the people in Denmark," she said. "But no one knows what it's like to go on every vacation, to every party, with two people who look exactly like you."

Monica finds the same solace in cheerleading, something she tried simply because her sisters didn't do it.

"When I'm just with my cheerleading friends, I'm more free to be my own person," she said. "When we're together, it's like all three of us have little roles to play."

People who know the Creels have been trying to categorize the triplets as long as they can remember. Joy laughingly recalled some of the inconsistent labels.

"First it was Leanna was studious, I was a clown and Monica was a flirt," she said. "Now, it's Leanna's the typical chick jock, Monica's the typical cheerleader, and I have no idea what they're calling me."

At home, the Creels fall into the more comfortable roles that their parents created for them the moment Leanna, the oldest, was born on Aug. 27, 1970.

"From day one, Leanna was the oldest child," said Joy, the middle child by four minutes. "She's always in charge, always responsible. Even today, if she tells me to do something, I do it."

Leanna thinks her parents gave them roles as the oldest, middle, and youngest child so the girls would feel there was a difference among them.

"I feel like I'm always the one to do something first," Leanna said. "I feel like I've blazed trails for the Creels."

Joy, described as "the joker and mediator" by Leanna, isn't too sure what a middle child is supposed to do, but her sisters agreed that she makes everyone's life a little easier.

Monica described Joy as "kinda weird and really wild."

"She fools around a lot," Monica said. "She's always joking or laughing."

Monica is considered the baby of her family.

"If my mom wants something done, she tells me or Leanna to do it," Joy said. "Monica's not expected to do as much."

Though the triplets appear to get along, and usually do, many still find it amazing that the three sometimes fight.

"We get so mad at people that say, 'Oh, I can't understand how you can fight with each other,' " Leanna said. "Some girls have one brother they see only five minutes a day, and they fight the whole five minutes.

"I'm with my sisters 24 hours a day, and I think we deserve an hour or so to fight."

Joy said the times she fights with her sisters have grown shorter and farther apart.

"We realize how we may not be together for more than a year or so, because of acting and college," she said. "We have become more like friends and less like sisters, and when we're together, we spend the time talking, not fighting."

Monica said she feels closer to her sisters than most siblings. "We really depend on each other and are each other's best friend."

None of the girls have definite plans for the future, though Monica is leaning heavily toward an acting career.

Leanna said: "I want to be independent, maybe have my own business. I've been a little entrepreneur ever since I was a kid, raising chickens and selling eggs to our neighbors. But I hate being confined, so I think I'd like to be my own boss so I can always be setting higher goals for myself."

Joy said she would like to be everything from an international diplomat to an anchorwoman.

"But there is so much out there so many things open," she said. "I just want to wait and see what I can do."

In triplicate.

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