12-year-old Alison Margaret Arngrim had no idea how much her life would change when she booked the role of Laura Ingalls' nemesis Nellie Oleson on Little House On The Prairie. Though Arngrim had initially auditioned for Laura as well as her sister Mary, she was perfect for the spoiled little rich girl Nellie who thought she owned the town of Walnut Grove. Her performance was even the basis of what the "bad girl" looked like in showbiz throughout the '70s. Viewers worldwide had very specific opinions about the feisty little girl and many still do.
In an interview with From The Desk, Alison Arngrim explained that she really feels like all of the perfect people were cast on the show and couldn't imagine it any other way.
"I am so glad I didn't have the burden of having to play a "nice" person for all those years. I think it would have been exhausting! And if you look at the reaction of viewers 40 plus years later, you can see how each of us made our character "iconic" and forever identified with our individual performances. In millions of people's head, "Laura Ingalls Wilder" will always conjure up the face of Melissa Gilbert."
To play a difficult character that is mostly unlikeable, you really need to have a good attitude about it. So it's refreshing that in her later career as a stand-up comedian, Arngrim described her time playing Nellie "like having PMS for seven years." Arngrim seemed to embrace the fact that people are naturally curious about what life is like for a child star. As a stand-up, she started her own one-woman show called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch to share some of the many stories she had from the set including fun memories with Michael Landon. What started as a little show at Club Fez in New York City turned into a worldwide phenomenon. So the actress decided to translate it into book form.
In 2010, Arngrim released her book, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. The book talked all about her time growing up on the classic television series, how she learned to love being hated for playing Nellie, discussed her untold experience with child abuse, and more tidbits from her life growing up in Hollywood. Arngrim told Smashing Interviews following the book's release that even decades after the show ended, people still get surprised that she and her former co-star Melissa Gilbert don't hate either other.
"People still have it in their heads that I'm Nellie Oleson. It's not just the kids, it's the grownups also. Melissa Gilbert had a party a couple of years ago at her house. A grown woman who was in the industry (her husband was a big producer) actually stood there and said, "It's so nice to see you two getting along finally." Melissa and I thought, "What is she talking about?" The woman said, "Well, you made up." Then Melissa said, "Oh no, you mean on the show!" This woman had to have been 40 years old and she couldn't figure out why I was at a party at Melissa's house."
Since she left Little House in 1982, Arngrim has continued performing, appearing in numerous films and shows including The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Last Place on Earth, Le deal and Make the Yuletide Gay. She is also passionate about her charity work. Her former castmate Steve Tracy, who played her on-screen husband Percival Dalton, passed away from complications from AIDS in 1986. As a result, Arngrim has been actively involved with the AIDS project ACT UP as well as volunteering with the AIDS hotline.
Due to her experience with childhood sexual abuse, which Arngrim opened up about with Larry King Live on CNN, she is also passionately involved with the National Association to Protect Children. For more information about the beloved star visit her website, Bonnetheads. She shares information about her book, her late father Thor Arngrim, her time on the NBC TV show, and more.
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This article was originally published in 2020.
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