I went through a phase when I was a kid where I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. I read all the books multiple times and watched the show daily. It was in syndication by that point and my sister and I used to really like watching it after school. We also liked to play Little House but after a while that got lame for me because, as the older sibling, I had to be Mary and, um, she went blind. There’s nothing fun about playing the blind girl. Just sayin’. When I stopped being willing to be blind Mary, I would send my sister off to round up the neighbors if she wanted to play Little House but she objected to that on the grounds that one neighbor forgot to use character names and just referred to the other players as “sis”. That was unacceptable in our Little House universe.
Reading that over, I am drawing the inescapable conclusion that we were really dorky kids.
Even worse than playing blind Mary is being forced to play Nellie Oleson, Laura Ingalls’ evil nemesis. Nellie was a brat whereas Laura was the fastest girl in school and she could hang with the boys and the girls equally and she had her own horse. I really envied that horse. So did Nellie who took the horse from her once and promptly fell off it and pretended to be paralyzed and turned Laura into her slave and but Laura found out she was faking and pushed her down a hill in her wheelchair into a mud puddle and saved the day.
You see why being Laura was far cooler than being Nellie. Unless you’re Alison Arngrim who played Nellie and wrote a AWESOME memoir about it called. I enjoyed this book more than any other celebrity memoir I’ve ever read. Arngrim is a good writer, funny, and not at all precious about her time on one of the most precious tv shows of all time.
She starts her book talking about her deeply unconventional parents who were one part traveling players and one part old-fashioned swindlers. Her mom got famous for doing voice overs for Casper the Friendly ghost and other cartoons. Her dad, who was gay but pretending not to be to everyone but her mother, was a manager. This portion of her life story would have been merely a quirky prologue to her own intro into show business were it not for the fact that she was sexually abused by her older brother for years. Arngrim eventually because a sexual abuse activist.
The rest of the book is exactly the story about life on the Prairie that I wanted to hear. So many celebrities try shy away from the one thing they’re most famous for and try to tell the rest of the story if they get the chance. But I want to know about Little House and Arngrim tells me about Little House.
First of all, she and Melissa Gilbert who played Laura were best friends despite their characters’ enmity for each other. She tells great stories about sleep-overs at each other’s houses and their antics on set including one about peeing in wet suits when they had to shoot a long scene in a cold river one day. She also shares that Melissa Sue Anderson who played Mary was tremendously unfriendly and never seemed to like anyone. Michael Landon who played Pa Ingalls was nice but put away booze all day long while shooting.
She also shared the secret of Nellie’s prefect ringlets. They were a wig, ostensibly one of the most expensive wigs ever made for a tv show at that time. It was also incredibly painful to wear apparently. When Nellie grew up and left the show, the wig was passed on to the Nellie imitator who came after her (Nancy, adopted by the Oleson’s. Remember that plot twist?).
The bulk of the book is stories from the set, the background of shooting certain episodes, and life as Nellie Oleson. It is really the book that Little House fans would probably all love (if you don’t mind cussing) because it shares the behind-the-scenes stuff with genuine affection and enjoyment. There is no snide disdain from Arngrim about her childhood role: she loved playing Nellie and likes to talk about it. And she chose her topics with an eye toward answering her most frequently asked questions about the show. This is a valentine to her fans.
Arngrim’s life after Little House has been one of activism and she is a kick-ass representative for the HIV/AIDS community and sexual abuse survivors. She lists info about charities she’s worked with in the appendix to the book. Today she does her one-woman show Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and lives with her husband Bob. And I wish she was my friend so I could hang out with her. She’s just that awesome.
Buy the book here!