Nellie Oleson Burns Down 'Little House On The Prairie'
By Ben Widdicombe Posted Jun 17th 2010 07:00AM
Alison Arngrim, familiar to a generation of TV viewers as the petulant Nellie Oleson of 'Little House On The Prairie,' is dishing the dirt on Walnut Grove. In her new book (released this week) and one-woman show, both called 'Confessions of a Prairie Bitch,' she tells tales and reveals who she liked (Melissa Gilbert) and who she didn't (Melissa Sue Anderson) on set.
"I tell all true stories," she told PopEater. "I talk about what it was like to be a bitch, and what it's like to be hated. What does it mean to be Nellie Oleson? It means somebody has called me a bitch to my face every day since I was 11 years old."
And were they right?
"Yes!" she said with a laugh. "Of course, I'm not really a bitch, I just played one on TV."
Alison's website doesn't make it easy to find tour dates, but the show will be in New York this Thursday through Saturday, and then moves to San Francisco and on to France, where (like Jerry Lewis) she is surprisingly popular.
"The French really love 'Little House on the Prairie,' and they love Nellie Oleson," she says. "I go to France at least twice a year for a month and perform my one-woman show in French. The show really resonated with the French for some reason, and [I learned the language because] I realized I could go back and cash in. They don't think Nellie's mean, they think she's French."
Arngrim was part of the first generation of TV actors to benefit from residual payments "in perpetuity," meaning she still gets checks from 'Little House.' "'The Waltons' don't get residuals," she says with an impish trace of Oleson smugness.
And she adds that almost without exception, the fans' favorite "Nellie moment" is the episode where she pretends to be crippled. The saintly Laura Ingalls finally breaks and pushes Nellie, in her wheelchair, into a pond. "It's the most beloved episode and it really vibrates with people," she says. "Nellie gets her come-uppance!"
But were there any real-life catfights on-set?
"One of the things that seems to shock people is that Melissa Gilbert and I are friends," she says, speaking at her book event at New York's Aspen Social Club. "We loved each other and we still love each other -- Melissa is very much like my sister. We had slumber parties. Yet, you had Melissa Sue Anderson, who played her sister, and they never went to each other's house. Melissa [Gilbert] has spoken in her book about how she did not have a very good relationship with Melissa Sue. I talk about how Melissa Sue was really the diva head cheerleader-type, the homecoming queen who we all were sort of in awe of. Melissa Sue admits in her book she did not become friends with the other girls. She said she was shy ... we think there's another word for it, and it's the one they call me."
Alison (whose tweets you can follow here) is also heavily involved with Protect.org, a child-protection advocacy group, in part because she was abused as a child. She even told Ann Curry, how she used her abuse as inspiration for Nellie. "When you live with abuse, you have a lot of rage and anger, and I had a place to actually take it and vent it as Nellie. "It's done me so much good, I can't even describe it."
Asked about her funniest fan interaction, she said she was at an autograph signing a few years ago at the LA County Fair, and a middle-aged women went red in the face when she saw her and finally blurted out "I forgive you!" before storming off.
"It was nice to be absolved after all these years," Arngrim says with a chuckle.
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