Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim
As a Sci-Fi fan, it usually surprises people that one of my favorite television shows of all time was Little House on the Prairie. It still is to this day. Whenever I happen to be channel surfing and I run across an episode, I will stop and watch it. We have even begun to get the complete series on disc and I have been known to binge-watch several episodes in a single sitting. I cannot pinpoint why I enjoy Little House so much. As I think about it though, there are many reasons. I suppose that some of what I enjoy is that the portrayal of the characters made them real to me, and they became people I actually cared about. Pa Ingalls was always the hero as he guided his family through the rough times, very seldom losing his composure, but willing to do whatever it takes to make as comfortable a life for his family as possible. I really loved the family friend, Mr. Edwards, who always sang “Old Dan Tucker,” a song I learned from my dad long before Little House ever aired. Then there were the townspeople that were always fascinating, especially a spoiled little brat of a girl named Nellie Oleson who made it her mission to make the life of Laura Ingalls as miserable as she possibly could.
I was very surprised last year when I learned that the actress that portrayed that spoiled brat was going to be at the O Comic Con in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The first question that came to mind was, what the hell is Nellie Oleson doing at a sci-fi convention? Seemed a little odd to me, and still kind of does, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to meet and get an autograph from a favorite television personality. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I did suspect that the actress would be far different from the character she was on the show, and I was right. While everyone was lining up to meet Ray Park (Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace) I saw that Alison Arngrim was sitting at her table with not a single person in line there. Chrissy and I visited with Alison for several minutes, picked up a couple of autographed photos, had our photo taken with Alison, and I bought her book, which she happily autographed for me. I finally found an opportunity to read the book recently and enjoyed it immensely. I was also happy to learn that my suspicions about Alison were correct. She is not the bratty, combative, and sometimes hateful character she was on Little House. She is a kind and friendly person who is also hilariously funny and she appreciates her fans, even those who cannot disconnect her from her character. If you are a fan of the show or not, if you ever have an opportunity to meet her, take advantage of it, it will be well worth the time.
I had no idea what to expect from the book beyond a few stories about her life as a childhood actor and her time on Little House. There is that, but there is much more in those pages published in 2011. Alison discusses her life in some detail from her earliest memories through her efforts to combat AIDS and child abuse. In those pages she outlines some very disturbing episodes of her life as well as many good times. Of course, my favorite parts of the narrative were those that talked about the behind-the-scenes happenings on Little House.
I don’t usually make it a habit to follow the personal lives of the personalities that I admire because I am often disappointed in what I find. I was shocked to learn that Alison is a victim of sexual abuse by her older brother. It began at the age of six and continued for six years until she began working on Little House. Along with that, her older brother introduced her to dangerous drugs. I also learned that he was on the show Land of the Giants, not one of my favorite Sci-fi shows; I have watched a few episodes, but I guarantee that I will never watch it again. When the Little House chapters begin, very little is mentioned about these early years of Alison’s life until later in the book when she finally dealt with her feelings with some help. It was some hard stuff to read and I had a hard time reconciling how someone who had endured this didn’t snap and have deep emotional problems. Alison said that her time on Little House was like therapy to her because she found a caring family there, and playing a girl who “kicked and screamed, and ranted and raved” helped to alleviate her “demons.” Alison’s writing about her trauma is very matter of fact and there are no indications that she feels sorry for herself; instead, she shows herself to be of very strong character and I admire her for how she dealt with something that could have very well made her a bitter and angry person.
In the chapters that discuss her time on Little House, she writes about the relationships with the other actors on the show, many funny, and not so funny happenings on the set, and some hilarious incidents away from the set. One such story that made me laugh uproariously was when Alison and Melissa Gilbert discovered some rum-soaked snack cakes at a neighborhood grocery store during one of many sleepovers that the girls shared as they grew up. Apparently, Melissa Gilbert was not allowed to have very many sugar-laced snacks at home, so on the occasions that they were together at Alison’s home, they would take full advantage of any opportunity to indulge themselves in unhealthy bliss. The rum-soaked cakes were later removed from the shelves when it was discovered that a lot of kids seemed to be buying them by the sackful and enjoying them for other reasons than satisfying a sweet tooth.
In the years following Little House, Alison discusses her finally confronting her demons and her healing, her activism in her causes, and her continuing relationships with those that she was on the show with.
If you are a fan of Little House, I think you would enjoy this book and I would recommend it as a good read about what it means to be a childhood actor. It sure isn’t easy, and there are times when it isn’t fun either, but if you have the strength of character that Alison has, one might find a successful and satisfying life.
Well, there it is…
Edited by Benjamin Arrowood