Turner Classic Movies
Alison Arngrim - Interview
Written by Diana Saenger   

confessions_of_a_prairie_bitch-200.jpgConfessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim is now in bookstores. The book is an amusing look at the seven years Arngrim played the scheming, selfish, lying, manipulative brat - Nellie Oleson on one of TV history's most beloved series, Little House on the Prairie. It's also about so much more of Arngrim's roller-coaster life. While viewers hated Nellie Oleson and her evil antics, Arngrim loved her character and the freedom and confidence Nellie inspired in her. In her book she describes growing up in Hollywood with her eccentric parents: Thor Arngrim, a talent manager to Liberace and others, whose appetite for publicity was insatiable, and her mother, legendary voice actress Norma MacMillan (Gumby, Casper the Friendly Ghost). Arngrim also bravely recounts her struggle to survive a history of traumatic abuse, depression, and paralyzing shyness.

Arngrim started her career very early. "I was going on auditions as a baby, and by age six I was fully employed," said Arngrim. "I thought everyone was on TV until I was about seven because pretty much everyone I met, our friends and people who came to dinner, were on TV."

Alison Arngrim Jonathan Gilbert
The cute little blond girl had no problems in getting roles. So when she read for the part of Laura on Little House on the Prairie but didn't get it, she was at first dismayed. But when she discovered the part of Nellie Oelson, Arngrim took a stab at that role.

"I'm so not a country girl," Arngrim said. "I was actually grateful not to get the part of Laura, she was so boring. Nellie was more interesting and exciting to play. She was this horrible little girl telling everyone where to get off."

By the time she was 12, she was a smash success according to her family. "Since we were all actors long term was our focus so getting a series was like the Holly Grail - like getting into med school. And here I came in door, with not just a pilot for Little House but a per-sold series. It was like I won gold medal - and then it turned out to be a hit for seven years."

Like most child stars, Arngrim had to deal with school issues as a working actress. "We started shooting at 4:30 in the morning and worked an 8-hr day. Each of us kids had to get in three hours of school on the set as mandated by law, so the set teacher had to work that in for us. When I was a little older and not shooting scenes, I would attend Bancroft Jr. High and be with friends I'd had since third grade."

Seven years gave Arngrim plenty of time to get to know her cast. Her recollections of those times are quite interesting as revealed in book. But she got along with almost everyone and made life-long friends with some.

On most TV shows the cast members can't stand each other so they are usually not friends on the set," she said.  "Lindsay Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls) and I stayed most in touch over the years. I was just talking to Karen Grassle (Caroline Ingalls) the other night. Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) and I text each other and have twitter battles. Soo in a way it's like my family."

Michael Landon & Alison
Arngrim confirms the person she gets asked about a lot is Director/writer/actor of the show, Michael Landon. Arngrim started at such a young age, she figured out in a short time what would be required of her. She reveals a lot about Landon in her book.

"I learned very young that the director is the captain of ship," she said. "If someone is not in charge, things can't move foreword. If you're lucky, the director might take impute from the actors, and say, okay let's try that. But still, if the actors don't defer to the director, there's no point in having one. We had several directors on the set in addition to Michael; William F. Claxton, Maury Dexter, Victor French and Leo Penn. We had fantastic direction, so much so, I was very spoiled. As soon as I left Little House and did other shows I realized those people often didn't know how to direct. They tended more or less to let us seasoned actors do what they wanted, but I wanted direction and to know if I was doing everything okay."

Arngrim's proficient portrayal of   Nellie carried her through  years on the show, and then she went on to other shows such as Fantasy Island and Love Boat. When she was 15 Arngrim found a gig doing stand-up and loved it. While her career has continued to prosper, it's not been a happily ever after road as Arngrim reveals in her engaging book. She speaks candidly about her upbringing by a gay father, being molested by a family member and making some very bad decisions in her life.

Sometimes good comes from bad as did when Arngrim used her own life situation to create change. From 1989 through 1993 she served as Program Manager at Tuesday's Child and serves as California Chair, National Spokesperson and Founding Board Member on the National Advisory Board of The National Association to Protect Children.

Today she lives a busy and productive life with her husband in Los Angeles. Anyone who wants to learn more about Arngrim, secrets she shares about Little House on the Prairie and director Michael Landon and more, should read Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. It's available at bookstores and online book sellers.

Photos: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch - Credit: Harper Collins

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