On Wednesday, September 18, 1974, Alison Arngrim became the most hated person in America.
For on this day, she debuted as Nellie Oleson, the privileged prairie terror in Little House on the Prairie. Thanks to syndication, people still hate her.
As a child actress, she would continue to play Nellie for the next seven years, but even though everyone hated Nellie, the character became popular in pop culture and was a hit on the show.
Unfortunately, Arngrim paid the price.
She came from a show business family and it seemed natural that she would fall into this line of work and when things became too rough, she relied on her sense of humor to get through life. It’s funny because at the time she was going out on auditions, she would often be up against a rising star in the making. Jodie Foster.
After multiple callbacks (she read for the parts of Laura and Mary) she was hired on the spot for Nellie and as they say the rest is history.
When she wasn’t working she went to regular school and had to put up with the taunting of her fellow students and when a group of girls came up to her, she thought for sure they were going to beat her up. It was just the opposite and she had miniature bodyguards.
In the book, she writes about life on the set and how working was a safe haven. At home she was subjected to abuse and carried the family when they weren’t working.
When she left the show after 104 episodes, she was missing something from her life and after the death of her TV husband, Steve Tracy, she became an advocate fighting the AIDS crisis.
As she reflected on Nellie, she came to realize that the character really did help her with her own life. Without Nellie, she wouldn’t have been able to do much of the charitable work that she’s been doing for years.
This is a great read (you can probably read it in a few hours) and hard to put down.
It’s not a “tell all gossip” tome, but there are a few good stories here and your perception of child actors should change after reading.
I’m even thinking of going back and watching the series, just for the campiness of it all.