Nellie Oleson, Little House on the Prairie’s rotten rich girl in ringlets, may have mellowed on the show’s final years, but viewers could rely on a pinch of her savagery in every performance. As it turns out, the jack-in-the-box element of mean surprise that made Nellie compulsively watchable is actress and comedian Alison Arngrim’s saving grace.
One of three television shows I was allowed to watch as a child, Little House on the Prairie, already in re-runs, was my favorite for several reasons, most pivotal being my braided and buck-toothed resemblance to Laura Ingalls. But even without such a fierce affinity for the show’s central character, I couldn’t deny Nellie Oleson’s spoiled allure. I still remember episodes with such clarity, it’s like I watched them only yesterday when more than twenty years have slid past since I’ve seen the credits roll. So when the actress who gave Nellie her edge from the wee age of nine writes a memoir, I read it.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Arngrim’s home life is dismal, fodder for snarling on-screen performances that purge the rage and confusion of her sexual abuse. The author fearlessly shares her motivations for taking the role with a comedian’s sense for pacing and a crack punchline. Along the way, she divulges (mostly forgiveable) details about the Little House cast and crew. Arngrim’s picture of the set makes it easy to see why the show lasted so long: truly familial ties. Her place on the cast firmly set, Arngrim finds a replacement family that buoys her self esteem enough to help her deal with serious personal issues, present and future.
In Confessions, Arngrim culls the best bits of a seven-year stint as Nellie Oleson, crediting the role for shaping much of her adult life. Readers who are fans of the show can look forward to behind-the-scenes antics and accidents that will have them laughing aloud. Despite some grisly material, Arngrim writes in such optimistic tones that this memoir won’t leave you feeling undermedicated. A triumphant look back by a woman whose spirit saved her — and fully in line with the best of Nellie’s snotty edge —, Arngrim’s produced an entertaining read.
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated
Harper Collins, Hardcover, June 2010