Reconsidering Nellie

As a child, I grew up enchanted with Little House on the Prairie. My best friend and I would fight over who would be  sweet Mary or if the mood struck, tomboy Laura….  never, EVER did either of us want to be Nellie Olson. Nellie was the meanest, most spoiled, most  selfish girl in all of Walnut Grove! For years she and her mother, the evil Mrs. Olson, terrorized the poor, good Ingalls family to no end!  As stories go, however, Nellie was eventually tamed ala Shrew, by Percival Dalton, she became nice (with still a few flashes of chutzpah) and eventually left town.

I had read the biographies of Melissa Gilbert (Laura) and Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) when I heard Alison Arngrim (Nellie herself!) was coming out with her own book.  “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Olson and Learn to Love Being Hated“.  I read the book in two days. This book is excellent.

Alison grew up in a showbiz family, her mother voiced Casper, Gumby and many others. Her brother Stefan was in the tv show “Land of the Giants” and became a teen idol. But her life was not idyllic. Her brother, addicted to drugs and alcohol abused her as a small child for several years. But this isn’t a book about sour grapes or a tell all lurid tale. Playing Nellie Olson gave her an outlet, gave her an escape from her brother and gave her the strength and humor she needed to survive what had happened to her without ending up as so many child stars did.

Filled with stories about her and Melissa Gilbert doing silly things on and off the set (yes, Laura and Nellie were great friends), Michael Landon not wearing underwear under his costume (PA!) as well as some of the offset hatred she encountered when her and Katherine MacGregor (Mrs. Olson) appeared in custom at an event and had to flee for their lives from a group of schoolgirls! She also recounts her deep friendship with her on-screen husband, Steve Tracy and his valiant fight against AIDS, his death and her activism for the cause.  As she says in the book, when Nellie speaks people listen!

In this day and age when child stars go wrong, it was refreshing to read about a former child star who embraced her past and lives life to the fullest with humor and no regrets.  You go girl!

The Fountaindale Library, in addition to owning this book, carries several seasons of the Little House series.  We also carry Melissa Gilbert’s and Melissa Sue Anderson’s biographies.

-Christine

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