Beyond ‘Nasty Nellie’

The Little House on the Prairie’s Alison Arngrim reveals the real saving grace of her childhood.

GREG ARCHER Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie on teh 1970s show Little House on the Prairie will be in Palm Springs Feb. 14.

A little brat-itude goes a long way. Alison Arngrim knows this all too well.

The actress-author-spokesperson found her celebrity soaring in the 1970s playing the holy terror that was Nellie Oleson on TV’s Little House on the Prairie. (Let’s face it, long before Crystal and Alexis took to the lily pond on Dynasty, Laura and Nellie hit pay dirt — literally — sparring with each other on that pretty little prairie.)

Arngrim has yet live down the role of “Nasty Nellie,” but she’s totally fine with it. Playing the character was a bright beacon of hope in her formative years, which were filled with a wide spectrum of experiences — from comedic to downright bizarre.

Arngrim was also a survivor of sexual and physical abuse, which she chronicles with refreshing insight, courage, and empowerment in her bestseller, Confessions of Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated.

Her chronicles come to life in Palm Springs in a clever way with a local tour divided into a several parts.

First, she will play (tongue-in-cheek) tour guide on a local historic sightseeing tour Feb. 14 with The Nasty Nellie Oleson Palm Springs Tour, sharing how much Palm Springs and Hollywood have in common. Later that evening, Arngrim will partake in a booksigning and photo-op at Palm Springs Village Fest.

Arngrim previously charmed local audiences with her one-woman show, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, at Palm Canyon Theater several years ago.

She shares more with Palm Springs Life.


Alison Arngrim will conduct a tour of Palm Springs Feb. 14 followed by a book signing at VillageFest.

Let’s talk about the inspiration behind writing the book.

Throughout my life as I recounted all the bizarre things that happened to me, people would say, “You are writing this down, aren’t you?” Even before Little House … There were certain things people wanted to know and were so enthralled with — from behind the scenes and beyond. It started with the one-woman show in New York and the Q&A segment. People asked the nuttiest things. I had been working on the long version of the story and that became the book.

Readers were surprised by many things in the book.

People wanted to know about the cast, of course. But I believe people were also fascinated with the fact that Melissa Gilbert and I were friends. And the fact that I talk about being sexually abused and physically abused, but it wasn’t an “abuse” book. It was more like, “this happened, and it was awful …. and then I did this. And then I did that. And here’s how I pulled myself together.” The fact that I also ended up being on the board of PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children and going to Sacramento and actually changing laws to help better protect kids of child abuse surprised people.

That is significant. Now, you seem pretty spunky and honest. Tell me: What do you feel helped you through those darker moments?

I had several things going for me. I was always questioning things. I always had this weird, sort of distance, where I’d step outside of myself and say, “Well, that’s weird …” Something where you wouldn’t have that kind of perspective until you were an adult. I always said to myself, “There must be something better than this. This can’t be it. Surely this isn’t what life is supposed to be like.” I kept pushing. I kept questioning. I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel. And I always had good people around me who read a lot about the psychology around abuse, where it said, even if you had just one adult at some point in your life who said, “It’s going to be OK. You are a worthwhile person,” that that could make a difference. I had my Aunt Marion. She was a moral anchor. About the time I hit adolescence and could have done something really destructive, I got Little House … I was in a very safe environment. People always joke, “Nellie Oleson saved your life.” And I say, “Uh, yes she did.”

A saving grace in many ways?

Yes. The other thing you have when you come out of an abusive childhood, there’s all this anger and rage. Where do you go with it? Most people do turn it against themselves. But I go and get this job as Nellie where I’m yelling and screaming and smashing things all day. It was an incredible outlet for this dark side. Who gets that? I cannot imagine a more life-saving turn of events.

People always joke, “Nellie Oleson saved your life.” And I say, “Uh, yes she did.”

Is being on stage cathartic? Was writing the book helpful?

Most of the things in there I had worked through. Ah, therapy! I would recommend to people who are writing about their story and their abuse that you’re not necessarily writing for “therapy.” That there’s an extra step. You are writing it for somebody else to read. But it was cathartic for me.

How do you feel writing the book and performing has changed you?

It allowed me to be more me. I was painfully shy as a child. This has all been one constant confidence-building exercise. [Laughs] But I told the truth. I threw it out there — even on stage. I took everything that was about me, wadded it up into a big ball, and threw it at people. Fortunately, they loved it.

The Nasty Nellie Oleson Palm Springs Tour takes place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Feb 14. For ticket information, call 760-200-9483 or visit Arngrim signs books and will take photos from 6:30-8 p.m. at Palm Springs Village Fest, at the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, 110 N. Palm Canyon. Admission is free.