Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim
Published: Harper Collins (2010), eBook, 320pg
Genres: GLBTQ, Memoir, Non-Fiction
For seven years, Alison Arngrim played a wretched, scheming, selfish, lying, manipulative brat on one of TV history's most beloved series. Though millions of Little House on the Prairie viewers hated Nellie Oleson and her evil antics, Arngrim grew to love her character—and the freedom and confidence Nellie inspired in her.
In Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, Arngrim 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 legendary voice actress Norma MacMillan, who played both Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost. She recalls her most cherished and often wickedly funny moments behind the scenes of Little House: Michael Landon's "unsaintly" habit of not wearing underwear; how she and Melissa Gilbert (who played her TV nemesis, Laura Ingalls) became best friends and accidentally got drunk on rum cakes at 7-Eleven; and the only time she and Katherine MacGregor (who played Nellie's mom) appeared in public in costume, provoking a posse of elementary schoolgirls to attack them.
Arngrim relays all this and more with biting wit, but she also bravely recounts her life's challenges: her struggle to survive a history of traumatic abuse, depression, and paralyzing shyness; the "secret" her father kept from her for twenty years; and the devastating loss of her "Little House husband" and best friend, Steve Tracy, to AIDS, which inspired her second career in social and political activism. Arngrim describes how Nellie Oleson taught her to be bold, daring, and determined, and how she is eternally grateful to have had the biggest little bitch on the prairie to show her the way.
I love celebrity memoirs if they’re not just gossip about who slept with who– I don’t find that sort of stuff interesting. I’m more into behind-the-scenes and technical how-did-they-do-that, with a side order of personal life memories. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch is definitely more of the latter kind of memoir, though there is a hint of some gossip as well.
The Little House on the Prairie TV show was never part of my life in any big way, though I saw a couple of episodes on reruns when I was younger. I can appreciate how important it was to other people, though, and especially to the actors who were in it.
Alison Arngrim had a difficult childhood, but not necessarily because her parents were bad. They were just super neglectful in that way that 1970s parents tended to be! Her brother, however, is the worst sibling in the world. He sexually abused her (her recollections of it are pretty detailed), gave her drugs, and made her life pretty terrible for a good chunk of her preteen years.
Her life changed for the better when she got the part of Nellie Oleson, though. She got out of the house (away from her brother), she met new people and made friends, earned lots of money and became famous! And she was REALLY good at playing the villain, so much so that people have a hard time seeing her as Alison instead of Nellie. She tells a few funny (and heartbreaking) stories about the people who hated her because of her character; it’s kind of ridiculous how people can’t tell fiction from reality, but that just proves how good an actor she was/is, I suppose!
There’s some really good stuff about her coworkers, particularly Melissa Gilbert (who played Laura) and Michael Landon (who played Pa). Melissa was her best friend and they did a lot of hijinks together. I LOVE hijinks! I also liked that, though AA has a lot of affection for the show and for her coworkers, she never got too drippy about any of them. It’s a lovefest, but one with an eye on reality.1
Funny + sad (+ friendship!) = the best combination for a memoir, I think. I very much enjoyed reading Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, and I definitely recommend it.
Read: August 25-26, 2014
- see: her relationship with Melissa Sue Anderson, who apparently hated everyone except her own mother (and even that’s questionable). ↩