Mother says we’re not like the rest of the children.
—Season 2, Episode 11, The Gift
Alison Arngrim’s Early Years
Alison Arngrim is a natural-born performer with a love for people and a gift for making them laugh. So, not surprisingly, she entered the entertainment field at a young age, starting out in commercials and bit parts and moving up through the years. She had a recurring spot on a panel-style show called “Juvenile Jury” and filmed “Throw Out the Anchor” – a full-length movie – in Florida when she was 10.
During this time, young Alison worked through the pain of abuse that she now shares openly, but hid from her co-workers and family at the time as it occurred from ages 6 through 9. In many ways, Alison was never truly a child. This is emphasized by her “near-retirement” at age 11. Fortunately for the world, Alison had so much more to offer. And she was about to land a role that would bring her a new set of friends whom she would later call her second family.
Alison Arngrim’s Big Break
After some time of young Alison not landing any roles, her father felt it necessary to explain that acting might not become a lifelong career for her and that she should consider stopping. But she had another audition in her, and within six months of that conversation, she would become Nellie Oleson.
At the audition, she read for the parts of both Laura and Mary. While she related more with the quiet demeanor of Mary or even, later, Carrie, Alison recalls knowing that she just didn’t land those parts. So she tried once more, this time for Nellie.
The part was from her first episode, “Country Girls,” during a scene in which Nellie reads a paper that she wrote about her home. She brags profusely about her family’s status, while simultaneously announcing that they have no real friends. Nellie is pretentious, snotty, and completely oblivious. Alison told her dad as much, in fewer words, and read a bit of it to him. He fell in love immediately, as did the casting director, and she promptly received a callback to schedule wardrobe fittings. Could there ever really be another Nellie Oleson?
The “Little House on the Prairie” Years
Alison credits the role of Nellie as helping her to break out of her shell and giving her the childhood that she had missed. She and Melissa Gilbert fought relentlessly on screen, usually with Alison ending the day covered in mud, a bucket of water, or the aftermath of some fight. But off screen, they grew up together in the secluded set and enjoyed each other’s company.
She also hit it off well with her on-screen husband, Percival, played by Steve Tracy. Alison recalls being nervous about meeting the person that she would be spending so much time with, so she and Melissa quizzed every new face who met the description as they came on set. When they found Steve Tracy, she discovered much in common with him and a true friendship blossomed.
It is these connections that made “Little House on the Prairie” work so well – in addition to Alison’s dedication to her role. She remembers her co-stars with admiration, particularly the same kind of commitment she saw Katherine Scottie MacGregor pour into the villainous role of Harriet Oleson.
After a year’s hiatus from the show, Alison came back to film the episode “The Return of Nellie.” While the on-screen characters reminisced and caught up, Alison felt like it was a true reunion. And, the character of Nellie got to come full circle, with the realization that many bullies have: Was I really ever that bad?
After the Prairie
Since the end of “Little House on the Prairie”, Alison has played a dozen or so roles in film and TV, but her true love is the stage. She has performed stand-up, played roles in theater, and even parodied Mrs. Oleson in the opening weekend of Prairie-Oke, a fun play of ridiculous hyperbole described as a mash-up of “Glee,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “Saturday Night Live.”
It wasn’t until about a year after her time on Little House that she began to feel the depression from her childhood abuse. She recounts declining her doctor’s offer of medication, opting instead for intensive therapy. As she became stronger and more confident in her own life, she began to find ways of helping others.
As a result of her history of child abuse, Alison is actively engaged in advocacy to protect children. She currently serves as the President of the National Association to Protect Children, dedicated to protecting children from harm. She has spoken before the California State Senate, worked on legislative campaigns in many states, and helped influence federal legislation as well.
Her friendship with Steve Tracy became a pivotal point for her. When Steve went public about his diagnosis as HIV positive, she stood by his side and learned a lot about the disease during a time when fear and myths were prevalent. She signed up for the AIDS Project Los Angeles hotline training program to learn everything she could. Soon she was speaking about HIV all over the city and her popularity as Nellie opened doors to discuss this tough topic. She continues her work with APLA to this day.
Notably, when the town of Walnut Grove and Alison Arngrim worked together in a fundraiser for AIDS research, Alison was able to visit all of the original historic sites for the first time. The real Walnut Grove is quite different from the Simi Valley filming location, but Plum Creek looked familiar. Alison indulged her audience with one last tumble into the creek, plopping down and crying “Mo-ther!” as only Alison-as-Nellie could.
In 2010, Alison released her book Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, as a chronicle of her challenges and triumphs in a life of child stardom and iconic villainy. Fans still flock to hear her stand-up comedy routine. In fact, you can find a list of dates and times for upcoming shows and other events here.
Facebook Live Video with Alison Arngrim
Alison Arngrim joined us for a Facebook Live chat which you can view the replay of here. Be sure to check out her Bonnetheads website to subscribe to the Nellie News newsletter, and subscribe to the official Little House on the Prairie Newsletter for the latest information on upcoming events and fun information for fans. You can also relive your favorite Nellie moments with your very own Nellie doll from The Queen’s Treasures.
Some of Alison’s Charities and Causes
To learn more about the charities and causes Alison is passionate about, you can visit:
- National Association to Protect Children
- A Minor Consideration
- The Body
- AIDS Project Los Angeles
- Visit CDC Info or call the AIDS National Hotline at 1-800-232-4636.
Recommendations from the Website Editors
A number of the cast members from “Little House on the Prairie” have written about their experiences. Below are links to our website articles about them, as well as to their books which make entertaining reading and inspired gifts for fans of the television series.
- Article: About Melissa Sue Anderson
- Memoir: The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House
- Article: About Alison Arngrim
- Memoir: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated
- Article: Melissa Francis: Lessons from the Prairie
- Memoir: Lessons from the Prairie: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success, and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America’s Favorite Show
- Memoir: Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir
- Article: About Melissa Gilbert
- Memoir: Prairie Tale: A Memoir
- Cookbook: My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours
- Article: About Karen Grassle
- Memoir: Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma
Wendi Lou Lee
- Article: About Ketty Lester
- Memoir: Ketty Lester: From the Cotton Fields To Grammy Nominated “Love Letters” to Little House on the Prairie
- Article: Miss Beadle and Me
- Memoir: Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me
For information about Laura Ingalls Wilder whose novels inspired the TV series, please visit our Recommended Reading lists for children and young adults and adults. You may also be interested in a documentary film about Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Be sure to subscribe to the official Little House on the Prairie Newsletter for the latest information on upcoming events and fun information for fans.
References and Resources:
1. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim
3. Huffington Post
I enjoyed watching Little House On The Prairie. A great family series. My favorite characters on the show were Nellie, Mrs. Oleson and Laura Ingalls. There are many well liked episodes. I am glad that you are involved with several charities and are doing stand up comedy. Keep up the good work Allison!
I grew up watching Little House On The Prairie and absolutely loved this show. My favorite characters were Nellie, Mrs. Oleson and Laura Ingalls. I loved the fight scenes between Laura & Nellie. I have many favorite episodes, but I think ” The Talking Machine” and ” The Run Away Caboose” are my most liked. Allison, you are a very gifted and talented actress with many successes. I am glad that you are doing stand up comedy and have been involved in such notable charities. Keep up the good work!
You are a beautiful woman! I still enjoy watching little house on the Prarie! Many blessings to you and your family
I love viewing “Little House” from the Olsen’s point of view with Harriett as the Phoebe Tyler Wallingford like matriarch and Nellie as the Erica Kane like diva. I call it “Little Mercantile on the Prairie”.
I used to watch LHOP all the time and loved the show, while I was eventually modelling and working as an extra and bit parts in films I met Alison Arngrim at a video bar and we got to talking I still remember telling her gosh I hated her mean character because she was so good at playing mean Nellie and then I felt bad because in person she is one of the nicest, sweetest actresses I have ever met.
I loved watching little house on the
Prairie. I Loved Michael Landon I loved Bonanza
I still watch both programs . I grew up with Bonanza
Adam, Hoss ,Little Joe and Ben (pa) .I also watch
Highway to hevean with Michael Landon. Still watch it. I wish we had more family programs like those
We didn’t have to worry about the language on those
Those programs . Now days there isn’t much
to watch with out bad language. I am happy that I can still watch these programs because they really
were made for families to watch and enjoy
together. Our world has changed so much
better back then. Thank GOD for reruns.
That’s good enough for me.
I love love this show and watch reruns every day even at the ripe old age of 76 this show still warms my heart…
Was one of my favorite shows growing up. Loved the characters and the wholesome family traditions. Need more of these family based shows on television today instead of all the corruption of entertainment today of violence!
Live the show growing up- still have the little house books.
I loved all the characters on LHOP I watched it every week when it was on. I grew up with LHOP my favorite show . When need more family shows like LHOP nowadays
I am 50 years old & to this day I still watch little house on the prairie,alot of times i watch ot in mornings & evenings & sometimes ALL DAY! I love the show and ineverrrrr get tired of watching it
IWOOD LOVE TOO SEE THECAST OF LITTLE HOUSEONTHEPRAIRE
Wishing you a year of happiness and blessings.
Marilyn,Joan and Marion
Happy birthday Alison hope you have a great day.
Happy Birthday, Alison!
Hi Allison!! Happy birthday!! How did you react when you were told you’d fall in love with Luke Simms and that ya’ll would elope? Wish they could have continued his and Nellie’s relationship until she met Percival.
Hi Allison Happy Birthday. One of my favorite Little House episodes is when you and Laura got into fights, what was the fight scene that you did not like having on Little House. Also how did you feel about losing the horse race to Laura.
Hi, Addison, my question is that it’s been said that Melissa Sue Anderson, aka Mary, was so hard to work with. That cast members said she should had played Nellie, and you should had played the part of Mary, because you and Melissa Gilbert were such close friends
Hi Allison. What was your favorite episode of Little House? And also, were you really riding the horse in The Race, with Melissa?
Happy Birthday Alison! You are my favorite character! My question is how did you channel your inner Nellie and act like the perfect villain that everyone loves? You were so good at acting, it’s like you became Nellie
I just love Nellie as I do all the cast !!
My favorite series EVER ?
Hi Alison you were fantastic on Little House on the Prairie I have the complete series of Little House. I have so many favorite episodes one of my favorite episodes are Back to School you and Laura were fighting in the mud when Caroline is called out by Mrs Olson and you were covered in mud and Caroline starts to laugh. The other episode was when Percival was teaching you how to separate eggs and when that fellow wanted hot bread and you hollered coming right up! And you threw it at him
What was your favorite part that you played in on Little House?
Alison, there is so much about Little House that I loved and still love. I never grow tired of watching reruns! You were one of my favorites in the show, Katherine MacGregor was one of the others. You two made me laugh and angry sometimes at the same time! To me you and Harriet Olson made the show! What was your favorite episode and why? Thank you so much for the years of entertainment you gave us. You are a wonderful actress!
Hi Allison Happy Birthday! I am a 42 year old male and grew up watching little house and continue to watch it with my kids. After years of watching I am still amazed of the talent the child actors had. You are amazing and appreciate your love for the character. It shows that you really brought Nellie to life. My question is: did you think this series was gonna be a hit, and when it was what was your reaction?
Thanks again for sharing your talent.
Was it hard at first when you auditioned and didn’t land the role of Mary or Laura? Was there any resentment towards the girls at first?
If you had to pick a favorite outfit from the show which one would it have been? What about a least favorite?
How long did it take to get those curls perfect before each filming?
Hello. I am Dayna, I am 17 and have watched Little House since I was 12. Honestly, it is my favorite show and no other shows compare. You did a great job portraying Nellie Oleson. My question for you is, what is your most memorable episode or scene on Little House on the prairie? I hope you have a wonderful birthday!
Which episode was your favorite?
i like the show when she was all grown up
Alison , I love your book are you planning to write another?
Hi Alison! Little House and the Prairie had a lot of famous guest stars. Were there any guests in particular that you enjoyed meeting or had an impact on you?
Hello…I am a huge fan for years now and will aways be.
Which role did you prefer playing? The role of when you were younger aka as a mean-girl or the one where you return and become real friends with Laura?
Will you ever write another book and/or have a new comedy show? I saw “Confessions” in NYC, I’d love to see you again with new material.
Love you Nellie!
What is your favorite memory of working with Harriet Olsen?
I wish u and melissa would come to canada some time maybe the falls for a reunion of the remaining cast of L.H.O.P
Hello, my question for the live video is what was it like being a real bully and a brat as the character Nellie was in earlier Little House seasons but then transitioning to a nice Nellie? You certainly did a good job with character.
Do people still give you a hard time about being the mean girl on little house. I have to say you were one of my favorite characters on the show!!!
I wish a full scale model of the Little House on the Prairie town would be built somewhere, including all of the buildings, homes, farms, trees, streams, etc… I’m sure it would bring MANY tourists.
If you like models you might enjoy these hobby models that a fan named Eric made. https://littlehouseontheprairie.com/interview-with-eric-caron-little-house-on-the-prairie-model-maker/ Very intricate and beautiful.
Any chance you might be bringing your one- woman show over to the UK for a tour of small venues? Please say yes – we’d love to see you over here!
I still watch LITTLE House reruns today and never tire of them. My question..you were such a brat how did you play that part so well if you aren’t at all like that and you were so young? I hope the show continues on I would love to see the set.
If you’ve never read Alison’s book I highly recommend it. It gives you a lot of insight into her mindset during the show’s run. http://amzn.to/2jsgMa9 Also be sure to check out the Historic Locations index on this website – it will show you real-life places from the story as well as where the show was recorded! https://littlehouseontheprairie.com/historic-locations-and-museum-sites/
Hello I am ur biggest fan I loves watch little house on the prairie Laura Ingalls is my favorite character