Monday, August 1, 2011

Nellie Olsen Fesses Up, Everyone Laughs

Alison today, reveling in her cult "bitch" status.

Little House on the Prairie (LHP) was one of my favorite TV shows growing up. Of course, I had major crushes on Almanzo, Laura’s husband, and Blind Adam (Mary’s man), whom I wanted to take care of in the worst way. I also wholeheartedly fell for the Judeo-Christian values of work hard, be nice to your neighbor, and hate Nellie Olsen with the burning passion of one thousand fires.  I even had my mom sew me a lace-trimmed nightgown (and nightcap, for pete's sake) that looked just like Mary's and Laura’s. The reality?  The set was in the California desert, not Walnut Grove, Minnesota; the crew drank hard liquor on the job; and Half-Pint and Nellie were best friends!
Reading Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim is like visiting the factory where your favorite hotdog is made; you’ll still eat it regardless, but after they scrape the rat tails in, you may look at your dinner a bit askance henceforth. LHP is still a perfect example of how a television show can impart good values AND tell a great story with likable--and not so likable--characters. 
Arngrim has written a hilarious book without being snarky. Her love and respect for her co-workers is clear. She also balances her humble tome with funny anecdotes and heart-wrenching personal confessions regarding her unconventional childhood. Among the LHP “secrets” she reveals….

1.       Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary) was a cold bitch

2.       Nellie's blonde ringlets were actually an itchy, painful WIG literally pinned to her scalp

3.      Landon was the only actor on the set allowed to bare skin. Suspenders barely grazing his nips? Sweat glistening on his chiseled pecs? His long, curly mane of dark hair rippling in the wind? Yeah, LHP was definitely for ladies of all ages—this I knew!

Happily, Arngrim did not go the way of so many 1970s child stars. Instead of dabbling in drugs and porn, she became an early advocate for people with AIDS when it was anything but fashionable. Later, she pushed for legislation to protect victims of incest. She attributes her normalcy to Michael Landon, who ran a tight ship but had a kind heart.

This autobiography is not just for lovers of LHP; Arngrim's wacky sense of humor is universal. But I admit it is great fun as she gently busts the myths surrounding the cult favorite...

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