Alison Arngrim as Prairie Bitch Nellie Oleson
Alison Arngrim, Nellie Oleson of Little House, dishes on past celebs
By Will McKinley
If you were a kid in the 1970s you probably watched Little House on the Prairie. Girls loved Laura Ingalls, the freckle-faced heroine who wrote the books upon which the TV series was based. But boys watched Little House for an entirely different reason: a pigtailed villainess named Nellie Oleson.
As portrayed by New York native Alison Arngrim, Nellie was the wild-eyed devil child of the peaceful, late 19th century hamlet of Walnut Grove. Arngrim inhabited the role with icy precocious gusto, stealing every scene with the natural-born menace of a young Bette Davis. For seven seasons, Nellie schemed, connived and blackmailed her way into television history and into the hearts of boys who liked their girls blonde and bad.
More than two decades after Little House packed up the wagons, the now forty-something Arngrim is headed to the Cutting Room in Chelsea with her no holds-barred, one-woman show Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. The former child star, current AIDS activist and occasional stand-up comedian spoke with me recently from Paris.
WILL McKINLEY: So what are you doing in Paris?
ALISON ARNGRIM: The same thing Ill be doing in New York, except in French. I have a French version of my show called Confessions dúne garce de la Prairie.
So Little House aired in France?
It airs in 140 countries and its on here every day. I came to France in 2002 and found out how completely ga-ga they were for La Petite Maison.
Speaking of Paris, did you hear that shes back in jail?
Oh no! (Yelling) Paris Hiltons back in jail!
Who did you yell that to?
My friend, a charming young Frenchman. Hes been trying to keep up with all this stuff.
So even the French care about this ridiculous girl?
Yes. They think shes stupid and should be in jail.
Finally, an issue where the Americans and the French see eye to eye. So how is it that you didnt turn into a crazy alcoholic cokehead like other former child stars?
Michael Landon set an example for all of us. Yes, he smoked and drank and had three wives, but he had a work ethic. You couldnt screw around. My Auntie Marion was my guardian on the set and she provided a moral compass. I think that some of these child stars today dont have any perspective. No one in their family was ever famous. My parents had their own careers in the business. My mother was the voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost and Gumby. My dad was in management. He was working with Liberace, Debbie Reynolds, Susan Anton. He didnt just follow my butt around. He had a life. Some of these celebrity kids nowadays, their parents have no freaking life at all.
Their life is to leech off their children.
Yes. Lindsay Lohans mother is getting a reality show. Shes going to go on TV and talk about what a good job she did, while her daughter is in rehab. So you have idiots like this running amuck. When I was a child star there was still some crazy idea that maybe you were supposed to work at it. Maybe you werent supposed to be a raving, psycho, drunken fool.
I just saw you on VH-1s 100 Greatest Kid Stars. You came in at number 96
Its a travesty. I was robbed.
Yes. I would definitely put you in the top ten.
Oh Christ, did you see who was in the top ten?
Number one was Gary Coleman.
Right. So what was the criteria for number 1? Best known for being an idiot? The people in the top ten tended to be the freaks and the screw-ups. To have Americas sweetheart Laura Ingalls be anything other than in the top ten is beyond me. Of course, I think I should be up there too.
Unlike a lot of shows of that era, Little House holds up really well today.
Melissa (Gilbert) and I were talking and she was like, Oh God. Are we nostalgia? And I was like, No. We were nostalgia when the show began. It took place in the 1800s and it was based on a series of books that were popular from the 1940s on. Its part of American history. Were on our fourth generation of viewers now.
Did you have a difficult transition period after you left the show?
Yeah. I did Love Boat and Fantasy Island but I kept getting typecast for roles that took place in the 1800s. And I was like, I dont think so. So I did stand-up.
Will the show at the Cutting Room be stand-up?
Its stand-up but its also storytelling. People kept asking me questions about Little House so I decided to do a Q&A segment. And then I thought, I should do a psychological experiment. So I try on the wig and Im like, Am I evil or is it just the wig?
Your publicist told me that you have filthy stories about every star of the 70s and 80s.
Well, Ive never actually slept with anyone famous. I want to do a whole book on famous people Ive refused to sleep with, because only horrible celebrities ever hit on me. Like, Hervé Villechaize who played Tattoo on The Love Boat. Dan Haggerty who played Grizzly Adams hit on me at Brenda Vaccaros Christmas party.
By the way, you were the first woman I ever had impure thoughts about.
Well thank you. I have all these guys in their 30s and 40s now who are like, I completely wanted to do Nellie Oleson. And Im like, Where were you when I was in high school?
Where are you right now?
Im sitting on a bed in the guest room here, just on the outskirts of Paris, in a place called Montreuil. You have to take the number 9 Metro all the way to the end of the line and then walk up past the old cemetery.
Great. I can be there in about eight hours.
Okay. Were about to have some fruit and Camembert.