Alison Arngrim Says Playing Bully Nellie on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Saved Her
While many fans of Little House on the Prairie absolutely hated “Nasty” Nellie Oleson (I know I couldn’t stand the character!), the bratty rival to its star Laura Ingalls (Melissa Gilbert), Alison Arngrim didn’t usually mind playing the bully. In fact, she says that it may have saved her from a horrible childhood and problems later in life. She admitted that playing a mean girl allowed her to yell and fight and get out feelings that were plaguing her in her younger years.
She wrote about the experience in her memoir, “Confessions of a Prairie B—-: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated.” Arngrim shared, “As I talked about in the book, I was bullied. I was shy. I’d been abused as a child. And here I was … playing this horrible person. The yelling, the screaming and the breaking [of] things, the smashing up of whole rooms and letting it all out.”
She continued, “Being able to release all of this anger, all of this rage. … Anyone who has survived any kind of childhood abuse knows. … Where do we put this displaced anger? Where do you put this rage? And this is what just kills people. It’s just awful. There’s nowhere for it to go, and [it takes] years of therapy to get that out. Well, here I was going to work every day and yelling and screaming and smashing stuff up and getting paid for it and rewarded for smashing everything in this room. It was a very freeing feeling. … I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
It wasn’t until her 40s that Arngrim began to realize just how much playing the character helped her after years of feeling typecast. Luckily, she shared that she saved enough money to survive for many years until she was able to escape the child star curse and stop being seen as Nellie by casting directors. She added that she kept friends around, traveled to different places, and met people who didn’t just know her as Nellie, which helped her find her own identity.
Despite being grateful for the opportunity and the chance to get out some of her anger, it wasn’t always easy playing a child bully on a popular television show. She added, “This was a very emotional show. People connected to it. They feel like the characters are their friends or their family. … So you can imagine what they thought of me. … I was in the Hollywood Christmas parade and someone threw a McDonald’s cup of orange soda at my face. They had really good aim. Boom, right in the side of the head, McDonald’s orange soda. I got beat up. People threw things. People called me horrible things to my face every single day.”
Even so, she concluded, “And as you see, I’m still laughing. I knew it wasn’t real. I was friends with Melissa Gilbert. We’d beat each other up all week and then go to each other’s houses for slumber parties and make fudge and watch TV.”