Alison Arngrim—-actress, activist and writer—has had an exciting life. Cast at age 12 as Nellie Oleson in Little House on the Prairie, she has kept busy with a wide variety of projects. The Boise Beat sat down with Alison Arngrim to talk over Little House on the Prairie, Alison’s stage show Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, her popular book Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated and many more things.
Q: Your book, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated is an inside look at your life during the Little House on the Prairie days. You’re also doing a touring show based on this. How does it feel to meet fans and how do they react to you?
A: I actually started doing a one-woman show called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch in 2002, before the book. I’ve been touring with that for some time. I started doing stand-up at 15 but didn’t create a one-woman show until much later and it really caught on. I’d been working on my autobiography for a while but it was because of the show that a wonderful guy, a literary agent by the name of Kent D. Wolf came to see me and said ‘Is there a book on the show?’ and I said “You bet there is!”, so the we released Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and it was a big hit, I was really, really pleased. Now of course, with both the book and the show and of course the French version, I’m literally going all over the world with. It’s just amazing that more then 40 years later, 43 years later, we’re in more then 140 countries with fans all over the world and people just lining up in droves.
I’m here at the O Comic Con! in Omaha, I’m heading out tomorrow to South Dakota, I’ll be at Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th Birthday Celebration in De Smet all weekend with Dean Butler. And Brian Part contacted me and Rachael Greenbush and said “Hey guys, they have Fiesta Days in Frazier Park (CA) now—it’s the fiftieth anniversary and they’re having a parade. If you guys will do it, we’ll have three people from Little House”. When the episode aired with Patricia Neal who was dying and her children John Jr. and Carl get adopted by Mr. Edwards, that was Brian Part. At these events we’re just mobbed—-mobbed by people. It’s amazing how the show and the clamoring for information with things like the book and my show—well, they do talk a lot about me, but I do talk also about what went on with the show at that time.
Q: You’re passionate about giving back to the community. What is your role with organizations such as Minor Consideration, APLA and PROTECT.ORG?
A: I got involved with AIDS Project LA back in 1986 when Steve Tracy, who was my husband on the last season, died of AIDS. I wound up being on the AIDS Hotline and their Speakers Bureau, going all over the city and all over the country to help educate people about HIV and raise money for smaller AIDS organizations. In fact, last October, I helped start the AIDS Project of the Ozarks in Missouri, a great group.
For the last few years I’ve been involved with A Minor Consideration, started by Paul Petersen of the Donna Reed Show. I’m currently on the board and the legislative committee, interested in legislative issues because so many of the protections that have been given to child actors have been through hard-fought legislation and bills passed to actually make them laws. We’re looking at things like making the Coogan Account Laws nationwide. The Coogan Accounts Laws say that a child actor must have 15 percent of their money put aside in their account. That’s only in California! They now have it in a couple more states, but it’s not even nationwide. So many of the protections we take for granted for child actors aren’t even nationwide and aren’t really enforced. We’re trying to make sure those things happen. For PROTECT, I’m President of the Board of Directors. It’s an association to protect children. We have fought over the years for better legislation to protect children. We’ve fought at the federal level to increase funding for law enforcement. Currently we have the HERO CORPS program, a training program for veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan that may have been injured and cannot go back to their old jobs and are looking for a new career. We put them through a training and give them internship amounts to the ICACTF program. ICACTF is the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, people who are working with law enforcement teams who are fighting child trafficking and child pornography. We are training these people to assist them and then ultimately be hired by them. They need so much manpower, these teams, and we’re helping them get that. We’re also getting them tech—things like child rescue technology, and so much of what goes on that you’ve heard about like the dark web, the terrible things that go on over the internet with child pornography and trafficking. Law Enforcement, what they need are software, the tech and the tools to trap these people and hunt them down—-and we’re helping them to do that, to get the things that they need.
Q: Do you see your former cast members often?
A: Yes! Yes I do, especially Rachael. Rachael lives about ten minutes away. In fact, I’m out here on the road, but my husband Bob is back home—his band Catahoula was playing on Saturday night and so Rachael and Danny and some other people went to see them. And Hersha (Paraday)went too, who was Mrs. Garvey on the show. I see her quite a bit. Melissa Gilbert moved unfortunately, she moved to Michigan! So I have to satisfy myself with mainly harassing her on Twitter. Dean Butler I’m going to be seeing on Friday, I see him frequently at events. He also lives in L.A., although he’s also in Florida quite a bit as he works for the GolfChannel, producing shows for them. But for all of us who live in L.A., we get together, even Charlotte Stewart who lives up in Napa, I see her quite frequently now since her book came out and she’s been touring a lot. We do a lot of events together. So yes, we got together for the big cast reunions in 2014; we were seeing each other constantly. And Dan McBride, the man with the chicken in the restaurant, he’s down the street. Recently Dan McBride and Ketty Lester who was Hester-Sue on the show and Lucy Lee Flippen, who was Eliza Jane, Rachael, who was of course Baby Carrie and Wendi Turnbaugh who was Baby Grace, we’re all signed to the same agent in Los Angeles, so we see each other quite frequently.
Q: Have you embraced the longevity and appeal of Little House and your ‘Nellie’ character?
A: Oh yes, quite some time ago. When the show first ended, we, like most actors, felt that ‘We’re gonna go on to different things now, no one will remember this in a few years’. HAHA!!! By the ’90s, with the videos, first with the VHS tapes that were for sale and then the DVDs, and later Nickelodeon and TVLand and all these fabulous retro channels, and now we’re in 140 countries and YouTube and they just put us on BluRay, there’s just no end to this. Pretty much all the cast now has caught up with it and embraced it. Early on, I saw where it was going and that this was not going away, so I said ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. Absolutely, I totally embrace it.
Q: Do you have a favorite story from your Little House on the Prairie days?
A: Seven years is an awfully long time to pick just one story! There were so many incredible things. Everybody asks me about my favorite episode, and absolutely my favorite episode is the one Bunny, where I go down the hill in the wheelchair. It is literally everybody in the world’s favorite episode. I’ve had people from virtually every country in the world ask me about that one and it was amazing because, I mean, who does this, it isn’t on any other show, nobody goes down a hill in a wheelchair. I liked that episode, not only was the wild stunt and going down the hill fun, but it’s also the episode where Nellie actually wrecks everybody’s day. Usually she’s ruining just Laura’s life but in this episode Pa Ingalls has to drop what he’s doing and make her a wheelchair, Doc Baker is freaking out because he can’t cure her, Mrs. Oleson thinks her daughter is paralyzed, Mr. Olson is sitting in the back of the store crying because he thinks her life is ruined. I actually interact with the adults and cause huge problems for the entire town just to get attention for a few days, so so it is really a major, major event that she’s willing to go that far and mess with that many people to cause a scene and get attention. It’s a pretty heavy episode.
Q: Thank you, Alison!