Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Perhaps I'm dating myself, but I grew up watching Laura, Mary, Ma, Pa and of course the horrible Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Imagine my delight when I saw the book Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, written by Alison Arngrim, none other than Nasty Nellie herself! It's been pretty quiet since Nellie married Percival and left Walnut Grove, so I was anxious to find out what she'd been up to . . . torturing small furry creatures, perhaps?

The book is really one of the best celebrity "tell-alls" that I've ever read. She starts off describing her somewhat eccentric parents and her unusual upbringing in Hollywood. Her parents were both in show business, her father as a manager and her mother as a well-known voice artist (she was the voice of Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost, among others). While sometimes the family finances were good, just as frequently they were not. This led to a lot of moving around and instability in young Alison's life. Still, this might not have been so terrible had not she been left alone, repeatedly, with her abusive older brother. In addition to abusing drugs, the brother sounds as if he had severe mental problems. Alison gives very frank and vivid details of his prolonged abuse of her. It really was physical and mental torture. The fact that she has come through it such a strong and upbeat person is really amazing!

Since her parents had showbiz connections, both she and her brother were often sent to auditions. She landed the part of Nellie when she was 11 years old. Much of the book deals with her experiences on the set, and boy, are they eye opening! It's very interesting to read about not only her fellow cast mates (more on them later!) but also about how things worked on the set. She is very good at describing her adventures in a hilarious, down-to-earth way. I was really surprised at the lack of safety precautions that were taken during the filming. I guess there weren't too many regulations back then! She describes being flung down a hill in a wheelchair (sans seat belt), thrown into a raging river, dunked in stagnant ponds, etc. with something like wonder that she came through unscathed. I'm sure none of those practices would be allowed using child actors today!

There's plenty of inside gossip about her co-stars. She has only warm and glowing things to say about Melissa Gilbert, who befriended her on the first day and has remained a close friend. Melissa Sue Anderson, on the other hand, was stand-offish and aloof then and still is, apparently. Something about those icy blue eyes would give that one away! Alison also has fond memories of Michael Landon, but she certainly doesn't try to hide his flaws. Many members of the crew also worked with some of Hollywood's biggest stars over the years, so there are some interesting tidbits thrown in here and there about people who weren't on the show, but who are household names.

Sadly, the biggest Little House mystery of all wasn't solved in this book. Mary, throughout the first years of the show, had lovely golden blond hair. Then she went blind, and her hair turned black. What was up with that??? We may never know. I guess some mysteries aren't meant to be solved.

The latter part of the book deals with Alison's life after the show ended. After the death of her co-star and good friend Steve Tracy due to AIDS in the 1980s, she became a tireless volunteer with AIDS organizations. Through that work, she also became involved in Protect, an organization that works to strengthen child abuse laws in California and throughout the US.

I am really a big fan of Alison Arngrim after reading this book. She tells her story with courage and humor. I hope there are more books in the pipeline!

Final verdict for Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: Five Gherkins, for being a funny and fond visit with a childhood icon!


About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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