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WHOA, NELLIE!
RETROCRUSH INTERVIEWS ALISON ARNGRIM
TV'S GREATEST VILLAIN: NELLIE OLESON
 

by Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

I've interviewed and met many celebrities in the 4 years I've been running retroCRUSH, but without a doubt, the best of them all has been Alison Arngrim.  If I were to be called a fan-boy about anything, it'd certainly be about Little House on The Prairie.  I've loved watching it as a kid, and have never stopped enjoying it.  Even today, my TiVo saves several episodes a week for me to relax with when the going gets tough.  Though there's several great things about the show, it's Alison's work as Nellie Olseon that helped make the show legendary.  Her portrayal of the snotty little spoiled brat that looked down on the local farm girls, and made life a living hell for Laura Ingalls (the show's protagonist), was outstanding, making Nellie one of the most deliciously evil villains to ever appear on TV. 

I know too much about this show.  Friends shake their head in pity about the obscure little details I can remember about it.  I share an equal glut of trivia for The Brady Bunch, so when I interviewed that show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, he commented in an every so appalled tone, "You sure know a lot about this show!"  I felt like a total geek.  I was worried my enthusiasm would get in the way of conducting a professional interview with Alison, and was nervous as hell before it finally came time to get her phone call.  Would I come off like that Chris Farley Saturday Night Live character that ends up punching his leg and complaining about how stupid he is for asking dumb obsessive questions? 

I couldn't have been more wrong, and delighted, with the outcome.  For nearly 90 minutes we talked about just about anything you could ever imagine.  From fun little tidbits regarding everything Prairie, to Alison's other acting work, to crazy anecdotes about talking with Bettie Page and her connections to Paris Hilton and Gumby.  This interview has it all.  I'll be running this in 2 parts, as the interview is nearly 30 pages long.  I figured instead of editing it down, why not just leave it be and proudly showcase The Greatest Alison Arngrim interview of them all? I'll also have the audio link up shortly, and some information about her comedy show. So without further adieu here we go... 

So, Alison how are you today?

I am very good, other than being cold and wet, like everyone else down here.

Well, I’ll tell ya, I’m a big time fan of Little House on the Prairie

I kind of got that (laughs)

And my daughter and kids are, too, it’s just so fun to see that’s such a cool show that’s so timeless in how it’s said that a kid from any generation just start watching it and enjoying it.  Do you find that you have whole new generations of fans with the DVDs and all that?

Oh, I do I have several generations of fans.  The show really holds up.  I’ve had friends tease me and say, “Aren’t you glad you weren’t on like The Brady Bunch or something?” because so many 70s shows become dated…where as Little House doesn’t date because, hey, it was the 1800s to begin with.  So it still plays now, and it’s very big in other countries.  Where as a lot of American TV is “too American”, Little House runs in 140 different countries…it’s huge in France, it’s one of the few American shows that’s incredibly popular in The Middle East, because even in an Islamic country, well everybody’s dressed and covered up, there’s not a lot of sex, you know, it’s pretty safe.

I joke about it but I’ve been told on authority that it really is Saddam Hussein’s favorite show.  So Saddam Hussein’s a big fan, that’s nice to know!

But it’s loved by all sorts of different people all over the world, and it really does hold up.  When we were first on in the 70s, they said demographically, like our big audience was older women, women 40 plus, like then their kids…so that group is now grandmothers.  So you have the older women from then, and then you have the young women who watched it then who are now moms and now their kids, and then really really little kids.

I know these people who are my age that didn’t watch it when it was on, and watched it in college in reruns, and do shots to it or whatever, and think it’s funny.  So you have all these groups.  I get emails from people who are in their twenties who are just discovering the show, because they like certain characters, they think Nellie is funny and from families who’ve been watching it for 4 generations.


THE APPEAL OF LITTLE HOUSE on the PRAIRIE KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES

Yeah, and it’s amazing how much it’s on.  I mean here in Sacramento, the Hallmark Channel and some other channel play it simultaneously, and if you set your TiVo to get it, you can get like 4 episodes in one day.

It’s like that on the Canadian border, because the Canadian stations run it and the American stations rerun it, and the cable reruns it…so it’s on like 6 times in a day (laughs).

Now is this beyond the point where you get any kind of residuals for the show anymore?

Well, we thankfully were after what they called “The Imperpetuity Clause” in 1973.  People who were on series before that either get nothing, or they get what those poor kids on The Waltons got, 6 airings, and then the residuals stop.

Wow that quick?

Yeah, and people prior to that clause got zippo. So there’s a lot of people that don’t get residuals.  So we have Imperpetuity, so we did get residuals for a long time.  But they get smaller with each run.  So some episodes, they’ve run them like 50-60 times, you know, so it’s not that much (any more).  The foreign sales were kind of a buyout, and there’s some money from the DVDs…because DVDs, Cable, and VCRs weren’t invented, it was sort of a retroactive thing worth a few cents.

That’s one of the things SAG (The Screen Actor’s Guild) has been talking about is upgrading how much actors get from DVD and video releases because at the time it was written, nobody anticipated it.

Oh yes, it’s amazing how much these boxed sets are selling for.

It’s huge.  Millions are made in DVDs, so the union’s kind of looking at it in the next negotiations…now that more people are watching DVDs than TV for God’s sake, so hopefully we’ll all get a nickel for that.

Of course I did do commentary and interview for a set of Little House DVDs.

Which season would this be, Season 6?

There’s an interview on Season 5, and a commentary on the mud-fight episode on Season 6.  They haven’t released Season 7 yet, I just faxed in my final approval of my commentary for an episode.

And that would be the year where your character gets married?

Right, and the episode I picked is the one where I have the twins.

That’s great.  Well kind of going back a little bit there, I was reading where you originally read for the parts of Laura and Mary, and Nellie came along as a sort of afterthought.  Where you aware of the books so much, or was it just like, “What’s this Little House on the Prairie thing all about?”

Most people I meet my age…and five years older, where like huge LHOP book freaks, I wasn’t.  I didn’t read the books, I had no idea.  And when I first went to the audition, the first one I went to was sort of a general meeting with Ed Friendly sitting around with a stack of Little House books saying, “We’re thinking of making a show about this, have you ever read these books?”  And I just said, “Ohhh….uh…no!”  I had no clue, and as Michael (Landon) used to tease us and say, “What’s with you kids, what..do you hang out in pool halls?  You don’t do anything normal like jump rope…depraved little children.” 

So I didn’t know about the books.  I read for Laura and I read for Mary, then they called me in to read for Nellie and I was like, “How many people are in this thing?”  So I was stunned when I got the part, and they hired me on the spot.

Of course, as soon as I found out…I was all, “I guess I better go get these books!”  I did go out and get the complete set shortly after, and had read them all, and I totally see the attraction. 

Well it’s amazing how much, when certain literary characters get brought to life…for the most part in the books Nellie Oleson was, for the most part, a one dimensional bully.  You know there really wasn’t so much to her, and you brought…

Something really evil (laughs)

Yes!  It’s funny because when you look at the Nellie character, I mean early she seems like just a spoiled brat, other times it’s maybe she’s just misunderstood and doesn’t get the right attention, but then there’s other episodes where she’s like Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed, like she would kill somebody if she was given a knife.

Yes, thank you for noticing, yes! (laughs) You’re another Bad Seed fan!

I was watching this the other day and it was one of my favorite episodes where Nellie falls off the horse…

Oh yes, I pretend to be crippled!

Yes, she pretends to be crippled so she can get some candy and toys.

Rolling down the hill in the wheelchair is everyone’s favorite episode.  Bar none and unanimously and in several countries if I say, “OK…everyone in the room, ‘What’s your favorite episode’? it’s ‘Down the hill in the wheelchair!”

And poor Laura is just putting up with so much abuse.  Now there’s a scene I that where you’re getting poked I the feet with a pin (to see if Nellie has lost feeling in her legs), which is another memorable scene.  Was any of that real?  Or was that done with fake feet? 

What they did is that he’s using the dull side of the needle, and they did kind of poke me in the feet but it really didn’t hurt.  I think there’s like an insert shot where a stand-in’s foot was used, it just wasn’t pushing that hard. 

That’s just such an excruciating scene to see, this poor girl pretending to not show any pain.

I was watching it with my husband and he’s horrified by needles, and he winces and says, “How could you do that?”   I remember that they did actually have the needle touching my foot in the scene, and going, “if this is as bad as you’re going to do it guys, then you’re not really hurting me.”

It’s funny that you would have a scene like that, then all of the sudden when everything falls apart in that episode, you just see Nellie in her room, just saying, “I’ll get you Laura!” breaking every single thing in her room, just completely going psycho.

Nellie was obviously so dedicated to the idea that she was going to fake everyone out.  She was willing to withstand what would have hurt…they’re implying that this girl just sat there and withstood the pain...which is pretty sick.

Do you think Nellie, ultimately, just needed the right person to love her? Because it seems like the episodes when a boy showed some intense interest in her that she really did become a very likeable nice person. 

Well you have the whole Percival and “The Taming of The Shrew” thing… 

Sure, someone that could stand up to her and still say that she was pretty. 

Of course, that’s what the French think, the French think that Nellie is just misunderstood.  Nellie is loved in France because they don’t think she’s mean, they think she’s French. 

Yeah, “She’s the most personable woman we’ve ever seen!”

“Yes, a lovely girl!”, and they don’t think there’s anything wrong with her.  They had a whole discussion when I was in Paris people were saying, “She’s misunderstood, and she’s unloved…the poor thing, don’t you see she’s just jealous of Laura!”  So the French feel it was all just a crime of passion. 

I have had people say, “Well that poor girl...look at her Mother!”

Yes and even in the Father role (Nels Oleson) is so bizarre.

He wouldn’t do anything.

Yeah, and when he would it’d be so overboard.  He’d be saying, “I’ll take care of her!” with a big old giant leather strap, and just go to town.

Now, in today’s more psychologically aware climate, I’ve had people say, “Mr. Oleson should have taken that strap to Mrs. Oleson where it would have done some good!  That rotten Mrs. Oleson, they way she raised that girl and Willie, of course the children were impossible, that ghastly woman should have been tried for child abuse!”  And there are people who’ve really taken Nellie’s side, “Oh the poor dear, of course she was a mess.”  So I kind of find it fascinating that everyone has read all this great stuff into it.  Apparently I was going a bang-up job.

Yeah the character of Nellie in the books, and it’s so weird because we were playing not only characters on a show that had been characters in a book, but they were real people…and that’s quite a burden.  I think that’s one of the reasons that everyone from the show were all so typecast…when you’re playing someone who really lived, it’s like playing Mr. Lincoln, it never goes away.

Have you ever come across any of the descendants of the real people it’s all based on?

We used to get some of the Ingalls people would drop by the set every now and again...and I’ve talked to a couple of Ingalls descendants, but the most interesting person I‘ve met, what would have been Nellie Olesons…would have been my great grandson, who lives in Texas.  I found out from this “Nellie Historian” that Laura (Ingalls Wilder) kind of fudged the whole Nellie thing, she kind of combined three people and made Nellie.  There was a Nellie Owens in Walnut Grove who was mean to her, but she didn’t see Nellie as a teenager, only as a young girl.

Right, because in the books, Nellie just mysteriously comes into her school again, like she just can’t get rid of her.

Yeah, she’s stalking her.  Which is a great bit, but unfortunately, no, it wasn’t true.  There was another girl as a teenager who was hideous, and she (Laura) kind of covered her tracks, because the story I got was that the girl that was so hideous, her father was a publisher, so Laura wasn’t about to diss a possible employer, and so she did a combo of three people who were really nasty and made her into this one girl.

But the real Nellie Owens, who apparently was quite a handful, she’s buried in Tillamook, Oregon, and she married a guy, a Mr. Kirry, who was a steamboat captain or something.  She had 3 kids, and they divorced, which was scandalous at the time, and apparently she divorced for moral reasons, because he was a boat captain and he was always away.  She moved inland to provide a better life for her children. 

So the family that I spoke to who was related to Nellie, The Kirrys, they said at first that Nellie wasn’t that bad.  But they found this one aunt, that before she died, had seen “Little House” and she was old enough to have known Nellie, and they said, “What do you think?” and she said…”very accurate.”  So the story I got is that Nellie really was bad.

There’s a whole debate.  If you go to Walnut Grove’s historical society, they’ll say Nellie wasn’t that bad, and that Laura gave her a bum rap, and she was framed (laughs).   But I’ve had the relatives tell me, “nah…she’s a total bitch!”

She’s certainly one of the better TV villains ever made, she’s right up there with Eddie Haskell, and her mom.  Nellie and her mom are a great one-two punch.

I met Eddie Haskell…I am the greatest villain ever and I say that not bragging, because I have my copy of Vanity Fair, which is from 2000, and they did “Best TV Everything” lists, they had best TV dads, best TV moms…and best TV bitches, I was first, it was like me then Joan Collins.  So I was #1 TV bitch in Vanity Fair of all time.  And I was at a TVLAND Child Actor thing, and the guy who played Eddie Haskell was there…

Ken Osmond

Yeah, we were on a panel…and he said, “Round of applause…how many people hated me more?”  and then asked, “OK, how many hated her more?”, and they went nuts.  And he said, “OK…you win, you’re worse than me.”

And I was influenced by Patty McCormack, The Bad Seed, that’s true.  Long before I got the show, my best friend Chrissy Norton that I was friends with, she had blonde hair and blue eyes, we looked a lot alike, she would come over, and this was before VCRs and Cable, you had to check the TV Guide to see what was on, The Bad Seed would be on late at night on a weekend, and we’d have a slumber party.  And we would braid our hair and put on party dresses and put on tap shoes and watch The Bad Seed.

Wow, just to emulate her.

Yeah, it was like The Rocky Horror Show.

And you’d be HOW old doing this?

Nine.  We were blonde little girls that looked like Patty McCormack…we’d stay up and watch The Bad Seed and put on party dresses and tap shoes and we’d say, “What would you give me for a basket of kisses?” and scare the crap out of everybody.  And it was really kind of weird, and we just thought it was great, and so I always liked that.  And then I had first heard of The Bad Seed when I was 6, because I would go on auditions to play good little girls, and I remember I didn’t get the part from one audition, it was like some little girl that was real vulnerable and got kidnapped on Gunsmoke and they were like “No!”, and they said, “Honey have you ever heard of ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’ (which is the O.Henry story where the kid is kidnapped and he’s so obnoxious) and they said, “Have you ever heard of The Bad Seed?” and I said, “No.”…The guy called my agent and said that the audience would fear for the night of the life of the kidnapper.

Eventually I saw “The Bad Seed” and I thought, “Oh…GREAT!”  (laughs)  So when I got the part of Nellie, and people said, “Oh…it’s so Bad Seed”, I said, “Oh, I hope so!”   I did get to meet Patty McCormack once at a parade, and she was very nice. 

I heard that Bettie Page is still a Little House on the Prairie fan and you got to talk to her on the phone?

Yes!  It was marvelous!

How did that come about?

I didn’t think she was a real person, I had seen the drawings, you know this woman with the black hair…then I saw that she did these more scandalous photos, and I thought she was really cool, and the funny thing is she was always smiling in all the pictures, and that’s very unusual for the time.  For a woman who did sexy photos to be smiling.

Yeah, she sure seems to be having a great time during every one of those pictures.

Then I found out that there was this huge scandal that she had done these and she had gone POOF and disappeared.  And there was this whole mysterious thing of “Where is Bettie Page?” and that she had quit suddenly.  And it’s actually because there was this crackdown on everything from comic books to pornography, and that people felt that her pictures were really bad and she was being questioned.

Right, during the 50s…

And she said, “Well…I don’t need this, I’m not that dedicated to this!  Thank you, goodbye!  I just took the pictures to work my way through school, don’t even talk to me, and she just bailed. And this whole mystery of what happened to her, was she dead?  And I found out somewhere that she really didn’t have any money and her brother found a lawyer and now she does get some of the money from this endless merchandising. 

My friend Harlan, who does a bunch of events, says, “Listen, we’re doing a whole Betty Page thing, and we’ve been working with her.”  And I said, “Really?  Oh My God, what’s she like?”  And he said, “She’s really just this nice old lady!” 

She’ s a good Christian woman and goes to church, and has her friends.  She stays home and watches TV and reads.  And her whole attitude is “you don’t want to see me, you want to see that pretty young girl!”… She also says things like, “I only took some photos, I’ve forgotten about them, you people are still looking at them.”  She thinks everyone else is crazy, that they’re still obsessed with this. 

So he (Harlan) goes and talks to her, and the next thing I know I find out that she’s a huge Little House fan. And there’s a book she actually authorized, and her life really is quite interesting.  She had to get away from home as a young girl, she had to go make money and rescue her sister from this terrible environment.  She wound up doing the photos because she was sexually harassed on all the street jobs she had and she was safer with the photographers.  The photographers were perfect gentleman.  The reason she’s laughing in those pictures is because they’re joking around and think it’s the dumbest thing in the world. 

She totally was not interested in this whole scene, she just did the photos for the money, and she knew the photographer (Irwin Klaw) quite well, they weren’t sleeping together, he was married, his wife was there.  And when she left, she left, and went on with her life.  And was stunned to find out that anybody cared and was still looking at these “ridiculous pictures”.

That’s funny

So he (Harlan) got us on the phone, and we chatted for a bit.  She’s a big Little House fan, so she autographed a copy of her book and I autographed some pictures of Nellie Oleson for her.  She’s a very nice lady.  She doesn’t do personal appearances because she doesn’t need to…They’ve offered her money, but before she got the check for merchandising, she was living on Social Security, she didn’t need any money.

She doesn’t drink or smoke, she makes all of her own clothes, she doesn’t even eat meat.  What’s she spending it on? She had everything she needed, she was living quite comfortably.  People call and want to give her 50 grand to show up and she just says, “That’s nice” then hangs up. 

She’s a very interesting person.  She’s totally not like anyone thinks she is. 

You’ve obviously come across a lot of fans.  I’ve talked to Wil Wheaton a bit, I know you’ve done some comedy appearances with him.

Yes, I did the What’s My Line show (with the Acme Comedy troupe in Los Angeles).

Right, and you get these fans that can’t separate his character from him, and they take out their hatred of the character toward him personally as if HE is Wesley Crusher. 

Oh and he has to deal with those Sci-Fi fans.  Little House fans may be weird, but Sci-Fi fans are just out of their minds.  Poor Wil, yes, it’s dreadful.

Did you have kids that would come across you and treat you as Nellie and be scared of you when you were growing up?

Yeah, but I gotta tell you, I mean, adults are worse.  The kids I knew, growing up, I had gone to school with the same people since third grade.  So my friends, they all knew who I was, so they were like, “Oh yeah…Alison got a show.. hah haha!” 

You’d get teased about it more than them being in awe?

Well, there all Hollywood kids, so they all had someone with a connection to the business, so they really couldn’t care less.  They really just didn’t notice. Which was great for me because it meant my life and my relationships with them didn’t change in the slightest.  They just say, “Where have you been for 2 weeks”, and I’d tell them I’d been shooting, and they’d just say, “Oh…”

Now you grew up in a show-biz family...

I grew up in Hollywood, my whole family was in show-business.

Your brother (Stefan Arngrim) was in a lot of shows.

Right and my mother (Norma Macmillan) was Gumby, and Casper, and Sweet Polly (Underdog’s girlfriend) and Davey (from Davey and Goliath).

So did you get to meet Art Clokey (Gumby creator)?

No, I never met Art Clokey, but from what I understand that he’s kind of a weirdo.

Well what’s funny is that my brother in law, who lives in San Luis Obispo.  He (Clokey) did an appearance at a health food store there.  It was kind of weird, you’d just be there shopping for organic food, and there’s Art Clokey sitting at a table giving out autographs.   

Yeah, he seemed like a very strange man.  But my mom really like Wally Cox, who played Underdog.  They got along really well.  She was also on the First Family album. 

The JFK comedy album?

Right, it was the first comedy album to mock a sitting President.  She was Caroline and John John, she did the kid voices.  My dad was an actor, too.  He was on Broadway with Albert Finney in the play Luther, and went in to management and worked with people like Liberace and Debbie Reynolds.  In fact I just found a picture of me and Liberace when I was 8. 

There’s so many surreal pop culture figures that you’ve been surrounded with from Liberace to Betty Page.  Just to jump around here, I just die laughing when I see this picture of you from the Wyatt Earp movie just standing there with Marie Osmond.  You’ve got the ultimate TV villain there with perhaps the ultimate goody-goody right next to each other.  Was she a lot of fun to work with?

Well, Marie Osmond is a much cooler person than anybody ever gives her credit for.  I remember when I got the show, I was like 19, and of course I was like, “The Osmonds…oh no!”  And I remember my Mom came with me on location and we were like “Oh man, we’re going to have to hang out with The Osmonds!”  And we wound up having such a wonderful time.  Not only did Marie and I get along like a house of fire, she’s terribly smart, and she’s one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet.  She has an outrageous sense of humor, which I guess you’d have to have to cover that part up…she was very down to earth.  I mean now, she is like more outspoken about her life but even then had the angle of, “Yes, it’s really weird…we’re The Osmonds, and I have this whole ‘Marie’ thing that I have to live with.”  Her mother was in to all this interesting historical stuff like the Native Americans and the Aztecs, and that was my mother’s hobby, so the next thing I know my mother and Olive are both hanging out and going shopping, and me and Marie were hanging out.  It was just bizarre….and we both have a thing about ice cream and French-bread pizza. 

So, that’s just one of these movies that we may never see again.

Wyatt Earp, amazingly enough it does still pop up, they just haven’t run it as much so I still get a good residual.  Yeah, they’ve only run it a few times, and it pays well because the base rate was high, so therefore the residual is very good when they rerun it (laughs).

I found out the videotape of my very first movie is actually purchasable.  It’s called Throw Out The Anchor.   I made it when I was 10 years old.  I can’t vouch for its quality, I don’t remember if it was particularly good, but it’s a cute movie.  Richard Egan and Dina Merrill are in it. And I have a big part in it…it’s a hokey little film…about people in a houseboat.

You more or less left Little House on The Prairie at the time you did the Wyatt Earp movie?

Yeah that was right after it, actually.  I finally had time off where I could go be in a TV movie, which I really wanted to do.

And it went on for a couple of seasons after you left.

It was Little House on The Prairie for the first seven years.  So everyone who had a contract…contracts run for seven years.  So we had gotten a bump of a raise, and at the end of seven years, all bets are off and everyone goes to renegotiate.  When you’re 19 years old, and you’ve been somewhere since you were 12, still wearing the same wig, doing the same thing, the idea of signing on for another 4 years was a little bit scary…If it had only been 2 more years, I might have done it, but they wanted me to sign for 4 more years, and they also weren’t really giving anyone a raise, either. 

So they wanted you to keep doing what you were doing for the last 7 years?

Right, keep doing what you were doing, and for the same amount of money.  And I can say that now because Kevin Hagen, who was Doc Baker on the show, was recently in The Enquirer and had come out publicly talking about, well, how freakin’ badly he got paid on that show, and he was right.  He felt The Enquirer was much too harsh and said things he didn’t really say.  That he never used the word “greedy” about Michael (Landon)…and I called him up and I said, “Kevin, do you know how badly everybody else got paid?”  And he was horrified, he said, “I should have been harder on them!”  He said, “I was worried the article was too severe, you’re telling me like everyone got rooked on that show?” 

That’s certainly a point in the show (Seasons 8 and 9) where it becomes a lot less magical and special.  I mean, you’ve got Laura’s parents pretty much disappearing…

Well, Michael (Landon) was making like bazillions, but he was just “I just can’t do this anymore”, just wearing himself out so he was barely in it.  I left. Melissa Sue Anderson who was Mary had left at that point.  We were just kind of done.  I was contractually done, so I was like, “Unless you can tell me some really good reason why I should stay, so I wound up doing TV movies and dinner theater, so I was relieved to do that, at that point. 

They actually re-titled it “Little House: A New Beginning” because it was so drastically different at that point.  And I don’t think it was as good in the same way.  And most fans don’t. 

It’s so forced, you’ve got Edwards just getting in a fight with his wife and leaving her forever so he can come back to Walnut Grove.  It’s just so (laughs)…

You know the website, Jump the Shark, right?  That’s totally when Little House “jumped the shark”. 

Right, and they bring the “Mirror Universe Nellie Junior” into the picture at that point.

Yeah, they cloned us, yeah.  (laughs)

I just wasn’t watching it anymore at that point. 

We were cloned.  They had a baby Nellie and a baby Laura.

Yeah, it was just so…why did they go that route? 

Nancy, who is my (Nellie’s) adopted sister (played by Allison Balson), she was very good.  And I did come back as a guest star, where it was like “The Return of Nellie” and I come back and meet her.  But even then, it was getting kind of “comic book”.  You know Batman vs. Superman kind of stuff, “Let’s have Nellie come back for a fight!”

I thought it would be a fun project to just catalog every single character that’s ever been on that show.  Some just mysteriously appear on the show and (the story has them) living there for 4 years.  Like there’s this Blacksmith that is a part of the town, and you never…

There’s some banker and then you’re like “whatever happened to that banker?”  (laughs)

Right, there should be like 9,000 people living in Walnut Grove if you really listed them all out. 

There’s some child who’s sick, and they come to see Doc Baker, and then you never see them again.  Or the little girl who was crippled, and had one leg shorter than the other, and Pa made shoes for her.

She grew up to do other shows.

Well that was Kim Richards.  And do you know who Kim Richards is? 

Well, I know her as an actress.

She was in Nanny and The Professor, and she was the little crippled girl on Little House on The Prairie, and her sister Kyle Richards was also on…I believe it was that Patricia Neal episode where she was dying, and her three children had to get adopted.

She was also on this horrible show, it was a spin off of Diff’rent Strokes, called Hello, Larry!

YES! Oh my god! 

McLean Stevenson’s show, she was his daughter.

Yep.  Well here’s the kicker.  There’s a third sister, who’s their older sister, named Kathy Richards…she was a child actress, too, but she got married when she was 18 or 19, and who did she marry?

Uhhh….Rod Stewart?

Mr. Hilton!  Kim Richards is Paris Hilton’s Auntie. 

Wow!  What a bizarre connection.

I’m so old I worked with Paris and Nicky Hilton’s aunt.  So once again, another freakish pop culture tie in.

You’re sort of the female Kevin Bacon, center of the universe. 

Actually, that’s funny, have you been to The Oracle of Bacon? 

Yeah, that’s the site where it does it (matches up Kevin Bacon’s movie connections to any other actor you type in) for you. 

If you punch in my name, I’m 2 degrees of everybody...because I was in a movie with Billy Dee Williams…Last Place On Earth.  I’m not even in a scene with Billy Dee Williams, and I was really disappointed, because I love Billy Dee Williams, but I’m I the movie with Billy Dee Williams…he’s like Michael Caine, he’s like the man who's never turned down a project...so if you're in something with Billy Dee Williams, you become 2 degrees of everything.

I think he’s in some of my home movies, even.

I’m 2 degrees of Kevin Bacon, too.  Do you want to know my Kevin Bacon?

Yes, what’s the connection there?

Charlotte Stewart, who was “Miss Beadle” on Little House on the Prairie, was in Tremors, with Kevin Bacon. 

Oh that’s right, Charlotte Stewart.  I used to have a crush on Miss Beadle when I was growing up.

Ohh…she’s adorable.  She’s still cute now; she’s a very nice lady.

So did you have a real special relationship with any of the people on the show growing up? Did anyone take you under their wing?

Well, we were very much a family…we’ve all been through practically massive group therapy sessions (laughs), we had to deal with the impacts of this thing in our life.  One of the things the cast of LHOTP has always had a problem with is something I call “Prairie Denial”.  We tried to pretend that it wasn't as important as it was, that we weren't a family.  That "oh, we did that cute little show, but so what?"  And tried to put it all behind us, but no...it doesn't work.  And what we've found out, Melissa (Gilbert) and I, comparing notes, is that we're very much like a family.  We are insanely connected.

We all talk together and have parties...it's very strange. 

Well, it's such a huge part of your life, to just toss it off as a trivia moment.

Right, and we have all sorts of connections like sisters would have. Melissa and I have code words for things.  Because, well, we were little adolescent girls, and at the time...it was almost as if we were related.   I loved both Richard Bull and Katherine MacGregor, who played Mr. and Mrs. Olseon.  They were like parents.  Of course Melissa was like my sister, we were totally in cahoots about everything.  The twins were adorable and I later found out that they totally looked up to me.  I had no idea.  When we grew up they told me, "Oh no, we followed you everywhere, we thought you were totally really cool."

I was very friendly with the crew.  I was sort of adopted by the grips and electricians.  I adored the prop man and the key grip, and they were sort of like my heroes.  They were all these real blue collar tough guys with tattoos, you know, toothpicks hanging out of their mouths.  They were my kind of guys!  (laughs)

They would let me hang out with them.  At lunchtime, they would always do "crew first", cause they usually only get a half hour, and actors sometimes get a bit longer, but they would say, "Oh no, come up here with us!"  And I'd always eat with them.  They were all these really cool guys.  They took sort of an interest in me.  There's some sets were kids aren't real protected and taken care of, but on the set of Little House, we were.  I remember it was the guys on the crew that used to tell me to eat my vegetables and drink my milk.

They were the ones really watching for you.

Right, I'd get my car and they were the ones who'd tell me, "Now you're not gonna wreck that car!"  Oh yeah, I used to get lectures on stuff from the crew.

So...uh...excuse me, I lost my train of thought.

Yeah, I know, I'm like this weird explosion of bizarre information.

(Laughs) You get a lot of cool fan mail on your website, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, I was amazed to see that somebody had built this perfect little replica of Olesen's Mercantile, even with a little Nellie in it, that was just amazing. 

That's why we finally added it, I knew we had to put in a fan art section because people are sending me pictures of stuff that they've painted, and they've built.  Yeah!  This guy built the whole thing to scale.  

What's some of the weirdest stuff you've got from people before.

Oh, people do strange paintings of me, there's been a lot of paintings.  Sometimes me as me, sometimes me as Nellie.  Some of them are good, some of them aren't very good, they're always slightly odd.  This guy was a very weird, he's since died, he was this very cool like abstract artist, he did...several people...of the person, but they were also painted to resemble famous paintings of certain royalty in the 1300s.  So it was sort of me as Nellie, but it was also the Duchess of something or other from 1349.  (laughs) It was this very bizarre painting of me in a crown.

Then of course, there's The Nellie Olesens, the comedy group, that named themselves after me. 

You actually did some work with them, too.

Yeah, I hooked up with them.  I was so amazed that they existed and they had done this.  We got along very well, and I would like show up at their shows, you know, and break into their sketches.  In fact they have some shows coming up, and I have some shows coming up, and we're going to try and cross promote each other. 

JAN 2008- update (though the rest of this interview has been available via audio, we'll have the text version up shortly)


NOW YOU CAN LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE ALISON ARNGRIM INTERVIEW!

As great as this interview is to read, it's quite a treat to listen to as well.  Bear in mind this interview was recorded for note-taking purposes, and the audio levels go all over the place and you hear great touches like me breathing and laughing too much, but if you're a fan, you'll love it!  I've broken the 75 minute interview into five different parts that are all about 14-15MB each.  The print interview you've just read ends close to the end of Part 3, so Part 4 and Part 5 are all new questions and answers, not yet printed! 

If you right click each link, then save the file to your hard drive it'll make the listening experience a bit nicer.  Why not load them on your iPod and listen to them while you're busy rolling a hoop down Walnut Grove?

PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5