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Woah, Nellie!

Alison Arngrim (Little House On Prairie)To Appear At Working Women's Show

She was the young, blonde-haired girl with a big, bad attitude. Manipulative, selfish and thoroughly unpleasant, Nellie Oleson is likely one of most recognizable literary and television figures of the 20th century. So much so, in fact, the actress who played Nellie on “Little House on the Prairie” is still making headlines well into the 21st century.

Alison Arngrim is making appearances across the United States and Europe this year, as fans and cast members celebrate the 50th anniversary of Little House on television. St. Louis is no exception. Alison is scheduled to appear at the St. Louis Working Women’s Show during Feb. 16-18 at the St. Charles Convention Center.

Many of the little girls who loved to hate Nellie in the 1970s have grown up to find comfort in the show that has become an American treasure. An adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling series of Little House books by the same name, “Little House on the Prairie,” premiered Sept. 11, 1974, and last aired on May 10, 1982.

Alison came from a show business family. Her mother, Norma MacMillan, voiced numerous characters in animation and claymation, including Casper the Friendly Ghost and Gumby. “I thought everyone was on TV until I was six,” she confides.

In the 1960s, Alison’s family lived on the fifth floor of West Hollywood hotel. She remembers her parents sitting on their balcony drinking wine and looking down over the Sunset Strip Curfew or 'Hippie' Riots. “I thought: ‘I live in a castle. I am Mary Antoinette, and the peasants are revolting,” she quips.

Alison’s father, Thor Arngrim, an actor and producer, managed musician Liberace. She says Liberace’s was the best house to go for trick or treating, as his butler would meet kids at the door with a tray of beautiful plastic pumpkins filled with specialty candies.

Alison was 12 when she got the part of Nellie. She says she initially read for the parts of both Laura and Mary Ingalls, but got neither. Then they asked her to read for Nellie. She read the famous “My Home” speech from the first episode, “Country Girls.”

She says when she and her father arrived at the audition, and she read the script, she was shocked. “I turned to my father and said, ‘This girl is not normal. She is a bxxxx.’”

“My home is the best house in all of Walnut Grove...” And on it went.

As she auditioned for Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls), and producers Ed Friendly and Kent McCray, “they couldn’t stop laughing. By the time we got home, my agent was on the phone. I had been hired on the spot.”

And all these years later, the world still sees Nellie. “Everyone still hates me,” she says. “I really thought when the show ended, people would move on. But they didn’t.”

Alison grew up in the public schools of Los Angeles, including Hollywood High School, where most people understood fantasy versus reality. Not everyone did, though. She recalls a time at Bancroft Junior High, when a girl shouted, “You bxxxx!” from the second-floor landing.

Still, she thought it was all par for the course, and interestingly enough, in some ways, it boosted her confidence. “In television, people suspend their disbelief. If you’re me, they go crazy and hate you. I had no confidence [before playing Nellie]. I was pathologically shy. Suddenly people were afraid of me. Now I would go to a party, and people would back up. I realized making new friends was going to be kind of impossible. So, I stayed in public school and kept the friends I made at a very young age.”

Ironically, she and Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) were the best of friends in real life. “We would beat each other senseless all week and then have slumber parties on the weekends.”

Today, Alison is a New York Times best-selling author with Confessions of A Prairie Bxxxx: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. Her one-woman show “Confessions of a Prairie Bxxxx,” has packed houses from New York to Los Angeles to France.

Alison has headlined at nightclubs across North America and has entertained on countless television and stage shows. But it was her return to the spotlight through social media in 2020 that brought so many fans back and turned a new generation on to those innocent days on Plum Creek.

She says it started when her husband, musician Bob Schoonover, an essential worker at the time, asked her what she was going to do with her time in quarantine. She decided to reread the Little House books. “But then I thought, ‘What if I read them live on Facebook?’ It was insane,” she says. “I did 600-plus readings in a bonnet for two-and-a-half years and got over 50,000 hits. I had guest stars. People bought books. I started selling bonnets and prairie-oriented swag. I swear everyone was watching, because whatever was happening with the pandemic, the Ingalls had it worse.”

And for those who think she is anything like the heartless Nellie Oleson, think again. Alison has a long history of donating her time for others. She began volunteering at the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome project Los Angeles in 1986, when her friend and 'Little House husband,' co-star Steve Tracy, passed away due to this chronic immune system disease. “I thought he was going to live forever. But as soon as he was diagnosed in 1991, he was so sick.”

She worked on the Southern California immunodeficiency syndrome hotline, developed workshops and provided education to doctors, nurses, prison inmates, service clubs, churches, department stores and schools and was honored by the Los Angeles City Council for her contributions.

Alison fights against child abuse as California chair, national spokesperson and founding board member on the National Advisory Board of The National Association to Protect Children, or PROTECT.org. She told the world about the physical abuse she suffered in her own life on “Larry King Live” in 2004.

Alison currently lives in Tujunga, California, with Bob, her husband of 30 years, and their “evil cat,” Clarice. She says she takes pride in the fact so many people enjoyed hating her as a girl and is “more than happy to give them the opportunity to do so in the future.”

Addressing what she describes as “huge plot holes” in Little House, Alison says what has probably surprised her the most is something neither fans nor producers of the show saw coming—all except for Michael Landon, that is. For example, after Albert kicks his morphine addiction, the show states he goes on to become a doctor in Walnut Grove. But later he returns and is presumed to die from leukemia. Then Walnut Grove is destroyed before Albert ever becomes a doctor there.

“But at the time, they thought, ‘Who’s going to notice?’ There wasn’t even cable when Little House came out, let alone video or streaming,” Alison says. “We never had any idea people would be watching this show again and again. But Michael knew. Everyone thought he was crazy when he said, ‘People will be watching this long after we are gone.’ Somehow, he knew.”

Alison Arngrim is scheduled to appear at the St. Louis Working Women’s Show Feb. 16-18 at the St. Charles Convention Center in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of "Little House on the Prairie" television series.

"...Everyone thought [Michael Landon] was crazy when he said, ‘People will be watching this long after we are gone.’ Somehow, he knew.”

And all these years later, the world still sees Nellie. “Everyone still hates me,” she says. “I really thought when the show ended, people would move on. But they didn’t.”

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