I have yet to hear a bad review of Alison Arngrim’s Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, yet it took me a while before I was ready to break the spine Those who have read my book know that Little House the television show was, uh, not my favorite. I have held a prudish, Jonathan Edwards-sized grudge against the sacrilege affronted my beloved holy texts. When people tell me they have never read the books but loved the show I break out in a rash.
Thanks to Arngrim, I have worked though my LHOP anger issues. Now I see the cast as people who simply needed a freaking job. Arngrim’s favorite scenes were the dinner shots where she got to eat real food. Perhaps the on screen Ingalls family wasn’t up to my exacting standards, but the off screen cast was a real family, and the child actors real prairie orphans of a sort. Michael Landon may have been a free-balling, pretty boy, but his Napoleonic Code held everyone together. As Arngrim quotes, “Cast of Little House, no arrests, no convictions.”
With deep breathing and rainbow visualization, I can even give that freckled imp Melissa Gilbert props. I’ve always felt a great pain that her onscreen portrayal is the most famous Laura Ingalls. I envisioned the real Laura with smaller teeth. But who can resist the idea of Laura and Nellie as secret best friends, giggling and squealing as they wrestle in the mud? It turns out Melissa Gilbert had many Laura qualities including forthrightness, tenacity, and bravery.
And—as Arngrim describes the behind the scenes secrets of famous episodes, I had to realize that I had seen every one.
Arngrim has performed stand up for years, and her punchlines are delivered right on time with the right force. Maybe all that practice fighting Gilbert paid off. The story of her wig is enough to tickle the strictest of Puritans. Remember how Carrie falls down in the opening sequence? That’s because someone put her shoes on the wrong feet. HAHAHAHAHAHA.
Best, though, is how she embraces the role that made her famous. It’s easy to poke fun, but more difficult to talk about about what matters to us. The arts are tough. Some of us get to be Margaret Atwood or Meryl Streep with these scrolls for resumes. Most of us are lucky to have one genuine success. And Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson is an iconic performance. Arngrim shows in her book how the good parts and the bad parts of life are often the same parts. (For example, her free-wheeling 60s actor parents).
By the end I realized that just as I have used Laura Ingalls to be strong when I needed strength, to be brave when I was cowering, Arngrim has done the same with Nellie Oleson. Whatever you want to say about Nellie, I’d rather have her on my side.
In short, I can’t wait to meet Arngrim at Laurapalooza this summer. I’m kinda hoping that once more, Laura and Nellie get to be secret best friends. Maybe she’ll accept my invitation to mudwrestle in Plum Creek.