Sunday, 13 March 2011

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

Author: Alison Arngrim
Pages: 297
Format: Paper Book
Genre: Autobiography
First Published: June 2010
First Line: "The Los Angeles County Fair is probably not the first place you'd go if you were seeking to be forgiven for your sins, but I have a tendency to find strange things in strange places."

Synopsis: Alison Arngrim became a household name when she played the evil, conniving and infamous Nellie Oleson on the long running hit "Little House on the Prairie". With humour and with true candidness, Arngrim tells her life story -- from her lonely childhood, surviving incest, to suddenly becoming famous and being insulted and assaulted for portraying Nellie to her philanthropic work in AIDS charities.

My Thoughts: I wasn't sure what to expect from this autobiography. I had read Melissa Gilbert's memoire last year and liked it but it pales in comparison to this down-to-earth and brutally honest read. This book vividly and humorously describes Arngrim's difficult childhood, her career on the Little House set as well as her accomplished life after her Nellie years.

I loved that Arngrim doesn't hold back or sugar coat her descriptions of her fellow cast mates or even her own family. She hasn't written this book to placate anyone or to name drop (which is the feeling I got while reading Gilbert's memoire). This is a raw, emotional, funny (I think her humour comes from her Canadian parents!), and honest look into Arngrim's life and those who influenced her - both positively and negatively.

One of my favourite parts of this book was Arngrim's behind the scenes look at what life was like on the Little House set. Growing up, Little House was one of my favourite shows so learning some behind the scenes secrets was awesome! From learning why baby Carrie tumbles down the hill in the show's opening sequence, what Michael Landon wore under his pants (yowzers!), to how horrible the Nellie wig was to her poor head, Arngrim brings the reader behind the scenes in Walnut Grove.

I was surprised to learn how close Melissa Gilbert (Laura) and Arngrim were in real life. They'd go from being arch enemies on screen to BFF's in real life. I have to admit that I was a little surprised and let down to learn that my favourite character, Mary Ingalls (played by Melissa Sue Anderson), was actually very sullen, stuck up and downright rude to her fellow castmates (which continues, at least with Arngrim, to this day).

Arngrim paints a very clear picture of how the cast and crew bonded like a real family. She shows how her support within the cast gave her the family ties that she sorely lacked at home. The relationship that I found most touching was the very close bond Arngrim had with Steve Tracy who played her husband Percival on the show. I have to admit that I was a little surprised to hear that the cast are still in touch and even get together regularly to catch up with each other!

Nellie was the original 'mean girl' and Arngrim played her to perfection! Little House just wouldn't have been the same without Arngrim's comedic timing and her ability to bring heart to a truly horrible character. I now have a better appreciation for the much hated Nellie Oleson! Arngrim was instrumental in the development of this infamous TV icon who is known throughout the world (just ask the people in France where Nellie is adored!).

Even with her horrible childhood and the stress of being famous, Arngrim didn't become a child star tragedy like so many young actors. She credits Michael Landon as being a firm and constant force in her childhood. By treating her with respect and expecting a lot from all of the child actors on set (which wasn't the norm at the time) Little House is one of the very few TV shows that can boast that none of their child stars were in the news for drug abuse, issues with the law etc.

I have great respect for how, to this day, Arngrim uses her Nellie notoriety in a very positive way. She is a huge advocate for AIDS causes (she started with AIDS activism when it was in its infancy) and she was instrumental in helping to pass a law in California which greatly increased the jail time for incestors (which was truly pitiful before the law was changed).

Reading this book has left me with a desire to introduce Little House to my own children. I honestly think that, even in a world filled with computers and major movie special effects, that Little House still fills an important family-oriented niche all its own. After getting this sneak peak behind the scenes I know that I will never watch another episode of Little House on the Prairie the same way again. Whether you were a Nellie fan or not, I'm sure you'll become an Alison Arngrim fan after reading this book.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


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