Little House on the Prairie’s Alison Arngrim Talks About Life as Nellie Oleson



When looking back at the massive success of “Little House on the Prairie,” it’s easy to toss most of the credit upon the shoulders of screen great Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls) and the then talented-beyond-her-years, Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls).

However, as much as it’s easy to celebrate a series’ golden protagonists, it’s also important to recognize an impactful antagonist that brings a little extra bite and vigour to the plot. On “Little House on the Prairie,” young actress Alison Arngrim mastered the art of playing super-villain and schoolyard bully, Nellie Oleson.

During a recent interview with our colleagues at, Arngrim – who continues to act – discussed what it was like to play Oleson and become a memorable part of the “Little House on the Prairie” cast.

Alison Arngrim

“I was very shy as a kid – I was more the type who got beaten up by a Nellie Oleson in the schoolyard. This character was the opposite of me – I was never that brazen, and the things Nellie did and said to people I would never dare do or say,” explained Arngrim. “But I got to be somebody else completely and it was outrageous. Remember the crazy episode where I went down the hill in the wheelchair? Well, the episode is called ‘Bunny’ and it’s actually about the horse, but it’s known as the ‘Wheelchair Episode’ to anyone who has seen it. To have one scene from one episode of a TV series become so iconic that everyone knows it? Well, wow! What nerve did I hit? Amazing!”

While it’s nice to have notoriety, living life as the person who played Nellie Oleson isn’t always easy for Arngrim. Although her upbringing allowed the actress to separate TV life from her personal life, not everyone was able to do that. Needless to say, that’s led to some ‘interesting’ encounters for Arngrim.

“Well, I grew up in a showbiz family and I was almost 12 at the time [I was cast], so I knew how to separate fantasy from reality,” offered Arngrim. “Everyone I knew were actors. My parents would have guests over for dinner and I’d have just seen one of them shot to death on a television show the night before – so I understood that people who died on TV weren’t really dead because they were sitting at our dinner table. Also, my mother [Canadian actress Norma MacMillan] was the voice of Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost, but I knew she wasn’t really a green ball of talking clay.”

Alison Arngrim

Continued Arngrim: “It bemused me that not everyone who watched the show had that same ability to separate the two. {Laughs} I mean, the things people have said to me – you wouldn’t believe it! One time I was in a Christmas parade and someone [in the crowd] threw a cup of orange soda at my head. People have freaked out when I’m around.”

“Little House on the Prairie” can be seen weekdays at 4pm ET/1pm PT on VisionTV! Also, be sure to stick around for “The Waltons” at 5pm ET/2pm PT.

-Adam Grant

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