When asked if I would like to review a show called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch at Camp Bar in St. Paul, I immediately knew I would be seeing the actress who played Nellie Oleson on the TV show Little House on the Prairie.
The story of how that role forever defined her is the one that Alison Arngrim shared with the sell-out crowd on July 18. She began her monologue by telling the crowd that she was one of the less popular kids at her school. She had auditioned for a part on Little House on the Prairie and was cast as Nellie Oleson, the daughter of the owner of the mercantile store in Walnut Grove, Minnesote: the rich little spoiled city girl who was a constant thorn in the side of sweet little Laura Ingalls Wilder. The day after the first show had aired, she went to school anticipating a warm welcome and a rise in her status. Instead, she was immediately greeted by a classmate as “You bitch!” She was 11 years old at the time, and she said that not a day has gone by since that she has not been insulted for being such a nasty character on that show.
Little House on the Prairie is known worldwide and has played in 140 countries. It is still in continual reruns here in the United States, and you can buy the shows on DVD. As Arngrim said, if you are going to be a child actor on a TV show, it was a pretty great show to be on.
The 90-minute performance was a mix of stories from Arngrim’s time on the show and memories of growing up in Hollywood. Her father managed Liberace’s career as well as his daughter Alison’s; her mother was the voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Gumby, and Underdog’s girlfriend Sweet Polly Purebred, among others. Before the show, audience members were asked to write down questions for Arngrim. She spent time answering random questions as well as the standard ones about her friendships from the show, her favorite episode, was that her real hair (no, it was a wig), and where was the show filmed (no, not Minnesota). She said there are 10 standard questions that she always gets and the audience definitely wanted answered. I felt it was the random questions, though that gave her an opportunity to improvise and fit the show to the audience.
The audience was made up mostly of fans of the show, almost all old enough to have watched the show when it first aired in the 1970s. I went with a friend who was not familiar with the show and would not have normally chosen to attend, and who definitely felt like she was missing out on the inside jokes. Arngrim shared that she had come from Mankato where she appeared at LauraPalooza on July 13, and that she was heading to Walnut Grove for the Wilder Pageant on July 20-22.
Arngrim ends her show by coming out dressed as Nellie, which really brings all of her stories to life. There was the seemingly required amount of swearing and off-color joking that seem to be part of most stand-up comedy routines—but what else would you expect from a grown-up prairie bitch?
Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Funders Cooperative.