As much as I love theatre, I love television equally as much! There's nothing better than finding out the behind-the-scenes stories of your favorite TV shows. Little House On The Prairie was one of the biggest TV shows of the 70s/80s and has lived on syndication even today. Alison Arngrim, may have played the Prairie bitch, Nellie Oleson, but through this interview, I learned Alison is a survivor, an advocate, a prankster, a comedian, and most of all, a great entertainer!
This Mother's Day weekend, Alison is making her annual return to The Laurie Beechman Theatre with her one-woman show Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: Nellie Oleson Live! where she presents an uproarious evening of storytelling, stand-up, and multi media about life as everyone's favorite toxic pre-teen brat, complete with petticoats and ringlets. Never afraid to dish the dirt on TV land, she lets all the secrets loose of Little House on the Prairie, Hollywood and much more. Recalling her life and career as bitchy "Nellie Oleson," Alison startles audiences internationally with off-color jokes about child stars and TV icons of the 1970’s and 80s including Marie Osmond, Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon, Grizzly Adams, RuPaul, Phyllis Diller, Bette Midler and more.
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Saturday, May 7 at 7pm and Sunday, May 8 at 1pm located at 407 West 42nd Street (between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the West Bank Cafe). Click here for tickets!
1. This Mother's Day weekend, you are making your annual return to The Laurie Beechman Theatre in Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: Nellie Oleson Live! What do you enjoy most about your yearly performance at The Beechman Theatre? The amazing cross section of people that come to my show! We get everything from New York theatre folk to hard core Prairie fans showing up in bonnets! Women my age who grew up with the show and 30 something gay men who got hooked on re-runs! Old, young, male, female, straight and gay, EVERYBODY digs the Prairie!
2. You have been performing this show for almost 15 years now! What initially made you want to create this show? How have you and the show evolved over the years? It started as an answer to people’s questions. Everywhere I went, people kept asking me the same questions – about the show, about being an insane ex-child star, about Hollywood, about Michael Landon, about being a "bitch," everything. I thought, "what if I answered their questions? ALL of them?"
Apparently I hit a nerve. People really reacted to it. The Q&A portion has become everyone’s favorite part of the show, - mine included.
I add things all the time. Obviously there are fan favorites, talking about Liberace, Eartha Kitt, Michael Landon’s tight pants, etc., but there’s always some new crazy thing to add. And of course for the first few years, it was just straight stand up – no video. Now people really look forward to the pics and video.
3. What were some of the fonder memories you came across in creating this show and what was the hardest part of the show to write? The realization of how truly out there my childhood was. Hanging out with people like Liberace and Christine Jorgenson – knowing them as if they were the just people who ran the general store up the road. It’s not most people’s experience!
I can’t say any of it was truly "hard" to write – because so much of it writes itself. Every single insane story I tell is absolutely TRUE. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried!
4. What surprises fans the most after seeing your show? What has been most heartfelt comment you've received? What has been the most constructive criticism a fan has given you about the show? I think the biggest surprise is the people who come to the show, who WEREN’T big Little House fans. I love when a hard core "bonnethead" positively DRAGS their significant other to the club, you can tell, they’re practically cringing thinking they won’t like it, and then three minutes in, their peeing their pants laughing! There’s something for everyone!
Oh so, so many people have told me that Little House – and yes even bitchy "Nellie Oleson" have saved their lives. They were painfully shy, or depressed or grew up in a terrible home where no one understood them – and somehow, something in Little House on the Prairie touched a nerve and gave them the strength to go on.
The best advice I ever got was years ago, a comedian friend of mine said, "You know, your act is funny, but it's not half as hysterical as the stories you tell in the bar afterwards!" He was absolutely right and that's why I tell all of those stories on stage now.
5. Of the celebrities you talk about in Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, has anyone you talk about come see the show? If so, what did they think? Several cast members have seen it now - and they absolutely loved it! Rachel Greenbush, one half of the set of twins who played the rather unfortunate "Baby Carrie," who I mock mercilessly during the show, has been several times!
6. When you think of Little House on the Prairie now, what thoughts come into your mind? If you could go back in time, would you change anything about your journey? I admit it is a never ending font of great memories. I don’t think I’d change a thing – well, I might have eaten a better breakfast and drunk more water on those hot days, so I wouldn’t have passed out – but then I'd have missed out on some of my best stories!
The only thing I can honestly say I’d do differently, is any time where I slacked off or came anywhere near "phoning it in," I’d have instead, doubled down and given it full throttle! I’d have been even bitchier and more outrageous! When we’re in the moment, especially when we’re young, we have no idea how much we’ll look back on these opportunities to just go nuts.
7. What was the most devilish thing you feel your character did on Little House on The Prairie and what was the most devilish thing you did off-set to someone in the cast? Definitely the episode where I tormented the poor the stuttering girl! I actually had a slight speech impediment when I was little and I had to go to speech class with the kids who stuttered. The idea of harassing and terrorizing someone who stutters gives me the absolute horrors! I was nearly sick to my stomach shooting that scene! Well, I tried to be good….Melissa Gilbert tended to be the real instigator when we went looking for trouble. She was a fan of saran wrapping toilet seats, prank calls, the whole bit. We did nearly give poor sweet old Gladys, the hairdresser, a heart attack one day when we found a nest of baby snakes on location. They were non-poisonous garter snakes, so we thought it would be cool to play "Medusa" – and stick a bunch of them IN OUR HAIR. And a bunch of them between our fingers. And then we figured we’d just mosey on over to the makeup trailers and see what happened. Poor Gladys was carrying a hot cup of coffee when she came around the corner. I remember her ear piercing screams and that coffee sailing through the air in a giant arc like in slow motion. Surprisingly, she did not kill us.
8. Since this show is called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, what is something you don't confess in the show that you would like to now? I actually like Miley Cyrus.
9. In 2004, you revealed to the world, you were sexually molested as a child. Looking back, why did you decide that was the right time to let the world know? What did you feel the day after you told everyone? What do you think needs to be done today to help others feel comfortable to tell someone if they've been abused? Although I had told friends and family members, I had never gone "public" until then. I absolutely did it, 100% because I was trying to get a law changed in California. I was working with the National Association to Protect Children, (PROTECT.ORG), on changing California’s dreaded "incest exception" – yes, I just said "incest exception." You see, they had this loophole, where if you raped a kid, you could get out of serving any jail time at all, as long as you were RELATED to the victim. Really. Sexually assault the neighbor’s kid – 18 to 25 years. Do the exact same thing to your own – zero. And even deferred entry of judgement, so you guessed it, not even a blot on your record! Yeah, this was an insanely bad idea and was actually the law in several states, (including New York!). So, the gang at PROTECT set about changing it. Well, we got to the point where it was time to talk to the press and the reality was, no matter how many great, informed, brilliant people we had willing to do interviews, someone who’d actually been through it herself – AND was someone people had allowed into their living rooms via the TV for decades - well, THAT’s who was going to get heard. So I chucked my privacy out the window and said, "bring it." It was remarkably effective. People found out what as actually going on in Sacramento, we changed the law – and did it again here in New York!
It wasn’t a situation where I’d never told ANYBODY. I just hadn’t told people on TV. But it did feel different. Rather freeing actually. I no longer felt I had anything to hide.
More and more people are speaking out about being abused now. About time! It’s really bizarre how we stigmatize victims – often much more than we stigmatize perpetrators. It’s better now than it used to be – look at all the people victimized by priests who aren’t afraid to speak out now. But it really seems utterly dependent on how "famous" the perp is vs the victim. If the guy who did it, is someone we like, well, then – the alleged victim is suddenly a terrible lying slut. But Oprah Winfrey? Teri Hatcher? Well, they’re brave heroines because well, we know THEM. We don’t know those loser uncles and cousins who abused them.
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent every day? Wow – so MANY things – I try to be just a teeny bit more organized each day. Keep the house just a little bit cleaner. At one percent a day, I should be able to actually get into my garage in about a year!
Born in Queens, New York, Alison Arngrim, has been performing stand-up since age 15 at such notable comedy clubs as Laugh Factory, The Improvisation, and Comedy Store. In addition to seven years on Little House on the Prairie, Alison has guest starred on Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, among others. After her good friend and Little House co-star Steve Tracy died of AIDS in 1986, Alison became a prominent AIDS activist with AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). In 1988 Alison spoke before the Presidential Commission on AIDS and was the first woman to receive the "Friend in Deed" award at APLA. In 1992 Alison was presented with a resolution by the Los Angeles City Council commending her on her work on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2004, Alison revealed to the world that she was sexually molested as a child and joined the advisory board of PROTECT, a group that fights to give children a voice in the war against child abuse. In 2006 she received the prestigious "Justice Award" from Justice for Children, a national child protection organization and an award from The National Association to Protect Children. Another milestone in her career happened in 2007 when, after much lobbying, she was proudly placed on Mr. Blackwell’s "Worst Dressed List" alongside Victoria Beckham, Lindsay Lohan and Mary-Kate Olsen.