Pros: Very entertaining and revealing book. I enjoyed reading it.
Cons: Not for prudes or anyone who put the characters on a pedestal.
I've mentioned many times in my Epinions reviews that I am a confirmed child of the 1970s and 80s who watched way too much television. Consequently, I love reading memoirs written by celebrities of that era, especially when they're about people who starred on my favorite television shows. Like lots of other people my age, I regularly watched and loved Little House On The Prairie when I was growing up. And, just my luck, within the past year there's been a trifecta of memoirs written by the young actresses who starred on Little House. Last year, Melissa Gilbert came out with Prairie Tale. A few weeks ago, Melissa Anderson published The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, and Alison Arngrim penned Confessions of a Prairie B!tch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated (2010).
It makes sense that Alison Arngrim would write her story. She's been doing stand up comedy routines about being a Prairie B!tch for years. And anyone who ever watched Little House knows that Arngrim's character, Nellie Oleseon, was the one everybody loved to hate. Arngrim got the part when she was 12 years old and kept it until she was 19. She grew up on television, playing a well known character whose on-screen antics still haunt her today. But instead of being bitter about people who still react negatively to Nellie's mean streak, Arngrim has learned to embrace and appreciate what playing Nellie Oleson has done for her. And folks, I have to say, having read all three Little House memoirs, I think Alison Arngrim's is by far the best.
Alison Arngrim... not playing what she knows
Anyone who's ever seen Little House On The Prairie knows that Nellie Oleson was Walnut Grove's resident rich girl. The daughter of mercantile owners Nels and Harriet Oleson (Richard Bull and Katherine MacGregor), Nellie had all the advantages Laura and Mary Ingalls (Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson) didn't. But Arngrim reveals that in reality, she grew up relatively poor, the daughter of Thor Arngrim, a struggling, gay, Canadian actor and his wife, Norma MacMillan, an actress who did a lot of voices for cartoons, including Casper, the Friendly Ghost. She lived with them in an apartment, along with her brother, actor Stefan Arngrim. Melissa Gilbert, by contrast, played poor little Laura Ingalls. But in reality, Gilbert grew up in posh surroundings. Oh... and it turns out that while Nellie Oleson and Laura Ingalls were sworn enemies, Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim were bosom buddies.
Life on the set
Employing a deliciously snarky tone in her writing, Arngrim dishes a bit about her co-workers. Although she reveals some surprising little tidbits about the respected actors on Little House, she's mostly friendly about it... except when it comes to Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls. She makes a number of barbed comments about Anderson that I suspect people will either appreciate or not. Melissa Anderson should probably thank Arngrim, though, for being so b!tchy. I know at least a few folks read (and probably purchased) Anderson's book just to find out if she had a retort.
No holding back...
Alison Arngrim is not one to skimp on swearing. She uses quite a few four letter words, though it seems to me, they were mostly used when quoting other people. Potential readers may also want to know that there's a little bit of sex talk in this book. Arngrim mostly confines it to comments about on-screen kisses she and her co-stars had to endure, but she also reveals that she is a victim of child sexual abuse.
Why Alison embraces Nellie...
I think one of the main reasons I like this book so much is that Alison Arngrim is that she explains her love of Nellie Oleson. I don't want to spoil the book by revealing Arngrim's reasons, but I do want to comment that it makes perfect sense. In fact, perhaps more of us should aspire to adopt a few of Nellie Oleson's more positive traits. A lot of people in Alison Arngrim's position might be bitter about typecasting or people thinking she's really like Nellie. But Arngrim seems to have turned what many people would consider life's lemons into a refreshing lemonade.
One thing that stood out to me...
Alison Arngrim takes a familiar tone with her writing, but I don't know that she really knew her fellow actors as much as she lets on. For one thing, she repeatedly refers to Melissa Anderson as "Melissa Sue". Anderson wrote in her book that everyone called her Missy; only people who didn't know her well would call her Melissa Sue. The only reason she used Melissa Sue as her stage name was because Melissa Anderson had already been claimed by another actress in the Screen Actor's Guild. The other actress has since released the name. On the other hand, Arngrim snipes that Melissa Anderson was pretty much a mystery, anyway.
I truly enjoyed reading Alison Arngrim's book. She reveals a lot about what it's like to be a child star. She shares some insights on how she related to the other actors on the show. She also offers some very personal details about her own life, including some of the activism she's done for people with AIDS. Steve Tracy, the man who played Nellie's husband, Percival, was gay at a time when most Hollywood actors tried to keep that kind of information a secret. He later contracted AIDS and died of the disease in 1986. Alison Arngrim was devastated by Tracy's death, mainly because they had become such good friends.
I would recommend Confessions of a Prairie B!tch to anyone who is curious about what life on Little House was like. I would also recommend it to anyone who just enjoys a good memoir. Be aware, however, that there is some off color language in this book... Of course, the fact that I have to censor the way I write the book's title in this review ought to be a big clue that this book isn't for prudes.
For more information: http://www.hgd.com/alison/
Link to my review of Melissa Gilbert's Prairie Tale: http://www.epinions.com/content_487914901124
Link to my review of Melissa Anderson's The Way I See It: http://www.epinions.com/content_515493105284