Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A childhood dream come true--I met Nellie Oleson!

Yesterday was shaping up to be a typical Tuesday. I was at the office, filling out forms for upcoming cover meetings, reading writing samples, etc. Then came the news I had been waiting for ever since my favorite TV show went off the air, waaaaay back in 1983. I got a company wide email, promoting the book tour for Alison Arngrim (AKA Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie). She was going to be at the Time Warner Center Borders signing copies of her new memoir, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch.  My reaction went something like this: there was a long silent scream, followed by me jumping out of my chair and performing multiple fist pumps (with both arms!) into the air. Then I took several deep breaths and quietly sat back down, reminding myself that I was at work and if anyone saw me freaking out, people might think I was a lunatic.

The truth is, I am crazy--crazy for that wholesome heartland drama, Charles Ingalls's smoothly waxed chest, Nellie's bad wig, and Laura Ingalls's big buck teeth. But I am surely not alone. LHOTP-fanaticism is out there, folks--a packed special events area at Borders does not lie!

Now, let me clarify one thing before I tell you how awesome it was to chill with Nellie Oleson for an hour. I read all the Little House books when I was a kid, but the TV show had much more of an impact on me. It was one of the only things on TV I was allowed to watch without parental supervision, and one of the only things that made me feel like part of a close knit family. My mom and dad had a rocky relationship that ended in divorce, and LHOTP gave me the opportunity to leave that reality for a while and become a daughter to Charles and Caroline, and a sister to Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace. Michael Landon did an incredible job of portraying this family unit who could face any hardship and pull through it together.

I'm sure a lot of other girls my age saw themselves in Laura, too. She was spunky and a tomboy and a smart ass (sometimes) and had to work hard for her good grades and every other accomplishment she'd made. One of my close friends admitted to wearing her hair in braids and instructing her family to refer to her as Laura, which I would have done if my mom had let my hair grow past my ears.

As for Nellie, she was the girl that everyone loved to hate, and Alison Arngrim has totally embraced that, which I think is fabulous. In each episode when she appeared, I always waited in sheer delight for the moment when Laura would level her with a punch to the face. Arngrim played Nellie to utter perfection and the show would have been really boring without her (and of course, Mrs. Oleson, embodied by the fantastic Katherine MacGregor--who is still alive and well and driving her own car, much to the dismay of Arngrim).

With that said, I was not surprised that everyone and their brother came out to see Nellie Live! There wasn't an empty seat at Borders, and the crowd was really mixed--men and women of all ages and backgrounds, who brought along their kids and in some cases, their parents. When Arngrim came out to greet us all, she pulled out her iPhone and started filming the group, telling us all that this was her first book reading and she wanted to commemorate the moment. It was so endearing and un-Nellie like! I wanted to hug her more than slug her.

Then Arngrim read from her memoir, which is actually an adaptation of her one-woman show, and took questions from the audience. What was it like to work with Michael Landon? What is your favorite LHOTP episode? Are you and Melissa Gilbert really friends? Arngrim answers all these in the book so I won't go into it here. (If you're a fan, you should go out and get a copy now!) But I will say that she was extremely charming and funny and approachable. I was smiling the entire time, especially when I raised my hand to ask her a question and she said, "Yes, the girl in the pretty dress." (I just happened to be wearing the most prairie-inspired floral dress that I own. Coincidence? I think not!)

In case you are curious, here was my question:

"Did you keep any mementos from the LHOTP set? Because I would kill for that jacket you wore in The Cheaters episode in Season Five."

Okay, yeah, I own the entire TV show on DVD. SO WHAT?!

Anyway, Arngrim did not get to keep anything from the show, but fans make her stuff all the time, like paintings of Nellie and scale models of Oleson's Mercantile. God, I'm so jealous of her.

Then came the signing. I was twitching in line, that's how nervous I was. I had to plan out what I was going to say, and I had to be funny and smart and awesome so Nellie wouldn't think I was a loser and make fun of me. So when I finally met her, I told her that I knew all the church songs from the show by heart. And then we launched into a rousing rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers. I KID YOU NOT!

Afterward, I ran down the escalator like Melissa Gilbert runs down the hill during the closing credits of every episode, complete with the big skip at the end. I wish I had the power to freeze frame my glee, because it truly made the child inside me happy.


  1. What a great story! LHOTP is the only show today that I will let my daughters watch unsupervised.


  2. OMG that must have been wierd!

    I met you at SCBWI Southern Breeze a few years ago.

    Glad you started a blog :)

  3. Oh, remember when Nellie pretended to be paralyzed and Laura pushed her down the hill in her wheelchair? Classic moment!

    What an awesome story, Claudia! How did we ever get through two years of editing TBPOPC without discovering our mutual passion for LHOTP?