Michael Landon recruited several child actors when he launched Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls) and Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) played polar opposites on the series, with Mary representing a wholesome set of values while Nellie was considered to be Walnut Grove’s town bully. Anderson revealed some initial differences between Arngrim and the feisty character she portrayed.
Alison Arngrim became BFFs with Melissa Gilbert on ‘Little House’
Anderson and Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) played sisters on the family series, though they never formed a close bond off camera. The Little House alum recalled growing up on the set and noted how Arngrim and Gilbert quickly became besties.
“The Paramount lot was an incredible playground for us kids,” Anderson told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. “Melissa [Gilbert] and Alison were always running around together. I was more friendly with the crew. The set felt like home.”
Arngrim gave her own account of her time on the NBC historical drama, and pointed out how Anderson distanced herself from her two co-stars.
“[Anderson] looked at Melissa Gilbert and me like we were total juvenile delinquents,” Arngrim remarked. “I think she thought we would get her in trouble if she hung out with us, which is perfect for her character because Mary was such a little narc.”
Melissa Sue Anderson viewed Alison Arngrim as ‘shy’
In her memoir, Anderson shared many behind-the-scenes stories of Little House, including her interactions with her co-stars. Though Arngrim felt Anderson viewed her as somewhat rambunctious, the former Little House star gave a different description of her young cast member.
“Nellie Oleson was played by Alison Arngrim,” Anderson wrote in her book, The Way I See It. “Eventually, she had lots of fun being ‘Nasty Nellie’, but when we first started working together, she was quite shy, to the point of not looking people in the eye.”
Anderson went on to share how Arngrim needed to be prompted to make eye contact in scenes rather than always looking down.
“I can still remember [producer] Bill Claxton pleading with her, ‘Please, Alison look at them while you’re talking’,” Anderson recalled. “‘Don’t look at the ground. Look up, Alison, look up’.”
‘Little House’ star had to wear a wig
Arngrim ended up having to get fitted for a wig when Little House became a fixture on the NBC schedule, though Anderson preferred the actor’s natural hair.
“She was adorable,” Anderson shared. “Especially when she was wearing her own curls. When our hairdressing department found out we were a hit, they got the okay to have a wig custom-made for Alison.”
Though hiding Arngrim’s thin hair within the wig was a challenge, the Little House star wore the head accoutrement for the majority of her time on the series.
“Trying to keep Alison’s fine blonde hair in those Nellie ringlets was exhausting, I guess,” Anderson wrote. “I personally thought that she was much prettier with her own hair, but, of course, I never told her that.”