Alison Arngrim rose to fame as Walnut Grove mean girl Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Cast by Michael Landon when he created the show in 1974, Arngrim also co-starred with the Bonanza alum and shared how his rapport with fans set an example for her throughout her career.
Michael Landon prioritized ‘Little House’ viewers
Landon acquired a massive fan following playing idealistic husband and father Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. Arngrim described how Landon interacted with the public and always put viewers at the top of his priorities.
“He taught me about fans,” Arngrim told Larry King of CNN in 2004. “We’d be on the sets, and he’d be in the middle of screaming at someone, and a family would come on the set and he would drop what he was doing, turn around and say, here, sign autographs, hold the baby, kiss the wife, pose for pictures and then say ‘OK, thank you’ and then turn back and go ‘and another thing’ and go back to what he was doing.”
Arngrim considered Landon’s interactions with fans a facet of his strong professionalism and a factor in what made Little House such a success.
“He also had this incredible work ethic,” she remarked. “He was all about the people who watched the show.”
‘Little House’ creator wasn’t a typical Hollywood star
Landon’s focus on fans over network execs made him somewhat of a mystery in Hollywood. Arngrim recalled how the Little House star refused to play the political games involved in show business.
“I think it’s something that the networks didn’t get it, Hollywood didn’t get it,” the Little House alum explained. “People think of Mike Landon as establishment. He was so anti-Hollywood establishment you would not believe it.”
Arngrim commented on Landon’s handling of finances for Little House, where he often angled to get the most bang for his buck.
“He also ran the tightest ship in town,” she said. “The show would come in under budget and he had a piece of a show and would try to get a raise on that show.”
Alison Arngrim found power in playing Nellie Oleson
Arngrim was just 12 years old when she began her role on Little House and revealed she was extremely introverted as a child. Portraying a bully on the show helped her become more assertive.
“I was always a very terrified little shy person,” she told CNN. “Here I was, playing the big bully, which did wonders for me, because I was beat up at school. All of a sudden I had this reputation as being Nellie.”
Arngrim added, “Actually it still works for me. If I go into a room full of people I don’t know and I’m not sure and I’m a little nervous, then I remember they’re all terrified of me — ‘She’s Nellie and we’d better not upset her’. “