‘Little House on the Prairie’: Alison Arngrim Said Michael Landon Showed His ‘Longing for a Happier Childhood’ Through the Show
Michael Landon created the NBC blockbuster Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Promoting strong values and Christian morals on the historical drama, Landon also starred as patriarch Charles Ingalls. With the Ingalls family being the center of the series, the Bonanza alum highlighted the importance of loving parents, which co-star Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) felt was for personal reasons.
Alison Arngrim considered Nellie jealous of Laura on ‘Little House’
Arngrim originally auditioned for the role of Laura Ingalls’, Charles’ daughter, which eventually went to Melissa Gilbert. Landing the part of Walnut Grove’s mean girl Nellie, Arngrim’s character was the show’s spoiled little rich girl which was in strong contrast to Laura’s kind and hardworking spirit. Arngrim chalked up the rivalry between Nellie and Laura to jealousy — but not over money.
“I have put forth for years that most of Nellie’s rage at Laura was because she was jealous,” Arngrim told FromTheDesk.org. “Jealous that Laura, although poor, had a loving happy family that Nellie could only aspire to.”
The Little House alum pointed out how Laura’s life was much more desirable thanks to her wealth of friends and family rather than material things.
“Jealous that even though Nellie could offer candy, expensive toys to play with, etc., jealous the other children preferred to play with Laura because they actually LIKED her,” Arngrim continued, then joked, “How dare she be happy! Doesn’t she know she’s poor?? LOL!
Michael Landon had a difficult upbringing
Landon sometimes shared details about his dysfunctional childhood, which included an abusive mother and combative parents.
“Michael Landon’s mother was not very nice to him,” the former Little House star remarked, according to The College Crowd Digs Me blog. “His mom was very tall and blonde and rather imposing and was just kind of mean. And his dad was short and Jewish and was always being henpecked and harassed by his crazy mother.”
Set in the 1870s, Landon often depicted the trials the Ingalls family had to endure due to the time period and financial struggles. Yet he always spotlighted how the love between the family members carried them through all of their difficult times and brought them immense joy. Arngrim saw this as a tangible sign of Landon’s own void from his childhood.
“Interestingly, a lot of what went into the show was Michael Landon’s longing for a happier childhood than the one he lived though,” she explained. “His parents fought, his mother was downright horrible to him, in adulthood he kept getting divorced – he was fantasizing about having a perfect family life just like our viewers.”
Nellie and Percival’s Relationship was based on Michael Landon’s parents
In Season 6, Nellie meets and falls in love with Percival Dalton (Steve Tracy). Nellie’s mean-spirited nature becomes tamed when Percival puts her in her place and refuses to accept her antics. They tie the knot at the end of the season. Arngrim considered the Nellie-Percival relationship as another vehicle Landon created to heal from his past.
“He talked about it later on The Tonight Show how he based it kind of on his parents,” Arngrim said of Landon’s writing the Nellie-Percival storyline. “He’d always wanted his father to finally stand up to her and he never did. So he wrote this character named Percival. A short Jewish man who tells Nellie to just stop it. It was sort of his own personal therapy… creating this whole character.”
She added, “It was brilliant. It was totally Michael-like… how he worked out his personal issues.”