I’ve had this book on my “to read” list for a while. In addition to knowing the author from her role on one of the television shows of my youth, Little House on the Prairie, I am in a group on Facebook dedicated to the real Laura Ingalls Wilder. Alison Arngrim often participates in the group, having learned a lot through the years about the Ingalls and Wilder families. She is both kind and witty there, so I made up my mind to finally read her autobiography.
The title Confessions of a Prairie Bitch comes from the reputation of the character she portrayed, Nellie Oleson. Nellie was the bad girl on the show – the rival to the basically good Laura Ingalls Wilder. Arngrim details how she was shocked at first how people reacted when they saw her, unable to separate the actress from the role she played. She quickly got used to it, and, in fact, embraced it.
The book isn’t just about her time on the show. Arngrim’s world growing up was a strange one. Her parents were both actors, although her mother became more known for her voice acting in roles such as Sweet Polly Purebread and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Her father eventually went into talent management, sort of. (You’ll understand that statement more if you read the book.) They moved around a lot and as soon as they were old enough, both Alison and her brother Stefan went into the family business of acting.
For Alison it was more than just a job, it was a way to get out of the house and away from her brother, who was abusing her. She found a cross-section of different lives among her castmates on Little House on the Prairie. Despite their on-screen rivalry, she and co-star Melissa Gilbert became life-long friends. Arngrim talks about all of her co-stars in a candid fashion, detailing their strengths and faults, always with affection. That is, except in the case of Melissa Sue Anderson, who portrayed Mary. She seems to have been the odd duck out of the cast who never became friendly with anyone on the set.
It is also through her role on Little House on the Prairie that she became close with Steve Tracy, who portrayed her husband on the show. Their friendship and the path his life took helped Arngrim find a path to activism and to using her fame in a way to bring attention to issues such as AIDS and child molestation.
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch was a very fun read. Arngrim’s slightly sarcastic style of writing is a lot of fun. I wish I had seen her comedy routine live. I’ve seen clips of it on YouTube and she is hysterical. The book is written in a lot of the same style, with serious moments in between. There’s a saying: I laughed, I cried, I laughed again. That pretty much sums up this book. I came away from this thinking I wish I’d known her in real life.
I highly advise anyone who lived through 70’s and 80’s television to go pick up this book. You won’t be sorry.