‘Little House on the Prairie’: Alison Arngrim Says Nellie Oleson Audition Was the ‘Easiest’ of Her Career

Alison Arngrim made a name for herself after starring in Little House on the Prairie as Nellie Oleson. Here’s why she says auditioning for this role was the “easiest.”

Alison Arngrim didn’t know anything about ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert as Nellie Oleson and Laura Ingalls.
Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert | NBCU Photo Bank

Arngrim wasn’t familiar with the Little House on the Prairie books before auditioning for the show. She admits she didn’t know who Laura Ingalls was. She says producer Ed Friendly held up a few books and asked her if she knew about the stories. She said she didn’t, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Arngrim first auditioned for the role of Laura (the role eventually went to Melissa Gilbert). She was then called back to audition for the role of Mary (played by Melissa Sue Anderson). Those two roles didn’t work out, so Arngrim was called again to audition for the role of Nellie Oleson.

In her book Confessions of a Prairie B****, Arngrim says she noticed the Nellie Oleson character was very different from the other characters. She describes the other characters as “ordinary” and obedient. Nellie, however, was her own person. She did what she wanted, when she wanted, and she didn’t care what anyone thought. Arngrim joked with her father that the character was “a total b****.”

Alison Arngrim says auditioning for Nellie Oleson was easy

Arngrim had no trouble auditioning for the role of Nellie Oleson. The producers liked her for the part right away. She says when she read for the part, the producers, which included Michael Landon, began laughing uncontrollably. According to her, they thought she was so funny that they “became hysterical” with laughter. Arngrim says they loved her performance so much that she was hired on the spot.

By the time Arngrim got home, her agent had already negotiated her salary and scheduled a wardrobe fitting the following week. She says this was the easiest role she ever auditioned for. “I can honestly say this was the easiest role I ever landed before or since,” says Arngrim in her book.

Although Arngrim was happy to land the role of Nellie, she asked her father if it says something about her that she got that role on the spot, but she was turned down for the roles of Laura and Mary. He told her to embrace the role and “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

Arngrim says her father didn’t think Little House on the Prairie would last past one season. According to her, he didn’t think anyone would watch a show about life on a prairie and it would be a “miracle” if the show lasted.

The success of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Fortunately, Arngrim’s father was wrong and Little House on the Prairie became an instant hit. It went on to air for a total of nine seasons. Arngrim says no one thought the show would be as popular as it was. There was no way any of them could have anticipated the “worldwide cultdom” that grew from the series, she says.  

Arngrim says one reason so many people love Little House is because it’s so wholesome. She describes it as a “TV show that actually advocated morals, faith, and community.”

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