‘Little House On the Prairie’: Alison Arngrim’s Accident Led to Nellie’s Iconic Wheelchair Disaster

Anyone who watched Little House on the Prairie probably hated Nellie Oleson. Nellie was the attention-seeking 12-year-old girl who thought she owned the town of Walnut Grove. The actor who played Nellie, Alison Arngrim, didn’t mind that viewers hated her character. Her portrayal of the villainous little girl even set a precedent for the 1970s showbiz bad girl. Nellie was known to get into several forms of mischief to get back at her self-proclaimed nemesis Laura Ingalls and get everyone’s attention. One of those mischiefs, however, ended up with an injury.

Interestingly enough, Nellie’s injury on the show was a real injury. Arngrim had gotten into a skateboarding exercise and had hurt her arm. The writers then had to write the wound into the script.

(L-R) Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson smiling, in black and white
(L-R) Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson | NBC/Getty Images

The premise of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Little House on the Prairie centered on the Ingalls family members who resided in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The show’s primary focus is usually placed on the family’s second daughter Laura and her escapades. The show also features the small village members and depicts how the agricultural communities lived in the late 19th century.

The show’s main characters include the Ingalls family: Charles and his wife Caroline, and their ever-expanding family of eight children. Charles is a mill worker and a farmer. Other pivotal characters include the Olesons. The family’s patriarch Nels owns the general store in town and runs several other ventures as well. The ventures include the Mercantile, a restaurant, and a hotel. His wife Harriet is depicted as malicious and gossiping and is the show’s main antagonist. They have three children, Nellie, Willie, and Nancy, whom they adopted.

Arngrim portrayed the spoiled Nellie

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Arngrim was born on January 18, 1962, to Hollywood manager Thor Arngrim and actor Norma Macmillan. Her mother is famous for being Casper’s voice in the children’s show Casper the Friendly Ghost and Gumby on the titular show. Her brother is also a popular actor known for playing Barry Lockridge in Land of the Giants.

Arngrim started her acting career appearing in TV commercials. In 1974 when she was 12, she landed her breakout role of Nellie Oleson on the series Little House on the Prairie. Nellie enjoyed all the attention until Laura Ingalls and her family came to town, and everyone, including Nellie’s teachers, shifted their attention toward Laura.

Arngrim had at first auditioned for the main character Laura and later auditioned for Laura’s sister Mary. The showrunners eventually cast her for Nellie’s role as they felt she was better suited for it. For seven years, the actor played Nellie, with her performance serving as the camp archetype for the ’70s rich spoiled bad girl.

After Little House on the Prairie ended, Arngrim landed more roles in Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. She also appeared frequently as a panelist on Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour.

A real-life skateboarding accident gave Nellie an injury

In an interview with Megyn Kelly Today, Arngrim explained how Nellie got to have an injury. The actor explained that she had been skateboarding a week before the iconic episode of her rolling down a mountain on a wheelchair was aired.

After falling off the skateboard and breaking her arm, the showrunners devised a way to incorporate the injury into the show. After Nellie fell from the wheelchair, she faked an injury to get attention from those around her.

The best-selling author said that they tied her hand in a cast to hide the injury. In reality, the actor had a painful broken arm. She recalled how she was in immense pain but had to play it off on the show.