‘Little House on the Prairie’: ‘Gross’ Act Kept Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim Warm on Set
More than forty years after its first episode aired, Little House on the Prairie remains a beloved TV series. Based on the novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the show brought the Ingalls family and their Minnesota homestead to life on the small screen with stars Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle, Melissa Sue Anderson, and Alison Arngrim.
Though Arngrim’s “Evil Nellie” character was usually at odds with Gilbert’s “Laura,” the girls formed a friendship off camera that sometimes made them partners in mischief and necessity.
Often subjected to trying conditions in the outdoors, they’d have to get creative while filming. Arngrim revealed one incident that she referred to as “gross.”
Alison Arngrim did multiple stunts as Nellie Oleson
As the main antagonist in Little House on the Prairie, Arngrim’s Nellie Oleson would often find herself squaring up against Laura. She was a bratty bully who was used to getting her way, even after learning some lessons the hard way.
There were occasions where she’d receive a comeuppance, such as falling face down in a pond, getting cold cocked by Laura, or the famous wheelchair push down the hill.
In her memoir, Confessions of a Prairie B*tch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hate, Arngrim wrote about learning to film her own stunts. She described the wheelchair episode as an action film where she performed the part of the stunt in a chair screaming, rolling, and then plunging.
She also grew accustomed to falling, water, and algae, but there was one episode that proved challenging.
How Melissa Gilbert and Arngrim kept warm under freezing conditions
Season 2 of the series featured an episode called “The Camp Out” where the Ingalls and Olesons go on a camping trip. In real life, footage was shot at the Stanislaus River in California, which Arngrim wrote is notoriously freezing cold and full of currents.
She and Gilbert had to film the part where Nellie fell into the water with Laura getting swept up while trying to save her. In her book, Arngrim said they wore wet suits under their costumes to help keep the cold at bay.
With teams and props in place to keep them safe, the girls shot their scenes. But they had to wait for extended periods of time in between takes, and Gilbert had to pee.
Both Arngrim and Gilbert asked for bathroom break and their assistant director deterred it. He explained it would take a long time to pull them out of the water, drive them, get them out of and into their costumes and then back to set. They agreed to wait an hour and a half for their lunch break.
Arngrim wrote she couldn’t feel her feet and her lips started turning blue from standing in the water. She glanced at Gilbert.
“She was smiling. A little too much. Not a nice, natural smile, but an evil, satisfied, smirking smile of, shall we say, discovery,” wrote Arngrim of her friend. “And her eyes were just a little too wide.” Gilbert urinated in her wet suit in the river water and advised Arngrim to do the same — just a little at a time.
“Oh, yuck, that is sooo gross, Melissa!” she said. But she did it too after Gilbert advised her it warmed up the entire wet suit.
Arngrim shared that she mustered her 14-year-old might to pee, and she felt better. “I no longer felt like my kidneys were going to burst, and the wet suit heated up like, well, like someone had just taken a big hot piss in it, frankly, but there you are,” she mused.
What did the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ crew think?
Arngrim jokingly recalled how they spent an hour in their wet suits peeing away in the river as they wondered how the wardrobe staff would react. She and Gilbert never found out, but she wrote they “were never denied bathroom privileges again.”