‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Old Was Nellie Oleson Actor Alison Arngrim When the Show Aired?

Alison Arngrim is best known for playing Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Arngrim’s character was the villain who terrorized Mary and Laura Ingalls (played by Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert). Here’s how old Arngrim was when she played Nellie on Little House.

Alison Arngrim is grateful for Nellie Oleson

Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls and Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie.
Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim | NBCU Photo Bank

Although some fans have difficulty separating Arngrim from her Little House on the Prairie character, she says she is grateful to have played her. In her book, Confessions of a Prairie B****, Arngrim says starring in the series gave her the life she always dreamed of.

Arngrim says being part of the series helped her “put food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head.” Nellie Oleson might have been one of the most hated TV characters in America, but Arngrim says she wouldn’t be where she is today without her.

How old was Alison Arngrim when she played Nellie Oleson?

Arngrim played Nellie Oleson from 1974 to 1982. She was 12 years old when Little House on the Prairie first aired on March 30, 1974. Arngrim says she was small for her age. According to her, when she was younger, she was about 20 pounds under the expected weight for someone her age.

Arngrim’s co-star, Melissa Gilbert, was 9 years old at the start of the series. Arngrim joked that Gilbert was so small she could have probably fit in her purse. She also joked that the Laura Ingalls actor could probably “chew her way out” of the purse because she had such big teeth at the time.

Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert became close friends

Although Arngrim and Gilbert played enemies on the small screen, they were close friends behind the scenes. Arngrim says Gilbert is like her “baby sister.” The co-stars became so close that they even talked to each other about tampons. Gilbert says Arngrim was the person who told her all about the feminine hygiene product and how to use it. In her book Prairie Tale, Gilbert says her mother didn’t explain what tampons were for. According to her, she was told that they were used to apply makeup.

 “My mother never explained the facts of life,” says Gilbert in her memoir. “At 10, I’d found a box of tampons under the sink in her bathroom and when I asked what they were, she said they were for applying makeup.”

Arngrim says Gilbert had her back from the beginning. She told her how the Little House on the Prairie set worked and who she could trust. When Arngrim first met Gilbert, the young star gave her a warning about co-star Melissa Sue Anderson. Gilbert told her that Anderson was “evil,” and she hated her.

Arngrim didn’t believe that a girl who looked so sweet could be evil, so she gave her the benefit of the doubt. However, Arngrim says she had an interaction with Anderson where she appeared to “threaten” her.

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