‘Little House on the Prairie’: The 1 Episode That ‘Nellie’ Actor Alison Arngrim Thought Was ‘Pretty Bold’

Alison Arngrim played the role of Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie for seven years. Arngrim’s character was Walnut Grove’s resident “mean girl” who frequently feuded with Laura Ingalls (Melissa Gilbert). Their feud, along with Nellie’s signature blonde curls and blue eyes, made Arngrim a household name. 

In 2017, Arngrim reflected on some of Little House on the Prairie’s most memorable episodes. 

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -- "Here Come the Brides" Episode 12 -- Aired 12/05/1977 -- Pictured: (l-r)Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson
Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson|NBCU Photo Bank

Alison Arngrim didn’t think ‘Little House on the Prairie’ would be ‘iconic’ 

Arngrim was born and raised into a family of entertainers. Her mother, actor Norma MacMillan, was the voice of classic characters like Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Arngrim’s father, Thor Arngrim, worked as a talent manager in Hollywood. Because of her parents’ jobs, Arngrim shared with Zoomer that she often saw actors around the house. Before she booked Little House on the Prairie, Arngrim had already auditioned for multiple television shows, movies, and commercials. 

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When Arngrim was 12, she booked her audition for Nellie Oleson. The role wasn’t Arngrim’s first choice, as she admitted to auditioning for Laura Ingalls beforehand. Although she didn’t intend on playing Nellie, her performance as a bully resonated with the show’s fans. Soon, the family drama became a massive success, something that Arngrim couldn’t fathom at first. 

“We didn’t know it would be iconic at the time. I’d never read the books, so I had no idea who Nellie Oleson was until I went to the audition. But most of us on the show didn’t think it would last longer than the first season,” Arngrim said. “Even my own father said, ‘Oh, who’s going to watch this?’ (laughs) But if you’d told us back then that, 40-odd years later, people would be streaming the series on laptops and watching it on their phones, we wouldn’t have believed you. It really took off during the third season, and I think that’s when we realized that we’d tapped into something special.”

Alison Arngrim shared her favorite ‘Little House on the Prairie’ episode and said it was ‘bold’

After she landed Nellie’s role on Little House on the Prairie, Arngrim had multiple on-screen moments that made viewers love to hate her character. One of the actor’s top episodes came about in season 3 of the series. In an episode titled “Bunny,” Arngrim’s character falls down a hill while she’s in a wheelchair. The fall happened after Nellie fell off her horse, Bunny. 

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Arngrim shared that “Bunny” was her favorite episode of Little House on the Prairie. She said the scene of Nellie falling was something that other popular shows of that era like The Brady Bunch weren’t doing. The actor also expressed that her character commanded attention throughout the production. 

“I think I liked it because, every week on the show, Nellie would do terrible things, but it would mostly just ruin Laura’s life. But in that episode, Nellie actually screws up everyone’s week,” Arngrim said. “Pa has to drop what he’s doing to fix up a wheelchair for her. Mrs. Oleson is flipping out. Mr. Oleson is crying because he thinks Nellie is actually crippled. So, what was normally confined to the schoolroom now affected the whole town. And leave it to Nellie to make everyone in the town drop what they’re doing and pay attention to her. That’s pretty bold, I think!”

Alison Arngrim said filming the episode where ‘Nellie’ falls was ‘insane’ 

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In October 2019, Arngrim opened up about “Bunny” with Fox News. While she said the episode is a fan-favorite, it wasn’t as fun for her to shoot. Arngrim said she filmed most of the stunts herself, which she was terrified to do initially.

“It was so insane because there were no seatbelts in that thing. It’s like an 1800s wheelchair, and I’m basically in my nightgown and underwear and bedroom slippers,” she said. “They had the stunt girl do the somersault, but I did the rest of it.” 

Once she saw the full episode, Arngrim said she was proud of how the scenes came out. 

“It was totally worth it!” she said.