‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why Alison Arngrim Is ‘So Glad’ She Didn’t Get the Part of ‘Laura Ingalls’

Little House on the Prairie star Alison Arngrim played Nellie Oleson for seven seasons. Viewers of the series watched as Nellie feuded with Laura Ingalls (Melissa Gilbert) in multiple episodes. Arngrim’s character eventually gave her a “mean girl” reputation off-screen. 

Like many child actors, Arngrim auditioned for other characters on Little House on the Prairie. She revealed that, at one point, she wanted to play her on-screen arch-nemesis. 

"The Campout" Episode 9 -- Aired 11/19/1975 -- Pictured: (l-r) Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder
Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder| NBCU Photo Bank

Alison Arngrim auditioned for ‘Laura Ingalls’

Arngrim’s acting career started when she was young. Before she booked Little House on the Prairie, Arngrim appeared in TV commercials. When Arngrim first auditioned to be on the show, she tried out for Laura Ingalls. The role would’ve made Arngrim the leading character, as much of the series focuses on Laura and her family. The actor also auditioned to be Laura’s older sister, Mary Ingalls. 

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Ultimately, Arngrim got the part of Nellie. Almost instantly, Arngrim began to get recognized for her character. In a 2018 interview with From the Desk, Arngrim said that the public had difficulty separating her from Nellie. Additionally, she found herself typecasted after she looked for roles outside of the series. 

Although she received flack for playing Nellie, Arrngrim said she never had any problems with the character. She also didn’t mind getting typecasted long after the series ended. 

“I honestly can’t say I was ever really “bitter” about Nellie, even with the typecasting,” she said. “I always loved the character and thought it was the most hilarious thing ever that I had been cast as a villain.”

Why Alison Arngrim preferred playing ‘Nellie Oleson’

During her interview, Arngrim continued to say that she feels good about her Little House on the Prairie character. By playing Nellie, Arngrim allowed Gilbert to become Laura Ingalls. Throughout the series, Arngrim and Gilbert became close friends. Their friendship continued into their adolescence and adulthood. 

“I am so glad I didn’t have the burden of having to play a “nice” person for all those years,” she said. “I think it would have been exhausting!”

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Additionally, Arngrim said she believes that each actor selected for the series made their characters special. Decades later, she said she still gets recognized for playing Nellie. She also shared that Gilbert faces the same fate, as she was the show’s central character. 

“If you look at the reaction of viewers 40 plus years later, you can see how each of us made our character ‘iconic’ and forever identified with our individual performances,” Arngrim said. “In millions of people’s head, ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder’ will always conjure up the face of Melissa Gilbert.”

Alison Arngrim said she is ‘proud’ of playing ‘Nellie Oleson’ 

As Little House on the Prairie continues to live on in syndication, the show frequently reaches a new audience. In April 2020, the full series became available on Amazon Prime. Arngrim said the new fans tend to express their feelings about Nellie years after she taped the episodes. 

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Of her character, Arngrim said she profoundly cares about Nellie. She also shared how shocked she was to learn that new viewers watch the show. 

“I was and am still very proud of the work I did as Nellie,” she said. “I really thought when the show ended in the 80s that people would eventually sort of, you know, “move on.’ But of course, they didn’t. Between all the years of reruns, cable, VHS, DVDs, and now YouTube, Netflix, and streaming, there are more people watching it now than when it was on!!”