Alison Arngrim became a famous face as mean girl Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Recruited by show creator and co-star Michael Landon, Arngrim was faced with a tough choice at the end of season seven and sadly decided to exit the historical drama.
Nellie Oleson changed after marriage in season 6
Known for her ruthless antics and mean-spirited persona, Nellie had a complete turnaround in the sixth season of Little House when she met Percival Dalton (Steve Tracy). Falling in love and tying the knot tamed Nellie’s sour side, though Arngrim noted that her character was then left with little material during season seven.
“Nellie, now ‘reformed’ by her marriage to Percival, had become bland and boring,” Arngrim wrote in her memoir, Confessions of a Prairie B****. “I didn’t seem to have much to do.”
When the time came for her contract to be renewed at the end of the seventh season, Arngrim had mixed feelings about continuing with the show.
“I felt a distinct lack of excitement,” the Little House alum admitted. “Was I really going to sign up for another several years of this? How many would they want? … I hoped not another seven. That would make it a 14-year run! I would be nearly 30 years old before I got off this thing! … I felt sick to my stomach at the thought.”
NBC wouldn’t negotiate with ‘Little House’ star
Arngrim’s agent attempted to get her a higher salary were she to resign with the show, but NBC played hardball.
“The network refused all requests from my agent for raises, extra episodes, or any type of concession he suggested, no matter how small,” she recalled. “Their offer was four years, same money, same conditions – take it or leave it.”
The Little House star was hurt that NBC was being so inflexible, and felt like it was a slap in the face after all of her years on the series.
“The lawyers at NBC simply refused to negotiate,” Argrim remarked. “It was unfair. I was loyal to the network for seven years, yet there was no loyalty being shown to me. My agent and dad were enraged, but despite their pride and anger, they told me the final call was up to me.”
Alison Arngrim turned down another ‘Little House’ contract
Arngrim reflected on her time on Little House. Joining the show in 1974, she went through adolescence onscreen as Nellie Oleson.
“I though about how much of my life had been spent on Little House,” Arngrim wrote. “I was 19 now, and had been on this show since I was 12 – I had gone all through junior high and high school, gotten braces on my teeth, had them removed, learned to drive, grown up, and I was still on this show.”
Making the choice to explore new roles, Arngrim rejected NBC’s contract. Unfortunately, her character didn’t receive any fanfare in her exit and Nellie and Percival were written out with a simple storyline.
“This meant there was no real ‘goodbye’,” she noted. “I had left on hiatus, at the end of season seven, not knowing if I would be coming back for season eight, and now I wasn’t. I was just… gone. The writers were able to build it into the plot seamlessly: Nellie, Percival, and their twins had simply moved to New York City to take over Percival’s father’s store upon his death.”
Arngrim got to reprise her role for one episode in season nine entitled “The Return of Nellie”.