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Bitch Bitch Bitch 

At home with Nellie Oleson

Thursday, Mar 17 2005
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“Someone has called me a bitch every day of my life since I was 11 years old,” proclaims Alison Arngrim, who accepts the fact that she has never been able to shake off her TV alter ego — mean, bratty Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie. And in her one-woman show, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, she unravels the famous blond ringlets that have accompanied her for the past 30 years and takes a walk down memory lane — make that the dirt road of the Simi Valley set she’s never really strayed from. Arngrim was so good at playing tormentor to Melissa Gilbert’s braided, buck-toothed Laura Ingalls (there was Nellie beating Laura’s horse) that when she recently made an appearance on a French talk show, she was practically stoned to death by Amélie actor Jamel Debbouze. Her character’s heart of darkness so enraptured one New York comedy troupe, they named themselves after her character — the Nellie Olesons. “In the last 30-odd years, I’ve been beaten up, spit on, and I’ve been pelted with garbage in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, which is saying a lot, ’cause I was riding behind Richard Simmons and no one threw anything at him. And he was completely fuckin’ obnoxious,” Arngrim explains. Though she’s one of the few child stars of her generation who haven’t “shot my dealer, posed nude for Playboy, been to Betty Ford or held up a video store,” Arngrim had a childhood that was far from normal. Her mom was the voice behind such cartoon characters as Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost, while her dad was once tour manager for Liberace. Other family friends included auntie Christine Jorgensen (the first person to successfully undergo a sex-change operation), and Arngrim’s Gardner Street Elementary School mate was none other than Michael Jackson. As for her seven years on Little House, Arngrim is quick to demystify Michael Landon as the saintly Pa Ingalls. Landon was an underrated pioneer of family TV who not only directed the show, but wrote, produced and executive-produced it, “and he did every single bit of it smashed out of his fuckin’ mind,” Arngrim recalls. “Five o’clock in the morning — sunglasses, Marlboro and a Styrofoam cup of Wild Turkey.” Arngrim’s relationship with her TV tormentee Gilbert, now president of the Screen Actors Guild, is all love and fuzzy memories. But Arngrim cherishes an even greater friendship from her Little House days. After co-star Steve Tracy, who played her husband, died of AIDS in 1986, Arngrim has become a well-known AIDS activist and educator. Arngrim doesn’t take herself too seriously in her standup memoir; yes, she whips out the wig, complete with bonnet, and she might even let you try it on. Alison Arngrim stars in Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theater, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, 8 p.m. (323) 860-7300

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Reach the writer at sbabayan@laweekly.com

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