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Mswas’ CBR-III Review #20 – Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim

07/10/2011

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim was recommended by a fellow Cannonballer, scootsa1000, who really enjoyed it. As another big fan of the TV show, Little House on the Prairie, I jumped to pick this one up when I saw it on the shelf at the library. Wow, this was a good one – thanks scootsa1000! Who didn’t hate Nellie Oleson on that show? After reading this book, I’ve come to really like the actress, Alison Arngrim, who played her.

I didn’t really know much about Arngrim, other than the role she played.  She is the daughter of Norma MacMillan  (voice of Caspar the Friendly Ghost, Gumby, and Polly Purebred, among others)  and Thor Arngrim (talent agent to Liberace and others, and just happened to be gay as well!) Her parents’ marriage was a mutually agreeable deal, even with Thor being gay, “As my father said, ‘She made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.'”

Arngrim recounts her days on Little House with casual good humor, often with comments and asides that made me chuckle, just look at how she describes some of why the show was such a big hit:

In the ’50s and ’60s, country shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, Hee Haw, Gunsmoke,  and Bonanza abounded; then they disappeared despite the fact that people loved them. The networks wanted to appeal to a younger demographic, so they “deruralized” TV. Only Michael Landon wanted to buck this trend. He realized that Little House was exactly what audiences were missing. Every episode was filled with family values, love, and friendship. The show made you feel good; it made you appreciate what you and and stop bitching about what you didn’t. You don’t have enough money to pay your rent? Buddy, those Ingalls girls didn’t have a penny between them to buy a slate pencil. Now, that’s poor.

That humorous tone serves Arngrim well throughout the book. She’s frank, funny, and forthright. Tales about her well-known castmates were interesting, and so were the stories about the filming itself. Those stories were entertaining to a fan of the show, but Arngrim also had a rough childhood to deal with. Her older brother, Stefan, physically and sexually abused her on a regular basis starting when she was six years old.

It wasn’t like I didn’t try to tell my parents my brother was abusing me. It was just hard to explain how low things had really sunk, and they din’t want to believe anything like that was possible. Stefan was famous, after all [he was also an actor], and could therefore do no wrong in my parents’ eyes. I’d beg them not to leave me a lone with him, and they’d say, “Don’t roughhouse with your sister!” and split. And the next thing I’d hear was: “Now you’re really going to get it.”

Thankfully Arngrim gets the role as Nellie Oleson on the show, so she is able to live apart from her brother, and she escapes him in that manner.

Years later, as an adult, Arngrim goes to therapy and is able to deal with the abuse she suffered. She confronts her parents about it, who are supportive, and eventually talks to her brother about it. (I’ll leave you to find out how that goes when you read the book.) But in 2002, Arngrim is asked to be on the advisory aboard of a new organization, The National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT). “PROTECT had already gone into the state house and successfully changed the North Carolina “incest exception” law.” Arngrim joins the cause and lobbies to change the laws in California. Meeting resistance in the state senate, she decides to do something else.

I didn’t cry like those politicians expected me to. I was from Hollywood; I knew what to do. I called my publicist! Not just any publicist. Harlan Boll is the world’s only gay Quaker publicist. He had a long-standing relationshop with the producers at Larry King’s show, having booked many celebrities for interviews, and called them immediately. “Now I’m not saying I have tyhis, but I’m saying if I were to tell you I had a celebritiy, a woman who had starred as a child on a greatly beloved family television show–which shall remain nameless–who is now willing to come forward about being sexually abused, would you be interested?”

“Which television show?” they asked.

Little House on the Prairie,” he volunteered.

They were extremely interested.

Alison goes on the Larry King show and the buzz about her childhood abuse gets the public interested in the story about the bill that would overturn the incest exception in cases of child abuse. The bill goes to a floor vote and is passed unanimously.

On October 4, 2005, the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed it into law. I was happy. Really, really happy.

I highly recommend this book for fans of Little House on the Prairie. But even if you’ve never watched the show, Arngrim’s story is compelling, engaging, and pretty fricking funny.

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