‘Little House on the Prairie’: Alison Arngrim Explains How Nellie Oleson Became Show’s Antagonist Through ‘Natural, Organic’ Progression

by Joe Rutland

Fans of “Little House on the Prairie” have watched actress Allison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson, make a lot of trouble on the show.

Her character caused grief to pretty much everyone that came in her presence. How many times did Nellie just wreak havoc on other kids? Too many to count.

Arngrim recently talked about those “Little House on the Prairie” experiences, including how Nellie became so dad-gum mean.

“Nellie, at first, was kind of mean, like little girl mean,” Arngrim said as part of a “Little House on the Prairie” cast interview for “Stars In The House.” “And then as she got older, she was like trying to steal your man. But when you start the show, you get these scripts. It was sort-of like this arms race escalation.

Nellie Slowly Got Meaner on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

“I get this script where Nellie does something really terrible,” Arngrim said, “And I’d go ‘oh, oh’ and I’d kind of run with it. And Michael (Landon) would go, ‘Ooh, let’s see if she’ll do this.’ And eventually, I get paralyzed and pushed down the hill in a wheelchair.

“So yes, it was a natural, organic process of gradually becoming more and more horrid,” she said.

Pretty soon, fans of the show wanted to see the little tyrant get her comeuppance. One might say that trip down the hill proved enough to suffice people’s get-even appetite. The fact that Arngrim’s character remains so much a part of people’s memories is a credit to her as an actress.

She played a pivotal role in the success of “Little House on the Prairie” because every good drama needs an antagonist.

Real-Life Injury Led to Arngrim Taking Wheelchair Ride

About that wheelchair ride, Arngrim actually suffered a broken arm while skateboarding. They needed to find a way for her to be in an episode.

“They were not happy about that at the TV show,” Arngrim told TODAY in 2018. “So we do this episode, we’ll have Doc Baker put a fake 1800s cast over your 1970s cast. And we’ll just work it in. I’m faking paralysis but I have a real broken arm. I have the wheelchair, and Doc Baker says you can use your other hand. I said, ‘No, no, actually I cannot.'”

In the episode called “Bunny,” Nellie takes a ride on Laura Ingalls’ horse “Bunny.” Laura, played by Melissa Gilbert, found out Nellie was up to her shenanigans again. She got even. Hello, wheelchair ride.

Behind the scenes, Landon discussed Arngrim’s extracurricular habits. He shot around her injury for “Little House on the Prairie” and signed her cast. There was a decree, though, about skateboarding with a sly bit of humor from Landon.

“He said, ‘You’re not going to go skateboarding again, right?’ And I said, ‘No,'” Arngrim said. “He said, ‘Good because I’ll break the other arm.'”