‘Little House on the Prairie’: Why Alison Arngrim Says She Owes One Character a ‘Great Debt’

by Katie Maloney
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This is definitely a behind-the-scenes story about “Little House on the Prairie” that you want to hear.

As a child star, you get to meet a lot of actors. That was certainly the case for “Little House on the Prairie” star Alison Arngrim who played “Nasty” Nellie on the show. Arngrim had the opportunity to meet all kinds of rising stars just getting their starts by appearing on the show. However, there was one actor in particular who she feels indebted to even decades after the show aired. During a recent interview, Arngrim shared that she’s forever grateful to actor Sean Penn for his time as an extra on the “Little House on the Prairie” set. Why is she so grateful for her time with Sean? Because he passed out on set.

Here’s what happened. Arngrim was just 12 years old when she landed her role on the show. And although the work was exciting, wearing period costumes and wigs during the hottest time of the year in California wasn’t always easy. Arngrim would frequently become overheated and pass out.

“Every summer, I would faint because it was a million degrees where we filmed,” said Arngrim. “I was wearing a dress and petticoats and a wig. It was insanely hot, and I would occasionally pass out.”

However, her castmates and the adults on set never really empathized with Arngrim. They simply thought she was being overdramatic (it was the 70s, I guess?).

“People were looking at me like I was some kind of wuss,” said Arngrim.

Sean Penn Comes To The Rescue On The Set Of ‘Little House On The Prairie’

That is until Sean Penn joined the cast for a day. Sean Penn’s father, Leo Penn, was one of Hollywood’s most renowned television directors at the time. So, the “Little House on the Prairie” crew invited him to direct an episode of the show. His son, Sean, was only 14 at the time and had never been on screen. So, Leo seized the opportunity to get Sean on set. Although Sean didn’t have any speaking lines, he spent the day on set as an extra. But all that standing around in the hot California heat got to Sean and he eventually passed out.

“This big teenage boy went down like a sack of potatoes!” said Arngrim. “And he didn’t get back up again, I always got back up again. He was down for the day.”

Penn’s accident really woke up the crew to the dangers of the heat for the child stars.

“I was cut a lot of slack [after that],” said Arngrim. “They were like, ‘Maybe she’s not making this up.'”

Outsider.com