Most people will remember Alison Arngrim as the wickedly evil bitch, Nellie Oleson, from the television series “Little House On The Priaire.” The show ran from 1974-1983 and since I was born in 1975 so much of my experience of “Little House” was in reruns in the early 1980’s when the show aired on one of the three channels my family had while growing up in the rural areas outside of Calgary. You see in Calgary, which sits in Canada’s Prairie region and the outskirts of Calgary didn’t look so different from the scenery of the show. Also Calgary is well known for the Calgary Stampede celebration where the entire city embraces it’s Wild West past and is home to Heritage Park Historical Village which preserves many Little House era buildings in a town like setting, so the “Little House On The Prairie” show didn’t seem quite so removed from the 1980’s I grew up in.
I will admit I wasn’t a big fan of the show but watched it because in the rural areas outside of Calgary, we didn’t have access to cable television and didn’t have more than three channels to choose from so a lot of things we watched because it was all that was on. So I watched many hours of Little House, but would be very hard pressed to say any specific memories other than just knowing that Laura Ingalls was the main character, Nellie was the evil child, and the show was about good moral values. I got the basics and enjoyed it but wouldn’t necessarily say I was a fan.
Fast forward to 2010 over the summer and I was listening to the Derek and Romaine program on Sirius XM satellite radio and they had Alison Arngrim on as a guest of the show to talk about the release of her book, “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated.” Alison was nothing like the Nellie character in the interview and was completely entertaining that I immediately signed up to follow her on Twitter and was considering getting her book because she just had the best stories on the radio program. I was going to get the Amazon Kindle version of the book but was a bit hesitant to spend $12.99 for a digital book. So I added it to my wish list and checked back periodically to see if it would ever drop to $9.99 or less, but wasn’t going to spend that kind of money without getting a real physical book to show for it.
Over the months, I’d been enjoying Alison’s frequent tweets on Twitter and just felt like that Alison would be fun to meet if she ever came to San Diego for a book signing or hopefully better yet, bringing her “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch” one woman stage show to town. So when I heard Alison was going to be doing a book signing at the Borders store in Mission Valley as part of the World AIDS Day Charity signings for Lifebeat, I was definitely going to go and instead of getting the Kindle version of the book, I bought two copies of the book so that I could have one for me and give one to my mother for Christmas.
The two nights before the signing I saw a tweet on Twitter from my friend Brian Hill, who would be bartending the night before the signing at the local bar Pecs, and that Alison would be stopping by to promote the signing. So I decided to go say hello that night and had a great chance to say hello and get a photo with Alison the night before the signing. I was a little shy at first but Alison’s friend, Vladimir Reid, nudged me to say hello and when I did say hello I was greeted with a wonderful hug and was allowed to get the wonderful photo I have with her. Alison loved the t-shirt I was wearing which was a comical take from Woot on Star Trek and Star Wars that had Captain Picard and Commander Riker playing poker with Darth Vader and Admiral Akbar and even took a picture of just the shirt to show her husband. I got to enjoy a couple of stories before I had to go because I had to work later that night and before I left I said I would be there for the signing and was looking forward to it.
The next night, I attended the book signing with my friend Vito Grandolfo and enjoyed Alison’s Q&A before the signing commenced. There were a number of diehard “Little House” fans there and it was fun to see their obsession over the show as an outsider to it. I’ve been a diehard fan of other things so I could relate just with different things. Alison was certainly one of the most gracious celebrities I’ve met and she greeted everyone at the signing table with a smile and let them each have their moment whether they wanted just an autograph or also get a photo. She even brought a Nellie style wig for fans to try on and get photos with if they wanted. I got the two books signed to me and my mom and because Alison is the child of Canadian parents, I had the books signed in reference to Canada. Following the moment with Alison at the signing, Vito and I hung out for a few minutes with Vladimir and he said Alison was going to be going back to Pecs following the signing. Vito decided he wasn’t up for going to the bar, so he bowed out for the night and I headed over.
A short while later Vladimir arrived with Alison and this time I got to enjoy a lot more stories as I didn’t have to run off to work. I also had a great time chatting with Vladimir and quickly became Facebook friends with him as well. I didn’t think I was going to stay long at the bar having been up all night at work and basically not sleeping since before I met Alison the night before, but ultimately, I ended up closing the bar with Alison and Vladimir having really enjoyed more amazing stories. Just for Alison I wore another amusing T-shirt from the same place I had gotten the one I wore the previous night and she loved that shirt too and quickly became known to her as Ryan with the best t-shirts. I even tried on the wig and got a photo with it on.
Alison would be returning the following week to appear at a movie screening for a independent movie she starred in called “Make The Yuletide Gay” where she plays the mother of the former girlfriend of one of the main characters. So I said I would come for the screening. I had previously seen the film on Netflix and found it to be quite enjoyable so it would be a pleasure to see it again on a big screen with an audience.
In the meantime I cracked open Alison’s “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch” book and found it to be one of the most fun biography books I’ve ever read. Usually biographies seem a bit stuffy and not that much fun to read, but definitely not the case with Alison’s book. I could not put it down and ended up finishing it in just a few hours from the moment I started to read it. The book was just as engaging as Alison is in person and it really felt quite conversational. There were stories to make you laugh and stories to make you feel uncomfortable with some of the not so wonderful experiences Alison has gone through in her life. It’s just amazing that she’s come out of the experiences she’s been through with such a great sense of humor and love for life that she has. And having heard so many great stories right from Alison herself, I can say I am looking forward to her next book that will no doubt be coming and it will be just as amazing as this book.
Additionally the book mentioned a “Little House” episode called “Bunny” which seems to be what most people around the world consider their favorite episode where essentially happens in it, is Nellie gets into an accident involving a horse, but decides to pretend she can’t move her legs and then manipulates Laura into being her slave out of pity. As Nellie was faking the injury and Laura catches her, Nellie gets her comeuppance when Laura takes Nellie in her wheelchair up to the top of the hill in town and pushes her down the hill where Nellie goes flying down the hill and lands in the creek where her faking gets revealed as she jumps out of the water. I don’t particularly remember the episode but I went ahead and rented the first disc of Season 3 of the show to see the episode and appreciate it since it warranted its own chapter in Alison’s book.
The night before the screening I got a note on Facebook from Vladimir to invite me to a happy hour at his place with Alison but unfortunately I had to work that night and didn’t get much sleep all day so I was unable to attend. So I sent back a note of thanks for the invitation but unfortunately wouldn’t be making it to that, but would definitely be seeing him at the screening.
The screening of “Make The Yuletide Gay” arrived and Alison was joined by fellow stars of the movie Keith Jordan, and Kelly Keaton as well as the director Rob Williams. The movie was very well received by the audience and many of the audience members stuck around for the Q&A following the film. And there was a chance to purchase the film on DVD and get autographs following the Q&A. When Alison saw me she was seated next to Kelly Keaton and she remembered me from the previous week and introduced me to Kelly as Ryan with the great t-shirts and of course, I wore yet another amusing one for her to enjoy. I picked up a copy of the movie to have it autographed. I was looking forward to seeing the bonus material on the disc as one of the disadvantages of Netflix instant streaming is that you only get to see the main features and none of the extras. The cast members in attendance were all really friendly and they all seemed to really enjoying being there to support the movie.
I asked Vladimir if he and Alison were going to make it over to Pecs or not as the screening was partnered with another bar in town where the movie tickets are redeemable for a free drink following the screening. Vladimir said they might go to the other bar to make an appearance but would definitely be coming over to Pecs, so I said I’d meet them there.
Vladimir and Alison arrived a short while later. This night the bar was packed so there were lots of people to meet Alison and she had a great time. A number of the folks I had attended the screening with were there as well and they enjoyed the chance to meet Alison in a very informal setting. She was very gracious to pose for photos and share stories and put smiles on everyone’s faces.
Again I ended up closing the bar with Alison and Vladimir and had enjoyed even more stories and really felt like I had built a good friendship with both Alison and Vladimir that when it came time to leave and they were about to grab a cab, I wouldn’t stand for it, and offered to drive since my car was close and the offer was accepted. I drove both Alison and Vladimir back to Vladimir’s place and got one last hug from Alison before the end of the night. I still can’t believe I’ve had THE Nellie Oleson in my car and can call Alison Arngrim a friend. I’d have never have believed it when I first heard Alison interviewed on Derek and Romaine those few short months ago.