For decades, children have been getting lost in the pages of the beloved Little House on the Prairie books. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life growing up on a Minnesota farm in the late 1800s, the best-selling books were adapted into a TV series in 1974. The series starred Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, and Melissa Gilbert and ran for nine seasons. Depicting 19th-century frontier life wasn’t always easy for the cast. Alison Arngrim, who played the malicious, spoiled, and devious mean girl, Nellie Oleson, particularly struggled with her period costume.
Filming was difficult for the young actors
Although Walnut Grove, Minnesota, is a real town, most of the exterior shots on Little House on the Prairie were filmed at the sprawling Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California. Many days, temperatures soared over 100 degrees. The young actors’ 1800’s-era wardrobe consisted of layers of heavy cotton stockings, thick petticoats, pinafores, and bonnets. With the scorching weather and the uncomfortable costume, it’s no surprise that on the first day of filming, Arngrim passed out from the heat! She wasn’t the only one – an assistant director also fainted, according to Mental Floss.
As if wearing a heavy outfit in the blistering heat wasn’t bad enough, part of Arngrim’s costume caused her physical pain. Her fine blonde hair didn’t hold Nellie’s signature ringlets, so she wore a custom-made wig. To keep it secure during scenes, stylists attached the wig using dozens of metal hairpins and sharp metal combs. It was so tight that it often made Arngrim’s scalp bleed.
Arngrim and Gilbert are friends in real life
While they played enemies on Little House on the Prairie, Arngrim and Gilbert were really best friends! “We hit it off right away. We had slumber parties. We would visit each other’s houses on weekends – people couldn’t believe it,” Arngrim recalled in an interview with Fox News. “I remember we were 13 and at a supermarket together. She went over to one aisle to look for something and people recognized us. And they suddenly felt compelled to protect her from me, like I was coming for her. People were just freaked out that we were friends and would go to places together. We still do.”
Argrim continued, “The truth is, there wasn’t a point where we didn’t like each other … People still assume that we hate each other. But we’re very much friends. We text and talk all the time. Some of us stay in touch on social media. The cast has become a family. We check in on each other all the time.”
Nellie was based on three different people
Little House on the Prairie was mostly autobiographical, and Ingalls Wilder only changed the names of the real people in her stories twice, according to History Daily. One of those characters was Nellie Oleson. Ingalls Wilder based her on three girls from her childhood: Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. Like her namesake in the TV show, Owen’s father owned the mercantile in town. Master’s mother was a teacher at their school, and she wore her blonde hair in big sausage curls as Oleson does on the show. Gilbert lived near the Ingalls family and tried to use her good looks and charm on Laura’s suitor (and later husband), Almanzo. The combination of the three made Oleson a character that audiences loved to hate.
‘Little House on the Prairie’ is getting a reboot
This Ingalls family will be returning to a TV screen near you very soon. It was recently announced that a one-hour dramatic adaptation of Little House on the Prairie is in the works by Paramount TV Studios and Anonymous Content. One former cast member is more than willing to make a cameo appearance in the new show. “I’m just the right age to play Mrs. Oleson,” Arngrim told EW. “I’m totally there. I have no shame.”