Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Whoa Nellie! . . .

I don't normally go for celebrity bios, but the terrific cover got me on this one!

Okay, if you don't know what animal Bunny was, and if a chapter entitled "The Infamous Wheelchair Episode" doesn't make you chuckle, then Confessions of A Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim is probably not for you.  However, if you grew up - like me - watching every episode of Little House on the Prairie and then repeatedly viewing them in re-runs (my brother and I had an ongoing contest to see who could guess which episode was airing, just from the guest star credits) and years later buying some seasons on DVD, well, this book is even better than getting a tin cup in your Christmas stocking.

Arngrim  played Laura Ingalls' whining, snobbish nemesis Nellie Oleson for seven seasons and her memoir is full of fascinating insights into what went on behind the scenes (her analysis of the characters is really funny - poor Carrie) and what it was like being a child star and living in Hollywood with two self-absorbed parents (they were both Canadian!) also in show business.  Her father who grew up in an orphanage in Saskatchewan was a publicity-obsessed manager who at one point had Liberace as a client; her mother hailed from a wealthy Vancouver family but became famous as the voice of numerous TV characters including Casper the Friendly Ghost and Davy (of that Saturday morning staple Davy and Goliath - now that's a blast from the past). In fact Arngrim writes that she based Nellie's "prissy voice and evil inflection" on "my mother's upper-crust Canadian accent".  But amidst all the surreality of showbiz, Arngrim also offers a sad and gutsy account of surviving her older brother's abuse (he repeatedly raped her from the age of six), and how inhabiting the character of Nellie gave her the strength to confront and speak up about her past.  She also talks honestly and movingly about her close friend Steve Tracy, who played her TV husband Percival Dalton, and his death from AIDS when he was only 32.   Post-Little House, Arngrim has been an activist for both AIDS research and helping children who have been abused. She also works as a stand-up comedienne and given how many times I laughed reading this book, I would love to see her show.

A candid, refreshing but never overly sentimental read.

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