Sunday, June 6, 2010

When will Willie Oleson write his autobiography?

I stumbled across this tome in the bookstore today. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim. Great title, good cover and as a Little House on the Prairie acolyte, I was tempted to buy it, though I did hold off.

Arngrim portrayed one of the all-time TV villains on Little House, the detestable Nellie Oleson, the blond...uh, bitch (her word) who constantly tormented little Laura Ingalls and children with stuttering problems.

According to the book's description, Arngrim writes about Michael Landon's "unsaintly habit of not wearing underwear; how she and Melissa Gilbert (who played her TV nemesis, Laura Ingalls) became best friends and accidentally got drunk on rum cakes at 7-Eleven; and the only time she and Katherine MacGregor (who played Nellie's mom) appeared in public in costume, provoking a posse of elementary schoolgirls to attack them."

Sounds like a great book. Rum cakes! It seems odd that it took Arngrim this long to have a book come out - I think the world has been clamoring for years to know more about the lady behind Nellie. But her effort is just the most recent in an explosion of Little House books to hit stores. Three decades after the good, God-fearing townsfolk of Walnut Grove blew up their entire town to keep it out of the hands of evil land barons, the stars continue to reveal stories about themselves and the prairie.

Melissa Gilbert had Prairie Tales: A Memoir. Gilbert, Half-Pint, wrote about her affairs and struggles and the book is filled with sex talk, the type of thing that stunned many reviewers on Amazon who were apparently only looking for insight on what it was like taking a trip to Sleepy Eye or Mankato; every woman in my cubicle area who read the book finished it in about two days and couldn't wait to talk about all the dirty details.

Half-Pint's blind sister, Mary, had her own memoir. Melissa Anderson wrote The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House. Mary was the good sister and this book is apparently much less interesting than Laura's/Melissa's. She did get nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Mary - who can ever forget, "I can see, I can see," when, in reality, she couldn't - but this line, in the book's description, doesn't exactly inspire people to drop 25 bucks:

"And she relates stories of her guest appearances on iconic programs such as The Love Boat and The Brady Bunch." Yeah, but did she lust after Andrew Garvey?

Little House characters pop up often in all forms of media, occasionally in unexpected places. A few nights ago while watching TV at about 2 in the morning, a commercial for Premier Bathrooms came on and a familiar, friendly face extolled their virtues.

It's Ma Ingalls, Karen Grassle. It looks like a great product, surely a lifesaver for many people. But I do wonder how Caroline Ingalls ended up as the primary spokeswoman. According to IMDB, she hasn't appeared in a movie or TV show since 1994. How did Premier Bathrooms find her? Any why? According to a grammatically confounding sentence on Grassle's Wikipedia page, she "agreed to sign up as the promotional face for Premier Bathrooms, a supplier of bathing products for the elderly and infirm due to her association with the character of Caroline Ingalls' extolling care and family values."

So, apparently, the plan is that people still associate Caroline Ingalls with love and understanding and that makes her the perfect person to pitch a bathroom, even though indoor toilets didn't even exist when Caroline was alive. This is 30 years since Little House's prime. Still, that's the power of Little House on the Prairie.

There's probably not much of a market for a memoir by Karen Grassle; she had a fairly thankless role on the show and didn't even have a plot twist that can be used as a pun for a catchy title, like blind Mary. But there are other Little House memoirs I'd like to see. They can be written by the actor, of course, but I would want dirt on the characters. I'd want show secrets and insight.

Dean Butler can pen the fake story of Almanzo Wilder and reveal if it'd be possible for a male character to date an underage girl 10 years his junior on TV today. Matthew Laborteaux needs to write a book explaining that his character, the enigmatic, troubled, athletic, mischievous Albert, did not actually die from his morphine addiction and that viewers never did actually see him succumb to leukemia. Maybe he did make it to medical school.

Charlotte Stewart needs to write a 300-page explanation for why she sent the kids home from the one-room schoolhouse in one of those classic Minnesota blizzards. What lessons did she learn from that tragedy? It can be called Teaching Miss Beadle. Harriet Oleson, otherwise known as Katherine MacGregor, seems like the perfect candidate for a parenting book. Something about the best way to raise a serial killer. On the book's cover, she can be holding Nels Oleson's testicles in a bag from the Mercantile.

Little House on the Prairie went off the air in the early 1980s. Star Michael Landon has been dead for 19 years. Yet the show lives on, in DVDs, reruns and the memories of fans and tourists who travel through southwestern Minnesota searching for the mountain Laura ran away to in one memorable, if utterly implausible, episode. But the show also lives on in literature. Or at least in the bizarre world of celebrity tell-alls.


Robin Raven said...

Great blog entry. :-) I have loved "Little House" since watching the reruns pre-elementary school. I can tell from the latter description that you've seen the series often as well. ;-) I can't wait to read "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch."

Alison Arngrim said...

Dude- what store is it in? It's not supposed to go n sale until June 15th That's what my publisher said.

Alison Arngrim

Shawn Fury said...

It wasn't actually in the store. It was the promotional poster set up in the Borders at 59th, where you're doing a signing next week, then I looked it up in the store. Was available for preorder. Sorry to panic you; I had that happen with mine, where it was in stores before it was supposed to be. Hoping to get down to the signing on the 15th.

beth r said...

I just interviewed Alison A. this morning. She's coming to Walnut Grove later in July. I think Almanzo is going to be there at some point, too. Anyway, she was a pretty good hoot on the phone, and I can imagine the book is probably a good read for anybody who was or is obsessed by all things LIW. -- beth