Please don’t judge me when I tell you that I cannot recall ever watching a single episode of Little House on the Prairie.
I didn’t watch much television growing up because I was the youngest of four boys and was either watching or playing sports or defending myself from my older brothers.
The premise of the popular show is wonderful and wholesome, but I just never sat down to watch it.
My wife, Angie, never missed it growing up and knew the cast members by heart.
Today, our daughter-in-law and five-year-old granddaughter own the entire series on DVD, which they have thoroughly enjoyed watching.
A few months ago, I was invited to participate in the recent Roy Rogers Festival in my hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio. This event is held there because the famous western star spent part of his childhood growing up on nearby Duck Run. When I found out that Alison Arngrim would be featured at the event, I thought I better do some research to find out more about her.
She played the “lovable” character, Nellie Oleson, on the hit show from 1974 to 1981. She was the prissy, spoiled brat and the daughter of Nels and Harriet, the wealthy general store owners who often butted heads on how to raise their children. Nellie usually got whatever she wanted from her mother, and she and her brother, Willie, made a lot of enemies.
Forty years later, people still think she’s a brat.
She told Angie and me that when her fiancé called his parents to tell them he was going to marry the woman who played Nellie Oleson, the phone line went silent. When her future father-in-law finally spoke, he asked his son with caution if she was anything like Nellie.
“I’ve had things thrown at me in parades and have been told I was the meanest person ever,” she said. “Since I’ve been 11 years old, I’ve been cussed out and told off for being Nellie.”
Today, Alison is a stand-up comedian and a riot to talk with.
She didn’t run from the stereotype of the character that made her famous but has actually embraced it, although she describes how many child stars want to distance themselves from roles that made them household names.
Melissa Gilbert, who was cast in the starring role as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, has played many other characters in her career. “But what does everyone say when they meet her?” Alison asked. “They say, ‘How’s Half Pint?’” (Note: This was the nickname bestowed upon her by her television father, Charles Ingalls, played by Michael Landon.)
Characters and reputations stick with people.
Instead, Alison has found success poking fun at Nellie.
“Do you have any idea what I’ve had to put up with all my life? Do you?” she says loudly during her routine with a cynical grin and laugh. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be Nellie Oleson?”
Then she starts to rant on stage about being typecast and about all the terrible things people say to her.
People fell out of their chairs laughing and I knew I stumbled onto something.
Alison does this comedy in such a way that it leaves her audiences in stitches.
“People fell out of their chairs laughing, and I knew I stumbled onto something,” she added.
Alison did not run from her past but accepted it.
You might be in a similar circumstance and are remembered for an act you “performed” years ago.
How do you come to terms with something that might have made you look bad? Running away from it might appear to be the easiest way out, but it’s seldom the answer.
You may have been mean and cruel like Nellie, but you can change and become a new character.
You can’t escape things you have done in the past, but you can admit and own up to them and learn lessons from your actions.
The great thing about Alison is that she accepts the character that made her a household name and has found a way to make people smile through her comedy.
Although Nellie was not who you want your child to be, Alison has come up with a way to capitalize on the opportunity to make others laugh.
And that’s important today.
I enjoyed my conversation with her and can say for a fact that she was a delight and nothing like the character she is known for portraying.
There is a distinct difference between real life and make-believe television, although some people obviously can’t tell them apart.
But you can forget about your past mistakes and let God cast you in a new role as the star of the show.
Christ can make anyone lovable.
I’ve made some poor decisions before, but fortunately, my blunders didn’t play out on a family television show in front of millions of viewers. But they happened.
Did I run? No. But I learned.
Your past mistakes don’t prevent you from having a promising future. You can overcome them, but the Lord must be the director and producer of your next starring role in life.
Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.
(Isaiah 43: 18 KJV)
The audition is easy. Just ask Him for the part, and you’ve got the job.
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