I once saw a talk by the actress who played Nellie Oleson on Little House On The Prairie and she told a bit of a shocking story.
Her name is Alison Arngrim and she said that what normally would be pretty low key experiences for you and I (buying something at the convenience store, walking down a sidewalk) for her could be like going through a mine field.
This was because at any time some random person might recognize her as ‘Nellie Oleson’ and start yelling horrible things at her.
‘BITCH!’ was the most common thing yelled but some people said way nastier stuff, all in pursuit of revenge on the um, fictional tv character.
It’s so amazing to me that people could see Alison Arngrim trying to buy a soda or something and feel like it made perfect sense to yell at her like she was actually the little girl from the tv show.
Could they really have been so dense as to think that she was actually Nellie Oleson and had lived on the prairie? Or did they think since she was on tv that she was somehow fair game to yell rude things at?
Alison Arngrim explained her own theory of why this kind of thing happened in her book ‘Confessions Of A Prairie Bitch’.
She came to the realization of this theory while she was still working on the show. She was out promoting the show or something and had gone to get a bite to eat while still wearing her Little House On The Prairie costume.
Some girls saw her and not only yelled horrible things but gleefully attacked her:
…I fell to the cement and landed facedown. I closed my eyes before I hit, so I wouldn’t get poked in the eye by anything, and my eyes were still shut tight when I heard my assailants giggle in triumph and run away.
As I lay there, feeling the cool cement against my cheek and hearing the footsteps fade in the distance, I thought, ‘Just how the hell did I get here? I mean, I don’t even know these people, and they kicked me in the butt. Really hard. And now they’re happy about it.’
Between trying to determine if I’d fractured my wrist or cracked a tooth in the fall, I slowly pondered the meaning of all this. I had pretended to be someone else on tv. I had pretended to do things that I don’t normally do and said a bunch of really awful things that I didn’t make up and didn’t really mean.
…I had pretended to be a confident, tough bully, when I was really an insecure, shy, frightened girl who got beat up a lot (like now, for instance). I had done these things because it was my job…
And now, it seemed, I had done it so well, pretended so convincingly, that these two girls really hated me.
…I was never, ever, under any circumstances to wear the dreaded costume in public again. It was simply too dangerous. It incited people.
…I also knew this was not just about the dress anymore. My act, Nellie Oleson, had inadvertently unleashed something in people’s psyches. The injustices that Laura faced on the prairie were too much like the injustices they faced in their own lives.
They wanted to have someone to get mad at. And there I was, in all my smug, ringleted, smirking glory. Hell, I hated me.
Alison Arngrim could change out of the dreaded costume but she couldn’t change out of her own face which many people recognized as Nellie Oleson.
Some people pounced on the opportunity to fuse their own life into the tv story and get back at their own personal Nellie Oleson’s, even if it was at the expense of some poor stranger who was just trying to walk down a sidewalk.
What a sad and bizarre situation… for both Alison Arngrim and the crazy people who couldn’t (or didn’t want to) separate fiction from reality.