How Melissa Gilbert helped save Alison Arngrim's job in the first season of 'Little House on the Prairie'

Throughout its nine-season run, Little House on the Prairie highlighted a variety of juvenile actors. 

In most episodes of the 1974–1983 historical drama, Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) and Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) played rival classmates.

Gilbert and Arngrim became close companions behind the scenes. When Arngrim's timidity was misinterpreted as "diva" behaviour on set, 9-year-old Gilbert set out to set the record straight.Alison Arngrim was dissimilar to Nellie Olsen.

Although Arngrim portrayed the spoiled rich girl Nellie Oleson in Walnut Grove, the actor had confidence issues and attempted to maintain a low profile among her cast mates.

In her book Confessions of a Prairie Btch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, Arngrim wrote, "I sometimes had trouble talking to 'new people' one-on-one."

 "I was suddenly confronted with a cast and crew of over a hundred people, some of whom had, to put it mildly, intimidating personalities – I had hoped I could just show up, do my job, and stay out of the way, but it was not to be."Peers quickly misinterpreted Arngrim's timidity as something more negative.

Arngrim explained, "Midway through the first season, my agent informed my father that my shyness was misinterpreted as 'haughtiness' or unfriendliness." "There were rumours circulating that I was 'difficult' or a narcissist. This was deemed significant enough to potentially impact my employment."The 'Little House' star requested a meeting.

While attempting to be more sociable on set, Arngrim received assistance from her best friend and co-star.

"[Gilbert] had heard the rumours, and as the first person to befriend me, he knew they were false," the Little House alum recalled. "What did she do about this when she was nine?" She convened a gathering.

"Gilbert attempted to dispel the rumours after she invited the other teenage cast members to lunch in her dressing room. After some discussion among the ladies, it was determined that the gossip about Arngrim originated from a parent on set.

"Melissa was not surprised," stated Arngrim. "She explained to the girls that in such a competitive environment, it is not unheard of for a stage mother to spread rumours about another girl in an attempt to get her dismissed and advance her own child's career. She cautioned, "However, we cannot allow them to get away with it."Melissa Gilbert directed the 'Little House' initiative to foster a supportive environment.

Gilbert urged her castmates to act as a team and provide each other with support.

"We must stick together," Gilbert reportedly told Argrim. "'There will be much more of this, people attempting to turn us against each other.... 

If you hear anything about any of us, especially if it comes from one of the stage mothers, please contact me first.'"Gilbert's approach to harmony was successful, as the cast members began to watch out for one another. Arngrim remarked that Gilbert displayed leadership potential at such a tender age.

"Her motion passed unanimously," observed Arngrim. "She had just organised a group of juvenile actors against the stage mothers with great success. There were no additional incidents of this nature... 

The fact that she became president of the Screen Actors Guild was hardly a surprise to some of us.

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