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Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated & Lessons from the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton Reviewed By Ellen Alexander of Bookpleasures.com
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Ellen Alexander

Reviewer Ellen Greiss Alexander:  Ellen is an accomplished musician, mother of two and the author of seven music books, five teen novels (including her four book series, The Prefab Four) and a book of lyrical poetry. You can contact Ellen or read samples of her books at www.theprefabfour.com.

 
By Ellen Alexander
Published on December 8, 2011
 

                       

Authors: Alison Arngrim: Mary McDonough

ISBN: 978-0-06-196215-8: ISBN:  978-0-7582-6366-7

Publisher: HarperCollins: Kensington Books




                       

Authors: Alison Arngrim: Mary McDonough

ISBN: 978-0-06-196215-8: ISBN:  978-0-7582-6366-7

Publisher: HarperCollins: Kensington Books


As a child growing up in the 70's, I was part of a generation that spent nights glued to the family TV set watching Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. What a treat that two of the now-all-grown-up stars from those very shows would almost simultaneously publish their stories - reminiscing about all the goings-on behind the scenes as well as away from the cameras in their own 'real' lives. Even more impressive is the fact that these two ladies managed to face adversity and heartbreak, shyness and humiliation, constant and continuing scrutiny throughout their acting careers and beyond to become very level-headed and even outspoken women (without going the route of many former teen stars and blaming their fame for their failures or, worse, becoming self destructive).

Alison Arngrim, in Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, is surprisingly funny, intelligent and compassionate (considering her alter ego, Nellie Oleson, and the revelation that she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her own brother). As any Little House on the Prairie fan can attest, her character brought new meaning to the words mean, spiteful and, yes, bitch. She was the bully you loved to hate. From her first and most memorable line: "Country girls" to her mistreatment of Laura's beloved horse, Bunny, to her taunting of a student who stuttered and another who was lame and still others who were smarter or prettier or poorer than herself, Alison's Nellie couldn't be more different than the actress who portrayed her for seven years.

In Lessons from the Mountain, Mary McDonough writes about the nine years she played Erin on The Waltons. She not only recounts what it was like on the set (the heartwarming antics with both her TV family and the many guest stars she got to know along the way) but, much like Alison, she talks openly about what her surprisingly uptight home life was really like as well. But unlike Alison's character, Erin Walton was the 'good girl' from a large, close-knit and very religious family. You can almost imagine the pressure Mary must have felt to rebel and, adding to that her insecure self image, it's not surprising that she later made an almost life threatening decision to have breast implants that led her on a dangerous path to multiple health issues.

On a purely fan-based level, both Alison and Mary quickly dispelled any myths the reader might have about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. 

After all, these were basically little girls growing up in a mostly adult atmosphere, in front of the cameras, where every blemish (pimples, braces and, yes, even the size of their growing breasts) was photographed for public scrutiny. They suffered through wig fittings, period costumes and pairings with young men who were not of their choosing. Who among us would want to have our first kiss shown on a TV screen in front of millions of viewers? Who would want to have to explain over and over again at publicity events that you're 'not really that person on TV' or that you're 'only playing a character on screen'? I found it both laughable and kind of sad that so many people around the world actually hate (to this day) Alison Angrim instead of Nellie Oleson. It also struck me how very cruel people can be when an actress like Mary sees herself as Hog Body in her own self portrait.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Both of these women have turned their lives around and chosen to focus on making the world a better place to live in. They didn't allow the challenges of their pasts (incest and secretly gay dad; ugly dancer feet and fly-aways) to determine who they would become as adults. Quite the opposite... Alison became an advocate for the National Association to Protect Children. She also volunteers for the AIDS Project Los Angeles - since the untimely death from AIDS of her onscreen husband and best friend, Steve Tracy.  Mary continues to raise awareness of women's health issues such as Lupus and FDA approved silicone breast implants.

They made us laugh (and boy did I laugh, Alison!) and they made us cry. They put places like Walnut Grove, Minnesota and the Mountains of Virginia on the map. They shared personal anecdotes and behind-the-scenes antics that sometimes left the reader breathless and sometimes wanting even more. Their insights into their costars were oftentimes witty, sarcastic and eye-opening. Their choices of real life friendships (in Alison's case with her TV rival, Melissa Gilbert - aka Half Pint and in Mary's case with her TV grandparents, Ellen Corby and Will Geer) were surprising and very entertaining. And, perhaps most importantly, they shared painful and horrific events from their personal lives not for shock value but for inspiration and with a great deal of humor. From the mountaintop to the prairie... these books are a winning combination.