Monday, January 03, 2011

Been There, Done That: Alison Arngrim

Sometimes in the late 1970s, I was on my second excursion to Los Angeles on vacation when the opportunity came to attend the Danny Thomas St. Jude’s telethon being broadcast from CBS Studios in Television City.

Along with being part of the telethon audience, we were promised seats to see some of the greatest and upcoming stars from movie, stage, and theater. All we had to do was sit quietly, clap at appropriate times, and be willing to toss a few coins into the collection plate as it was passed.

Sounded easy enough, and for someone as star-struck as I was in those days, having a front row seat to seeing all those people in person sounded like heaven---hours and hours of watching celebs beg viewers to donate money.

We settled in for the opening hour of the show. It was pretty cool, and I’d never been in a studio audience before so I was really enjoying myself until we found out the truth about the way telethons work. End of segment one, and someone from the crew passed the collection for the live audience to drop in money toward the telethon total.

Then the next thing we knew, another crew member yelled, “Everybody out!”

What?! We were promised hours upon hours of watching the telethon from our comfy seats inside. Why were we suddenly being herded out?

“Time for a new audience,” the stage manager told us. “You want to see more of the show, go back outside and get in line.”

I was just as indignant about this sudden turn of events as the other people who were also being summarily moved out of the chairs, down the stairs, and back into the street. Grumblings of “No way I’m giving these people any money again,” accompanied the mass of the crowd as people headed to their cars instead of back into the line.

I was at a loss as to what exactly I wanted to do. We were promised loads of celebrities. I think we had seen two, Danny Thomas and someone else whose stardom was so minor that I don’t even remember their name. I wanted MORE!

But I didn’t necessarily want to wait again in that long line, only to be booted from the teacher in another hour.

Standing around, checking out the situation be the entrance I noticed a small group of people standing close to a rope line that separated the waiting audience from an open plaza. A sudden burst of flashbulbs let me know that something—or someone—of interest was on the other side of those lines.

I worked my way past the first line of people and joined the group at the ropes in time to see Eva Gabor—or was it Zsa Zsa?—waving at the crowd and standing posed for pictures. I snapped one of my own with my Instamatic camera (you can imagine the quality of photo I ended up with at a distance—and realized this was the place to be.

Not only would we see the celebrities, but we could take photos as well, something you weren’t allowed to do inside the studio. And who knew, maybe a celebrity or two would come over to greet us at the line.

I can’t remember who all I saw that day, but Lavar Burton does stick in my mind, but two of the stars of the show turned out to be quite different from the character they portrayed on TV.

Little House on the Prairie was one of my mother’s favorite shows at the time. She loved that little half-pint, Laura Ingalls played by Melissa Gilbert, and just as the audience was intended to do, hated the mean-spirited Nellie, otherwise known as Alison Arngrim.

Imagine my surprise when both girls departed from a limousine and headed toward the telethon entrance.

“Melissa! Melissa! Laura!” the crowd yelled, begging the young actress to come closer to the rope and pose for a picture, sign an autograph, shake a hand. But she would have none of it. Instead, Melissa Gilbert looked the crowd over, then stuck her nose up into the air—literally!—and disappeared through the doors into the studio.

The crowd was disappointed, until they suddenly began to realize, they hadn’t gotten Laura, but Nellie had been more that happy to oblige. There was Alison Arngrim, walking the rope line, shaking hands, signing autographs, actually talking with people, laughing and being nothing at all like the brat she portrayed.

Talk about a role reversal! Nellie was nice, and Laura? Well, she was the brat!

Since that time I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Alison Arngrim, much vilified actress who turned out to be as nice as she could be.

Yet another reason why the title of her autobiography—Confessions of a Prairie Bitch---just makes me laugh. Thanks, Nellie, for proving that sometimes it’s okay to be a brat, as long as that’s not the way you’ll always be. 


Heather B. Moore said...

That's a great story!

Shanda said...

Huh! Whaddya know? I love hearing about unexpected surprises, like Nellie being nice. And finding a better spot to see the stars after the studio pulled a fast one. Thanks for sharing!

Shanda :)