If anyone could have made great use of social media in the 1970s, it would be actress Alison Arngrim. Back then her role as Nellie Oleson, the villainous blonde on "Little House on the Prairie, " generated some ill feelings from fans that — lacking a Facebook page, Instagram account or any major public forum — the then-child actress might have quelled.
It certainly could have saved her a cup of orange soda thrown at her head at a Christmas parade when she was a teen, anyway.
"People really took it seriously, and (some) got in my face, or in my face with a flying cup of soda," Arngrim said, calling from her home in the Los Angeles area. "When that happened, I remember being shocked and thinking 'What am I doing that someone is freaking out? I must be doing something right.'"
A few decades later, most fans can separate the mean Nellie from the perfectly pleasant Arngrim, and Kern County residents will have the chance to see for themselves when the actress and two of her "Little House" castmates are honored at the 50th annual Fiesta Days in Frazier Park this weekend. As grand marshalls of Saturday's parade, they're sure to receive a warmer welcome than the sticky one Arngrim got at that parade decades ago.
Joining Arngrim in the parade and at a meet-and-greet that same day starting at 11:30 a.m. will be Rachel Lindsay Greenbush (who, with her twin sister, played Carrie Ingalls) and Brian Part (who played the Ingall girls' pal Carl Sanderson Edwards). Part is no stranger to Frazier Park, having lived in the mountain town for several years.
It was Part who got the two other stars on board, though Arngrim said it doesn't usually take much convincing to get the "Little House" cast back together. She said they talk to each other all the time and make it a point to meet up once or twice a year.
"It's a chance for the 'Little House' cast to hang out together," Arngrim said of Fiesta Days. "We are weirdly bonded, I think because the show hasn't really gone away."
Although the show ran from 1974 to 1983, its cast has seen new generations discover the show through reruns, streaming media and DVDs. That means even more people hate Nellie now than when the show ran decades ago. Surely all these years later, though, people realize Arngrim is not her character, right?
"You would think! There have been instances," she said, recalling an adult woman at an autograph show who came up to her in recent years. "She didn't say hello, she just stared and said 'I forgive you!' and stomped out of the room. I still have people terrified of me."
But Arngrim isn't bothered by people who find her portrayal of Nellie to be just a little too realistic.
"I think it's hysterical!" she said. "You'd think it would be kids, but it's grown people intimidated and afraid of me. It's a scream."
In fact, Arngrim has found today's young viewers to be a bit savvier when it comes to telling the difference between actors and their characters, since the internet makes it easy to look up all those names in the credits. While some actors might dislike the curtain of mystery lifting, for the actors behind those love-to-hate characters, it's a nice development.
"In my case, I think it's better," Arngrim said. "Somewhere out there, someone is playing a villain and maybe they won't get hit in the face with soda at a Christmas parade."
Though she's stayed busy with other work since her "Little House" days, Arngrim doesn't shy away from the role and show that made her famous, saying refusing to talk about it like some actors do about their hit shows was "not really going to work." In the attitude of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," she leaned into her "Prairie" beginnings and made it work for her after the show.
In 2010, she published "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated" and she regularly performs a one-woman show of the same name. She'll soon record the audiobook version of her memoir, and she occasionally goes to "Little House" fan events and has no problem talking about the show or to its fans.
But Arngrim has been busy on more modern stories, like a web-series called "Life Interrupted," which has a cast that's sure to look familiar to any '70s TV buff: Arngrim plays Ally, ex-wife of Mason, played by former child actor Mason Reese. Joining them are Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island"), Erin Murphy (Tabitha on "Bewitched") and Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver on "The Brady Bunch").
"It's just the silliest thing," she said. "It's like an old-fashioned sitcom."
Another silly thing in the works for Arngrim is "Grizzled!" The film, currently in pre-production, is about a giant mutant penguin on the loose. Arngrim described it as a send-up of other genre films, and all of the actors play multiple characters for optimal camp.
The penguin "is 30 feet high and filled with rage," she said. "I was screaming with laughter when I was reading it. I'm really hoping that happens."
In addition to acting, writing and comedy, Arngrim's added another skill: guiding tours. She leads a regular "Nastie Nellie Oleson" tour, through Dearly Departed Tours in Los Angeles. She discovered that talent when she was on a tour and found herself adding to the guide's Hollywood legends with some anecdotes of her own.
"'You're like a closet tour guide!'" she remembered the guide, also her friend, telling her. "It's sort of Alison's life and a Hollywood tour at the same time."
The tour, which Arngrim leads about once a month, includes personal stories about her life in Hollywood, a question-and-answer session, an autographed photo and a stop for milkshakes. Tours are limited to 12 guests and might have a theme if a holiday is coming up. The next tour is Aug. 20. (Visit dearlydepartedtours.com for more information.)
But Arngrim's next trip is to Frazier Park. She's been to Bakersfield in the past for a local AIDS walk, she said, and has been through other times too. She doesn't know if she'll get to make the trip down the mountain to get the Dewar's peppermint taffy she loves, but she's looking forward to Fiesta Days.
"I'm excited because I've been looking at all the pictures," she said. "It's going to be a blast. I think we're going to hang out for a while and go on rides."