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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Alison Arngrim
Aired April 27, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight exclusive. A shocking revelation from the woman who played Nellie Oleson on the beloved TV show "Little House on the Prairie." Now for the first in public, Alison Arngrim breaks a silence she's kept for 27 years. She's going to share a dark secret that could help others who've gone through the same ordeal. Alison Arngrim, an intense emotional hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening, welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE, our special guest tonight is Alison Arngrim, stage, screen and television actress known best -- stand-up comedian, too, but known best to most Americans as the nasty Nellie Oleson in the famous show "Little House on the Prairie."
Alison is coming forward tonight with a very difficult story to tell but she wants to tell it -- why here, by the way.
ALISON ARNGRIM, ACTRESS: Well, multiple reasons. First of all, I think more people watch you than a lot of other shows, I know I do. And then also the way you handle this sort of thing really appealed to me. I saw Marie Osmond's appearance on this show, I was very inspired by that and I feel that if I'm going to talk about this, this is probably the best place to really do it.
KING: Let's go back now.
ARNGRIM: All right.
KING: What happened?
ARNGRIM: Well I was sexually molested as a child myself.
KING: What age?
ARNGRIM: It started around when I was six years old.
KING: By a family member.
KING: Not your parents.
ARNGRIM: Not my parents. And, like most parents in these situations, they really didn't see it coming. When I later told them in my 20s, they were actually quite stunned and I found in talking to other people who had the same exact thing happen that parents really just don't want to believe -- and in fact, they put two and two and two together, the whole thing could have been brought to a grinding halt. But people don't, and they don't see it coming, and a cousin or a brother or an uncle is molesting their child and they ignore the situation.
KING: Who was the abuser?
ARNGRIM: I'd prefer actually at this time to not say. I know Marie didn't.
ARNGRIM: Numerous reasons. I don't really want to give him the air time. Also, I...
KING: Don't want to give him the air time? It's terrible airtime for him.
ARNGRIM: It's terrible airtime for him, but I prefer not for personal reasons and for legal reasons to at this time not name the person who abused me.
KING: When it started, what happened? You were how old, six?
KING: What did you think? What did you do? Did he have intercourse? What did he do? Six.
ARNGRIM: Well, you know, obviously I prefer not to go into specific, graphic details, but really, at six I did not understand exactly what was happening. I did not know what sex was. I did not know what he was doing because I did not know what it was, and that's what often happens is children, when they're molested very young, they don't go tell anyone because: What do you go tell them? That this person came and did what to me?
ARNGRIM: What's to report? You don't know what's even been done. And then as it went on, because it's never just once, you are in this horrendous situation where you really can't get out. This person is in a position of authority over you, because it's a family member, anytime it's anyone close to the family, when it's a Catholic priest, when it's that kind of condition, you're in a position where you are pressured absolutely not to say anything, you are told that you are somehow colluding with this person, you are told that it's OK, and since you're not telling anyone, you're not getting any information from outside telling you "This is crazy, you don't have to be putting up with this."
And you are told whatever you do, don't tell anyone this or I will beat you senseless, you don't tell them. When you are physically threatened you don't tell people. That's why battered women tell people they ran into a door; it is why children usually don't tell. I actually read somewhere -- I thought I took a long time to go into therapy and tell anyone and then I read that the average length of time between being sexually molested and telling anyone about it is 14 years.
KING: You were physically abused, though, right? You were...
ARNGRIM: That is correct.
KING: Didn't your parents see the abuse?
ARNGRIM: See, and that's -- that's the question that always comes up. When I look back at what was going on then and -- you know, when I was growing up and as a teenager and in my twenties it was very easy to say, "Oh, there was no way you could tell. Everybody does that." But now, of course, that I'm older and my friends have kids, it's -- I look back at the signs I showed. I fell asleep every day in school. I cried all the time, I was shy and withdrawn, I begged not to be left alone with people, especially this person. I had...
KING: Did your parents think something was wrong?
ARNGRIM: They may have felt something was wrong, they just never thought it was that.
KING: They thought it was wrong with you.
ARNGRIM: Oh, they thought something was wrong with me, maybe they thought there was other kind of abuse, they didn't believe it. And that's the problem. People don't. Children do stuff like this all the time, they give obvious signs, they beg not to be left with people, they come down with urinary tract infections, they show all sorts of terrible symptoms, and nobody wants to admit that that could be happening because they're looking for strangers.
KING: Why talk about it now?
ARNGRIM: Why now? Oh, absolutely I have avoided talking about this for years. I've seen a lot of celebrities go on television shows and come out about this kind of thing and I've always sort of cringed and said "Oh, I just don't ever want to do that." But I've always said if I had to, if there was some compelling reason -- in this case, I'm now on the advisory board of an organization called PROTECT, or the National Association to Protect Children and we have a law, we have a bill that we introduced in Sacramento that we are now attempting to reintroduce and we are trying to change a law in California, in fact, a law that exists in some 34 states.
KING: You say "re-introduce" it. Did it fail the first time?
ARNGRIM: Absolutely, we presented this on April 20 before the Public Safety Committee and they vehemently opposed it.
KING: What did the law say? ARNGRIM: The original law is under the California penal code 1203: If you molest a child, you can get anywhere from 3 to 16 years and they also have a special condition where you cannot get probation if you've committed certain aggravating, horrible factors.
KING: You must do time.
ARNGRIM: Right. And this includes if you have done; if you've had multiple victims, if it was continuous sexual abuse, if it was substantial sexual abuse, actual intercourse, oral copulation, unless, and it specifically states "unless you are the parent, step-parent, relative or family member living in the home.
KING: Then it doesn't cover you.
ARNGRIM: Then you can have probation. You can commit multiple acts of rape on multiple victims.
KING: You tried in the new bill you wanted it included.
ARNGRIM: We felt that people who rape their own children should be simply treated exactly the same as...
KING: And why was that turned down?
ARNGRIM: They had numerous reasons. There are people who feel that it's important to keep the wage earner in the family even if he is sexually molesting or abusing the children. There are people who are convinced that child molestation is some sort of curable condition and that if they just send them home they won't do it anymore.
KING: We'll take a break. Come right back and we'll see the progress Alison, and how it developed, how you went along with it and what happened in your career, et cetera. My guest is Alison Arngrim, she was, of course, Nasty Nellie on "Little House on the Prairie." Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wonder why Laura Ingalls doesn't come in the store anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because she's too poor to buy anything. That's why.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So's her father. He can't even pay what he owes in the store.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't get a decent job either. All he does is dig in the mud and clean up after horses.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My pa works hard!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So does a mule. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNGRIM: We who have been raped by our flesh and blood do not wish to any longer tolerate being treated as a personal problem or private matter or acceptable collateral damage to a misguided therapeutic experiment. We do not wish to be treated as second-class citizens in the courtroom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's go back. Did it start innocently enough? What did you think was happening? I mean, you don't want to go in grim details and neither do I, that's stupid...
ARNGRIM: Right, but it didn't start innocently. Definitely he knew what he was doing and I did not. And that...
KING: Would you call that first occurrence rape?
KING: So it was rape. There was penetration of some kind.
ARNGRIM: I'd prefer not to go into...
KING: But it was -- if you had reported it then and they had arrested him it would have been rape.
ARNGRIM: And this is what happens in these cases is that people think that when it's a family member or a Catholic priest or it's someone close to home, that maybe it's not like a stranger, maybe they did something innocent, maybe they were just trying to do something nice. But that's not true. What we have found out -- what is horrible and what I unfortunately found out from everybody else in my position -- is people who sexually molest their own relatives and family members do exactly the same things as people who molest strangers do. There is not some better deal you're getting by being molested by a father or an uncle or a step-brother or anything. People think that the guys going out in vans are doing some terrible things and these family molesters are just, you know, touching them, and that's not the case.
KING: Sometimes when the victim is a little older and it's a girl, they start to feel guilt that maybe they sort of hinted at it.
KING: Did you go through that?
ARNGRIM: I felt guilty that I didn't tell anyone. I felt absolutely terrible...
KING: But never felt guilty about the occurrence, that I may have sort of...
ARNGRIM: I, you know, I...
KING: ...came on to him.
ARNGRIM: I know that sounds weird, but I was pre-pubescent, I had no secondary sexual characteristics...
KING: Yes, I know.
ARNGRIM: ...it was like my, you know eww. It didn't continue...
KING: How long did it go on?
ARNGRIM: It continued until I was about nine. It didn't...
KING: Three years.
ARNGRIM: Yes. It did not continue into adolescence, which is interesting because you usually think "Oh, it's teenage girls, they're going to go for the teenage girl." And that's what's so shocking to people and people are just so stunned is that, no, it's not really always the teenage girl. It's your six-year-old, it's your three- year-old.
KING: Why did it stop at nine, do you think?
ARNGRIM: I was starting to get more input from other people. When you're nine you start, you know, having more friends, you start getting out of the house more.
KING: You told friends about it?
ARNGRIM: I eventually started telling friends at about ten or eleven, but when you're nine you start hearing things and you're sort of like isolated. And that's the thing, it's just like in battering relationships, you're very isolated. When there's sexual abuse in the household, and even with houses where the parents don't know, aren't directly involved, it only happens when there's this isolated kind of insular thing going on, so when I was nine I finally was getting out of the house enough and going to camp and things and I heard people saying, "Well you know, there's this thing called rape. If somebody makes you have sex and you don't want to, it's against the law." And it didn't ever occur to me that I had some sort of legal recourse.
KING: When you told friends, did they say, "Report it?"
KING: They did not.
ARNGRIM: No, absolutely not. And that's another thing of why we keep talking about this law. When people go to someone and say "Oh, I got raped when I was a child," or "I got raped last week." And they say it's with some strange man or the guy down the street, people say "Oh my god, what can we do?" But when you go to someone and you say you were molested and you say "And it's Uncle Harry," or "It was my father," they go "Oh. Well, how can we help him?" And they tell you not to report it and they say "Perhaps you shouldn't talk about that anymore," or "Try not to think about it."
KING: There must have been times the family's all together. Right?
KING: You're with the perpetrator. What was that like? Just having dinner.
ARNGRIM: Absolutely awful. And this is something that everyone who's gone through this can attest to is even if you're trying to make a go of it, even after it stops, even if you say, "He doesn't know what he's doing." Even if you say, "Oh, I'm going to forgive him," they're never anything to you but someone who raped you and when they talk about putting these people back in the household, when you talk about trying to keep these -- give these people the same penalties. When you say you want to restore a relationship, how do you restore a relationship if a father started having sex with his daughter when she was, say, three, what relationship did they have before that? She's always been a sex object to him and he's always going to be the guy who raped her. And there's these girls where the father or step- father molests them and they say "Well, put him back in the home, he's been in counseling."
But now she has to get his dinner and iron his shirt and go help dad do this. And he's the guy who had sex with her every night for ten years. How does this make any sense? And it's very traumatic, and when we spoke in Sacramento, we had Dr. Bruce Perry from the Child Trauma Academy, and he talked about working with people who said, "Even when the perpetrator comes back," -- first of all, many of them come back and start right up again. When they come back and they don't continue to molest, say they say, "OK, I'm not going to have sex with you anymore." They said they still -- they're living with this person who made their life hell and he traumatized them, who they're always going to be afraid of. And we continue with stress and trauma, it's absolutely awful.
KING: Ages six through nine, were you angry?
KING: Did you hate him being around?
KING: Did you try to avoid being in a closed room?
ARNGRIM: Yes I did. But another thing that happens when it's someone you know, and this has happened with the Catholic Church where people kept going back to them and it happens in families and it happens with women who stay with battering husbands. It's the old "I'm sorry, I didn't mean any harm, I won't do it again."
KING: Did he say that to you?
ARNGRIM: Oh yes, very apologetic.
KING: All the time?
ARNGRIM: No, sometimes things would stop temporarily so you'd think "Well, maybe it's not going to happen again." Or threats: "Don't tell anyone." Or "Oh no, I'm sorry." That playing both sides, as batterers do.
KING: What kind of conversations did you have with him when you weren't in this mode of victim and aggressor? What I'm trying to say -- did he ever pick you up at school?
ARNGRIM: No. But you do have conversations when you're in a relationship when it's someone close to you, you have all these "let's try to make normal." You don't want anyone to know. So when other people are around you try desperately to have these sort of normal conversations and try to talk to the person as if you have not been sexually abused by them...
KING: Go to movies together?
ARNGRIM: Mmm -- hmm. You try to...
KING: Go shopping?
ARNGRIM: No. But you try to do allegedly normal things, you try to talk about other things. They, of course, feel that it's perfectly normal. The person who is doing it thinks it's fine.
KING: Really? They don't feel they're doing anything wrong?
ARNGRIM: No. So they're trying to...
KING: That's psychologically true. They don't feel guilt.
ARNGRIM: They very rarely feel guilt, and if they feel guilt it tends to be fear of getting caught, they'll go to great lengths to not get caught. But they will always try to -- oh, the fathers who have molested daughters from age three to seventeen and they molested the younger sister absolutely tried to keep everything normal, wanted to be back in the home, they're often the teacher at the school and the Little League guy and they take the kids to the park, in fact, usually the defense is, "How could I have been a molester? I took them shopping, I went everywhere with them." They try to have these so- called normal relationships but there's nothing normal about it at all, the person is their slave, so of course they engage in normal conversation because it's all OK that I'm doing this.
KING: I'm going to ask in a minute what that does to your head.
KING: We'll be right back with Alison Arngrim, you're hearing exclusively tonight, coming out with quite a story. The former -- starred as Nasty Nellie Oleson on "Little House on the Prairie." We'll also ask about that show in a while, too. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's so important about cleaning up after dirty old horses? Especially this one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me and Bonnie (ph), we got a race to win in a couple of weeks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're making that up. You're not going to ride her in any old race.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you think.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm glad my father gave her back to you. She smells bad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't we all?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNGRIM: When she's like this, she's asleep. And when I stand her up, she's awake. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And she has real pettycoats with real rumples and real (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I told you not to touch! You did that on purpose!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't, Nellie. Honest.
ARNGRIM: You did so. Just because you only (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you don't want me to have one. I wish I'd never asked you to my party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Alison Arngrim, formerly of "Little House on the Prairie." How long was that show on, by the way?
ARNGRIM: Seven years. Well, actually nine, if you count "Little House: A New Beginning." That's two more years.
KING: So, nine.
ARNGRIM: I was on for the seven.
KING: You were on for seven. Not bad, not a bad run. You still get residuals?
ARNGRIM: Yes, I do.
KING: Good gig, good deal.
ARNGRIM: OK, they're not that big now, but I still get them.
KING: What was the psychological effect on a 7-year-old, looking back?
ARNGRIM: Well, what happens is the worst part of it is the bizarre sort of brain washing relationship. I know you've had women who were battered on the show and they talk about -- it's like, "Why didn't you leave the husband?" Well, no, he told me -- and they're staying with the husband and it's this bizarre situation -- it's exactly the same. A child who is being sexually molested is being turned into like a 30 year-old woman who is being battered by her husband. She's being made an abused wife, and it's all the same dynamics. You think maybe it'll be OK, you think -- you're very unhappy, maybe if I make him happy or if I'm nice to him, this will all get better. Maybe he's ill and if I am kind to him, he will get better and stop doing this. Maybe it's me. Maybe it'll all end tomorrow. Maybe it will all go away. All of this goes through your mind.
KING: What happened after age 9?
ARNGRIM: After age 9 I told him that I now knew that this was actually illegal, that technically I could go to the police, and it was interesting for someone who thought he wasn't doing anything wrong, he stopped doing it at that point.
KING: For how long?
ARNGRIM: Ceased at that point.
KING: Never happened again?
ARNGRIM: There were, shall we say, attempts.
KING: But since 9 you were not molested.
ARNGRIM: That is correct, yes.
KING: But there were attempts and you fought them off?
ARNGRIM: Not so much fought them off, they were more sort of vain attempts. And at least by then it was just a matter of, you've got to be kidding.
KING: And you had the -- you were now a little adult...
ARNGRIM: With the wherewithal. And it was amazing...
KING: Did you ever hit him?
ARNGRIM: No. Hit back. I mean, I was hit.
KING: Was he physically rough in addition to the sexual part?
KING: Like hitting, beating you?
ARNGRIM: Yes. Quite common. And that's the other thing, too, which made it go -- both -- you had the threat action. But what happens is you get into this bizarre mind-set, and I know you've heard this before, it's like when they talk about the whole Stockholm Syndrome of people who have been kidnapped. I mean, or even Elizabeth Smart, who would say "No, no, no, I'm not her, I'm going to stay with the people."
You do. You, absolutely, you become like a kidnap victim and you start saying, "Well maybe it's not so bad." And you actually debase yourself to the point of saying, "Well, somehow this is going to be OK, well, maybe everyone's doing this." And you tell yourself anything to not go crazy, so you wind up hanging around this person. Oh, he's OK, he has problems. And so you don't turn them in and you don't say a damn thing.
And then what happens is eventually you grow up, and at some point you realize something's horribly wrong. You realize that you're terrified all the time, you have all sorts of stress related symptoms. When I was in my 20s, I would break out in rashes, I threw up my food, feinted, I started having all these problems, and you realize that you don't trust people. You have a level of paranoia that other people just don't have.
KING: What were your teen years like? At school?
ARNGRIM: Well, luckily I was on the show.
KING: Did you date?
ARNGRIM: Yes I did, and I tended to wind up in probably less than positive relationships with guys who I probably wouldn't have given the time of day to if I hadn't been brought up like that.
KING: Dating the wrong people.
KING: Did you date abusive people?
ARNGRIM: No, thank God. And that was one of the things. On the one hand I guess I'm a little different. A lot of people immediately hook up with a guy who's going to hit them. I absolutely -- if someone showed any signs of being physically violent -- gone, forget it.
KING: What led you to finally tell your parents?
ARNGRIM: I had gone into therapy. I had finally gotten therapy because I was incredibly unhappy and that's the level of stress you were under in trying to keep that a secret and trying to pretend you're normal, trying to pretend...
KING: You're on the "Little House" already?
ARNGRIM: "Little House..."
KING: What age were you when you got on the "Little House?" ARNGRIM: I was 11 years old. And I have to tell you, being Nellie Oleson saved my life.
ARNGRIM: Because you have all of this horrendous rage, you have nowhere to put it, you're powerless, you can't go kill him, and you can't tell anyone. But you're terribly angry all the time, and you also you feel like you're not normal and you can't trust anyone.
KING: Did you bring it to the character?
ARNGRIM: Absolutely. And when I got the part of Nellie, I was like sort of, "Ooh, this is fun, I'm playing the villain." I remember at the time going, "Oh, my God, this girl is a bitch." Fabulous. And I got the part and I went, "Ooh, it's so funny."
But then when I was doing it, it was such a relief, and I didn't think about it really much at the time. I mean, a few years in it it sort of occurred to me, and now I look back and say, "Oh my god." The episodes where I would scream and yell and break everything in the place and scream that I'm going to kill someone. Do you have any idea how good that felt? I would come home at the end of the day to fall into bed, I was so relaxed. It was the most incredible therapy. I got to be horrible and scream, I didn't have to be nice to people, I could break things. I could let it all out.
KING: We'll find out about telling your parents when we come back. Our guess is Alison Arngrim. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNGRIM: I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't break (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ARNGRIM: I hate you! I hate you!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what? I could sell out.
ARNGRIM: Out! Get out!
(UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'll fix you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your mother wants you!
(SCREAMING) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nellie!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Alison Arngrim, stage, screen, TV actor, stand-up comedian, known to most Americans as Nellie Oleson in "Little House on the Prairie." Did you talk to cast members about it?
ARNGRIM: Not until I was much older. Not until I was much older. During the show, absolutely not. "I'm going to appear normal, I'm like everyone else. Nothing like that ever happened to me." And you do -- you say, actually when -- you stand around and you say "Yes, I hear many people are molested, it's a terrible problem." And you lie.
KING: Did you want to be an actress early?
ARNGRIM: Absolutely. I did.
KING: Anything having to do with this occurrence, you think? Reacting?
ARNGRIM: People may say, my parents...
KING: I mean, I'm playing psychiatrist here.
ARNGRIM: Very good, you can do that.
KING: They're in show business?
ARNGRIM: Everybody I knew was in show business. Everyone. Now, I, of course, went into show business very young because everyone was doing it, but it did make sense, because I was accustomed to pretending that the entire universe was the way that it wasn't.
KING: How did you finally tell your parents and why? Now the show was over, right?
ARNGRIM: Yes. The show was over, so of course now I also didn't have this like daily therapy. I didn't have my screen therapy, so I was on my own. So I did have to actually go see a therapist because I felt horrible, and when I was talking to her she said, you know, you're still relatively young and your parents, you're still in contact with them and they're like local. You should probably tell them. Because usually people don't even talk about this until they're 40 or 50 years old. So I did, and I told my mother and I told my father and...
KING: Were they together?
ARNGRIM: No. Well, they're together, I told them separately.
KING: They weren't together.
ARNGRIM: They were together, but they were not in the room. And I told my mother first, then later I told my father, and they were genuinely surprised. They were absolutely floored.
ARNGRIM: Yes. And they felt terrible, because they were in a terrible position. They knew they should have known better, but they didn't, and this is what happens over and over again. You look at the situation and everyone says, "How in the hell could your parents have not known?" And the answer is, "I don't know." I think it seemed obvious, but most people don't know.
KING: Did they believe you?
ARNGRIM: Yes. I can at least say thank God for that, because many of my friends, they tell their parents and their parents say "No, you're out of your mind."
ARNGRIM: They absolutely believed me, there was no question of that.
KING: Did they confront the perpetrator?
ARNGRIM: Yes, they did.
ARNGRIM: And once again, when it's someone in your community, someone you know, there is confronting and there is confronting. Yes, we talked about it, I even spoke to him. Yes there was conversation. But it's not the same. If it was somebody -- if it had been someone that nobody knew, a total stranger, everybody would load the shotgun and get in the pickup truck.
ARNGRIM: But when it's like, "Oh, it's him! Oh, let's all go talk to him."
KING: Has the statute of limitations run on this?
KING: You can't charge him with a crime.
ARNGRIM: Not a thing.
KING: What do you gather his reaction will be, assuming he's watching this tonight?
ARNGRIM: Well, I don't know, it could go a lot of ways. I mean, on the one hand, he has at various times said that, yes, he shouldn't have done it and claimed to want help. I don't know. I don't -- after I had this one conversation with him, where yes, he admitted it. Once I had one conversation with him, we really never talked about it again.
KING: Do your parents get along with him?
ARNGRIM: My mother has since died. But yes, my father gets along with him. A lot of people get along with him.
KING: What was the career effect on you after "Little House?" And now you're seeing this psychiatrist? Did you get a lot of jobs?
ARNGRIM: Well, no, for a multitude of reasons. Well, I got some jobs in stand-up and doing things (ph). One of the reasons I started doing stand-up comedy. When you come off a series, especially where you're a child star and you come off of "Little House" and they're like "Oh yes, that was a lovely show, but we're not doing any 1800s TV right now." And there was absolutely a sense of typecasting. I was very lucky that I had the stand-up, which is also marvelous, therapeutic release. You can get up on stage and say all kinds of things.
KING: You still do that?
KING: Do you also do parts?
ARNGRIM: I have done a couple of small independent films, and I've been doing theater. I did a show called "Sirena, Queen of the Tango," and I did a one-woman show...
KING: What about episodic television?
ARNGRIM: I have not done any episodic television recently, and I would very much like to.
KING: You never got a sitcom or any kind of offer...
ARNGRIM: No, I did not.
KING: You think you were typecast?
KING: You are always going to be Nellie?
KING: So it's a blessing and a curse.
ARNGRIM: Yes, it is. And I can't really complain, I mean, yes, I've been typecast and a lot of people in my position would say, "Oh it's so awful, I'm so bitter I've been typecast." But I was typecast being on one of the most fabulous shows ever made and as one of the most wonderful characters. So I'm not going to cry. KING: I was going to ask about that. Back to the law. The law now states that if you're a family member...
ARNGRIM: This is correct.
KING: You can be given probation.
ARNGRIM: You can be...
KING: There's an exception to the law.
KING: When you can't in other cases.
ARNGRIM: That is correct. If you were not a family member, it's pretty much -- they've cracked down, they've really tightened the laws. If you're not a family member...
KING: You're going to go to jail.
ARNGRIM: ...you're going to get in a lot of trouble. There's some one-strike provisions, that's like three to 16 years, and it's absolutely if you have these egregious kind of circumstances, you are in trouble. And that's why in California in 1981 they actually put this in and said, we should cut these people a break. And it's any relative that could be...
KING: What was the argument against changing it back to not giving them probation? When you didn't get it passed, what was the chief argument against it?
ARNGRIM: They believed that these people are treatable, much as the Catholic Church did when they took the priests out and sent them to therapy.
KING: Well, aren't the other people treatable too, who do the damage, non-family?
ARNGRIM: Well, right.
KING: So why can't everybody get probation?
ARNGRIM: Why don't they all get probation and just go to therapy and go home?
KING: If it's treatable, it's treatable; if it's not treatable, it's not treatable.
ARNGRIM: Exactly. They actually said that people who rape children in their own home aren't like real child molesters. They believe this. They're also very big on keeping the breadwinner in the household, which of course was the argument for keeping the guy who beats his wife home.
KING: Of course. ARNGRIM: In fact, almost every argument that I read in the analysis that they put forth for keeping someone who has sexually abused a child in the house was identical to the 40-year-old arguments for keeping a battering husband.
KING: People who want to get involved. Is there any way they can contact?
ARNGRIM: Absolutely. Www.protect.org. And it's a national, non-partisan organization. We're like a membership group, we're like the NRA, you know, or the AARP, and absolutely, you can call us up. We have many -- a lot of volunteer work we need done. We're working in all states.
KING: Anything we can do. We'll be right back with more of Alison Arngrim. Again, that's www.protect.org. We'll ask about "Little House" after this, don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't mind if you go waiting in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Nellie, as long as you don't come over here by this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ARNGRIM: Why shouldn't I go there if I want?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's my secret special place. I'll show you what's there. Look over there. Look close. Get closer. Can you see it? Get closer?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNGRIM: Stay away from her. Don't touch my horse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not hurting anything.
ARNGRIM: I said, stay away from her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't do that!
ARNGRIM: She's my horse and I'll do as I please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You won't get anywhere being mean to her.
ARNGRIM: I know how to handle a horse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Couple of other things on the abuse aspect. Did he ever give you drugs?
KING: Six to 9.
ARNGRIM: Well, it was the '60s, and apparently...
KING: You give an 8-year-old a drug?
ARNGRIM: Well, I wouldn't, but in the 1960s, when drugs were around, if you were going to now take a child and make them not a child and drag them into everything else, and have this child doing things that no child should be doing, well, then, of course you're going be taking drugs as well. Why not?
KING: Is your father aware you're going public?
ARNGRIM: Yes actually, I have spoken to him. Well, he'd heard about the bill, he'd heard about the law and what I was doing with PROTECT and he was very supportive of that right of way. And he said "Well, it's a terrible law, of course it should be changed." And then I did speak to him and say "well you understand because of this we are now at least getting some national attention to this issue and I'm going to be going on Larry King." And well, he watches your show and he likes Larry King.
KING: Well, was he bothered that...
ARNGRIM: I said "You do understand what I'm going to be talking about..."
KING: He loves the other family member, doesn't he?
ARNGRIM: Of course. But he said, "Well, of course, you need to do this. I've thought about that, and he said "Well, are you going to say it's not me." And I said, "Yes," and he said "Well, alright then." But he seemed to be quite prepared for whatever followed. He said "Well, yes, you should go on Larry King."
KING: Did you once hit him over the head? The accuser -- the abuser?
ARNGRIM: Yes. During the various battering episodes, at one point I did break a chair on him, yes.
KING: At least you told him, know.
ARNGRIM: Well, I went through various phases of feeling absolutely terrified of this person. And then, of course, I did, as almost everyone does, I felt so sorry for him. I felt more sorry for him than me. "Oh, it's so terrible that he has to live with this." Not, of course the fact that I have to live with it.
KING: What about right now?
ARNGRIM: Well, when you stop being frightened of someone and then you stop pitying them, there's not really a lot left. It's not a good feeling. It's very sad
KING: Do you join those who believe this kind of problem is not curable?
ARNGRIM: I don't think that it is. No, I've seen no evidence that it is at all.
KING: Do you know why? I mean other psychiatric problems -- for example, abusive husbands can be cured. There was a University of Texas program, they usually were abused themselves, husbands were usually hit, they work with them in group therapy and have some success against the abusive husband.
ARNGRIM: But notice how hard they had to come down on them. And very few abusive husbands probably just ran over their voluntarily. Very often what they had to do was say "the wife is leaving..."
KING: Probably jail.
ARNGRIM: Exactly! They've been caught, the wife says I'm leaving you or you're going to jail and yes, I believe there are people in prison who have recovered from things. There are people who have committed terrible crimes while on drugs and gone to prison and gone into groups. And I think that probably some were -- but they don't have the -- the programs that claim to treat people who molest children, they don't get a lot of walk in business. They don't get people who say "Oh my God, what have I done." They get people who have been caught.
KING: By the way, your mother was Casper the Ghost.
ARNGRIM: Yes, she was. And she was on Gumby. And she was also Sweet Polly, Underdog's Girlfriend and Davey of "Davey and Goliath."
KING: Can you do Casper?
ARNGRIM: No. I cannot.
KING: That was a great voice, Casper had.
ARNGRIM: It was. She was also the First Family Album which you would remember. I can't tell that to people younger than me.
KING: She was on the Vaughn Meader Album?
ARNGRIM: She was Caroline and Jon Jon on the Vaughn Meader Album.
KING: Oh what a great...
ARNGRIM: See, I know you would know that.
KING: One of the funniest albums ever when John Kennedy became President. Vaughn Meader played Kennedy. They did the Kennedy Family Album. ARNGRIM: It's a fabulous album, and except I tell that to people even two days younger than me and they say "Who the hell are you talking about?"
KING: I used to play it on the radio, that's how old I am.
How did you get the job on "Little House?"
ARNGRIM: I had been working off and on since I was very little, commercials and episodic things, and I got this audition, and what's interesting is I originally went in and they said "we're making a series, we're going to do those "Little House" books. And I hadn't read the Little House books.
And then they came -- had me come back and I read for the part of Laura, and I remember thinking "Oh no, I'm not going to get this." Then I read for the part of Mary. Yeah, right. Then they called me back and I thought "Well, how many people do they have on this show?" And I read the part of Nellie. And as I said, I read the first few pages, "this girl's the bitch." And I read the part for my father before the audition and he said "Don't change and thing" and I went and I was hired on the spot. So apparently something was coming through. And I enjoyed it enormously, but I just auditioned and got it.
KING: So you were doing commercials while you were being battered. You were doing early work, you were doing commercials at seven, eight, nine...
ARNGRIM: Absolutely. That's correct.
KING: Alright, what was the work atmosphere like on "Little House?"
ARNGRIM: Fabulous, and that thing, historically, not only was it a great show for television and people still watch it and they buy the DVDs and it's got a huge cult following, it's this great family show, but we've also come to terms with the fact that as far as a set to be on, it may have been the greatest set to be on on a television show. Those of us who were on it, we like try to get together, in fact, we're planning a party later in the summer...
KING: You're all still friendly?
ARNGRIM: We're all still friendly. Well, e-mail each other, we'll call each other, of course, Melissa is president of SAG and I'm on a committee there. So, no, we're all on the phone and e-mail. And what we -- we finally got together one time and we realized -- we tried to deny it. We said it was just a show, I mean, it was OK. And then we admitted that we had in fact all bonded and we were like family members. I feel like Melissa Gilbert is a sister to me. That the girls were all going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a baby carrier like my sister. And when we talked to each other we have a bond like family.
KING: What was your relationship like with Michael Landon, who was a guest on this program many times.
ARNGRIM: So, you know what he's like. One of the funniest men who ever lived.
KING: Great guy. Very funny.
ARNGRIM: I liked Michael Landon.
KING: Nice Jewish boy.
ARNGRIM: Nice Jew -- Eugene Horowitz.
ARNGRIM: And Michael Landon is probably one of the most misunderstood people. People didn't know him and just watched the show, they think he was like Pa Ingalls or the angel in "Highway to Heaven." And people are always "What was Michael Landon like?" and when I talk about him they think I'm crazy, but he was so un Pa Ingalls.
KING: He was.
ARNGRIM: He was. He was this wild, irreverent, funny person. And he drank and he smoked and he was married three times, so he was not, you know, St. Michael of the Prairie.
KING: He liked women, too.
ARNGRIM: He liked women. He liked women and cigarettes. He liked going to the racetrack. And this is the kind of person he was. He would tell awful, horrendous jokes and he would play practical jokes on people. And he also had this incredible work ethic and he also -- he was all about the people who watched the show. And I think it's something that the networks didn't get it, Hollywood didn't get it. People think of Mike Landon as establishment. He was so anti- Hollywood establishment you would not believe it. I mean, you would, but people are stunned, they say, "No, no," he drove NBC crazy. There were people in Hollywood who say "he's mad." And he would...
KING: The viewer always was the first thought to him.
ARNGRIM: He taught me about fans. The reason -- I sign autographs -- you saw I was signing autographs earlier. We'd be on the sets, and he'd be in the middle of screaming at someone, and a family would come on the set and he would drop what he was doing, turn around and say, here, sign autographs, hold the baby, kiss the wife, pose for pictures and then say "OK, thank you" and then turn back and go "and another thing" and go back to what he was doing.
KING: Was he tough?
KING: Was he generous, or stingy.
KING: I'll ask you about that in a minute. Well be back with our remaining moments with Alison Arngrim, and remember www.protect.org. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNGRIM: I want another one. I want a better one. I wan the best (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now you just listen to your mother. Laura Ingalls is not going to win the race with that horse. Mother will take care of that.
ARNGRIM: You promise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I certainly do. I promise, now you just calm down and mother's going to get your desert for you. Yes, everything is going to be already. Mother's going to take care of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNGRIM: When the cats away, the mice do play.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's that mean.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know?
ARNGRIM: Do you know what that means, Mary?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?
ARNGRIM: No, I'm sure you wouldn't, you're too young.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, what's it mean.
ARNGRIM: Shut up. I bet your mother knows.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing just eat your lunch.
ARNGRIM: Some folks call it monkey business.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what that is, it's when a monkey goes...
ARNGRIM: Shut up! I bet even Mary knows what monkey business is -- don't you Mary?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Alison Arngrim and again, it's www.protect.org. Very important, and hopefully you get involved. You said he had off camera paranoia there, right, Michael Landon. Or did you have off-camera paranoia?
ARNGRIM: I don't know. I guess. I had off-camera paranoia. I was -- it's funny because I was always a very terrified little shy person, here I was, playing the big bully, which did wonders for me, because I was beat up at school, and here all the sudden I had this reputation as being Nellie. Actually it still works for me. If I go into a room full of people I don't know and I'm not sure and I'm a little nervous, then I remember they're all terrified of me, "She's Nellie and we'd better not upset her."
KING: Did Michael know what had happened to you?
ARNGRIM: Not a clue. And you know that's what I regret, not having told him. I think he would have probably been a good person to tell.
KING: You say he was generous and stingy.
ARNGRIM: He was generous and stingy. Well, we'd get these fabulous Christmas presents, it was just wonderful, I got a stereo one year. But he also ran the tightest ship in town. The show would come in under budget and he had a piece of a show and try to get a raise on that show. There's many actors in "Little House" who will complain to you bitterly that they were underpaid...
KING: By today's standards you were not paid well.
ARNGRIM: By today's standards, absolutely not. By then, in the amount of money I was making as a teenager, it was enough for me and I had a trust fund.
KING: That show was as big a hit as "Friends."
ARNGRIM: Absolutely. But the salaries that are on "Friends" simply did not exist for anyone at that time. But absolutely, by today's standards people would actually fall over dead if they made what we made in "Little House."
KING: You already said you receive residuals, right.
ARNGRIM: Yes, I do.
KING: Were you close to Michael when he died?
ARNGRIM: I did not get to see him right before he died, no I did not. I wish -- I did not see him in those weeks right before.
KING: You had not been in touch...
ARNGRIM: I had not been in touch for maybe a couple years. I did see him a couple times after the show. We had been in touch a little bit but I did not see him right before, unfortunately.
KING: How did you learn of his death? ARNGRIM: Unfortunately, on the radio, and it was actually an awful circumstance. I was at Tuesday's Child, the agency that helps children with AIDS, where I was working, and amazingly enough a television show was coming to interview me about what I was doing there. And they were on their way up when I had heard he was deathly ill and Melissa was going over there and we got the phone call that he had died. And they arrived and I said "I'm not sure I can talk right now because he's just died." And well, now of course that's what we want to talk about. So I had to do the interview about Michael and his death about 10 seconds after he had died.
KING: Any reunion shows around that or with Michael gone, it's impossible?
ARNGRIM: Oh, I would love to do a reunion show. We, actually, it's sort of a litigation tie-up, it has to do with who owns the rights to the show and between NBC and the Harper Collins Estate and Ed Friendly and et cetra, et cetra, et cetra. No one has yet come to an agreement to allow us to do a reunion show of "Little House on the Prairie." And the second they do I will be there, as will, I think, pretty much everyone else.
KING: Would you -- how would you say things are for you now?
This ought to be a little, tonight, sort of cathartic.
ARNGRIM: Yes, on the one hand, tonight, I mean, it was difficult, a couple times you asked me questions, and I thought to myself, now I know why people don't come on and talk about this, but it went pretty well. And for me things are pretty good and this is cathartic. In one way, yes, it made me nervous, and I was like "Do I really have to do this?" But then I thought, "no, people need to know how bad it is." They are sitting here talking about this law saying it's perfectly, OK, they're not real. People who are molested by family members aren't hurt like people who are molested by strangers." "You're less raped if you're raped by someone you know than a stranger and so you don't get redress in court." Absolutely discriminatory.
KING: And I think people also have a difficult time understanding how you could rape anyone -- but to rape your own family member is probably harder to...
ARNGRIM: The mental jump to make, it's sick enough when you think of the mental jumps someone would have to make to molest a child. But to molest a child who is your kid, how do you do that? And you can say "well, if they don't know -- well maybe they didn't know how old they were." Well, if you're present at their birth, what is your excuse? How do you say -- if someone molests their own child, what possible rationale could they hav, yet they do. So this is someone who's been willing to cross a lot of lines, and so people don't realize how bad that is. So if my explaining how awful this was, it makes some impression on people to change this damn law.
KING: To your knowledge, do any women molest men?
ARNGRIM: Yes, there are females who molest... KING: Sisters and brothers, mothers and sons...
ARNGRIM: It is not as prevalent as men, but absolutely, there are women who have molested their sons or their daughters or younger sisters. It happens.
KING: Do we understand why?
ARNGRIM: Not completely. And you can say they were abused, but there's many, many people who -- I was abused I haven't gone and molested anyone.
KING: Why would someone who was abused be abusive?
You'd think they would not be abusive.
ARNGRIM: Wouldn't the first thing -- you'd never do it. Right, you'd protecting people. It makes no sense.
KING: Under that code you should be abusive.
ARNGRIM: Right. I should be -- well, I was an ex-child star and I was abused. I should be on a tristate killing spree. I should be mad. It makes no sense at all. You also say "well, are they sick, is it a mental illness, why do they do this?" But then we look at other crimes, why do people murder.
Why do people go into a bank and hold everyone hostage and make them suffer and take the money.
You know, why do people kidnap people and lock them in basements?
Why do people do any of these things?
And when we look at those crimes we don't make the same concessions. We...
KING: Are you married?
ARNGRIM: Yes I am.
KING: Want children?
ARNGRIM: Thought about it, didn't for a long time but -- one is always skittish and one is this one, very skittish...
KING: And now?
ARNGRIM: Well, now, of course, I'm married to a wonderful person named Bob who's a great guy, and it'll be 11 years this fall. And yes, so far, so bad, we haven't had any. I don't know.
KING: I wish you every luck.
ARNGRIM: Thank you very much.
KING: And thank you, Alison.
Alison Arngrim, and again, more information, www.protect.org. I'll be back in a couple minutes. Don't go away.
KING: Thank you for joining us tonight, it's been a very compelling hour with Alison Arngrim. Know to millions of TV viewers as "Nasty" Nellie Oleson. A quick follow up on the shocking story that Alison shared with us. We contacted his father and he confirms that Alison told him about her alleged sexual abuse by a family member. He also told us he supported her appearing on the show. Thanks again for watching. Up next "NEWSNIGHT." Stay tuned.
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