'Nellie' Gives Lowdown on 'Little House on the Prairie'

"Little House on the Prairie" is loved the world over for its quaint family drama.

Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson during the series' original seven-year run, still gets e-mails from "Prairie" fans who say the show became their substitute family during their "horrible childhoods."

"Well, it was the same for me," Arngrim, now 48, told ABCNews.com.

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In her new book, "Confessions Of A Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson And Learned To Love Being Hated," Arngrim reveals how she was sexually abused as a child, and how the role of bad girl Nellie helped her to heal. She also shares behind-the-scenes tales of one of the world's most beloved series.

Arngrim writes that she was abused by a family member for nearly three years starting at age 6. The abuse made her, an already diminutive girl, even more shy and withdrawn.

That changed when Arngrim got the part of scheming brat Nellie Oleson at age 11.

"People were suddenly intimidated by me," Anrgrim said.

Other times, she was reviled like her character. Since age 11, Angrim has been called "bitch." She's been spat on, pelted with garbage and beaten up.

Alison Arngrim as Nellie and now.

But thanks to Nellie, Arngrim found an outlet for the rage that had been building since her abuse -- a secret she kept from her parents until her twenties.

"When you're sexually abused you have a lot of anger," she said. "Usually victims turn the pain and rage on themselves. So to have an outlet where one could express this anger outwardly and openly was a fantastic opportunity."

Arngrim is grateful for Nellie. "Instead of her ruining my life, she gave me my life."

Coming from a show business family -- her father, Thor Arngrim, managed Liberace and her mother, Norma Macmillan, provided the voice for Casper the Friendly Ghost and Gumby -- Arngrim got to experience "normal family life" on the "Little House" set.

Michael Landon, who played Charles "Pa" Wilder and produced the series, was very much the set's father figure.

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"He saw to it that the rules were obeyed," Arngrim said. "We said 'yes, sir' and 'yes, ma'am.' We had to know our lines. We were held to a higher standard."

At the same time, Landon was nothing like the prairie dad he played.

"He was divorced and married several times," Arngrim said. "He lived in Bel Air and Malibu, attended the Playboy Jazz Festival, drove a Ferrari, smoked and drank. He had this wild sense of humor on set that really shocked people."

For one thing, he had an "unsaintly" habit of showing up without underwear on the set.

Nellie and her nemesis Laura Wilder may have scrapped on screen, but off camera Arngrim was best friends with Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura.

"I had an intense, wonderful friendship with Melissa, who became a sister to me," Arngrim said.

Melissa Sue Anderson, however, who played Gilbert's on-screen sister Mary, wanted nothing to do with Gilbert and Arngrim.

"Melissa and I were wild and fun loving," Arngrim said. "Melissa Sue just looked at us and shook her head."

Arngrim's other best friend on the set was Steve Tracy, who played her on-screen husband, Percival Dalton, toward the end of the series. When Tracy contracted AIDS and went public with his diagnosis in the mid-1980s, Arngrim stood by him. She began volunteering for AIDS Project Los Angeles and speaking about the disease.

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