Helga Geraldine Pataki is a fictional character in the Nickelodeon animated television series Hey Arnold!, voiced by Francesca Marie Smith.[1]


Helga's middle name never was revealed in the show except by her initial, but in one of the chats[2] Craig Bartlett stated that the initial "G" stands for "Geraldine" and is a tribute to former Nickelodeon executive Geraldine Laybourne. In the series, Helga is apparently named after her older sister Olga Pataki. The names Olga and Helga are variants (respectively, Russian and German) of the same name. Thus Saint Olga, a princess of Kievan Rus', was called "Olga" by her Slavic subjects and "Helga" by Varangian ones. Her surname, Pataki, is originally a Hungarian surname, Patak ("brook", in Hungarian).


Helga is portrayed as being a tomboy noted for her obsessive infatuation with Arnold, which she masks with name-calling and taunts. She is more commonly seen alongside her male classmates than with the girls in her classroom, and is frequently accompanied by her sidekick and right-hand woman Phoebe. In spite of her usually surly nature, Helga unveils a gentler, tender side when in solitude shown in her poignant crooning to her locket that has a photograph of Arnold encased in it and in the sweet poetry she writes dedicated to Arnold. However, Helga's infatuation with Arnold can perhaps best be described as unhealthily obsessive; she keeps a shrine devoted to him in her closet and will stop at nothing to rid herself of any competition for his affections.

Helga typically behaves in a rough, brash nature; she addresses her parents by their first names and is apt to bark out orders in some situations, and sometimes even may behave as something of a domineering bully. However, insights to Helga's home life are often depicted as uncaring and unaffectionate; her parents pay more attention to her overachieving, caring elder sister Olga, her father demonstrates little affection for Helga and is often portrayed as showing more preoccupation and pride for his business in proprieting a store that sells electronics than his daughter, and Helga's mother is portrayed as being drowsy and sleep-deprived, possibly implying drunkenness. It was revealed in one episode that Helga's unconditional infatuation for Arnold first began in nursery school, when he showed her affection and kindness before anyone else had before.

Relationships with peers

Helga is regarded by most of her peers as a bully. She makes rude remarks and does not hesitate to use or threaten physical force to get her way, which intimidates many of her classmates. She even gave her fists names: Ol' Betsy and the Five Avengers.


Helga is secretly in love with Arnold, despite the fact that she is constantly teasing him and calling him names (usually 'Football Head', in reference to his rather oddly shaped head). She creates many pieces of art to express her love for him, including a shrine in her closet featuring a sculpture of his head. Various episodes have her going to the extreme to prevent her secret from being exposed. One such example is the episode “Helga Blabs it All” in which, under the influence of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) from a dental filling, she leaves a love declaration on Arnold’s answering machine. After beating up and taking the clothes of a “Campfire Lass” (equivalent to Girl Scouts of the USA), she pretends to be selling cookies in order to gain entry to Arnold's house and steal the tape before he can hear it. In one of the show's most popular and noteworthy episodes, "Helga on the Couch", she actually discusses her obsession with the school psychiatrist (voiced by Kathy Baker). Herein it is revealed her limerence towards Arnold is the result of transference; where her family relationships were weak, Helga subsequently transferred all feelings of love towards the one person who fulfilled her idea of care, Arnold. This is revealed by a flashback in which during Helga's first day of pre-school, her family seemed to completely ignore her existence, forcing her to make the trek to school alone in the rain and mud. Upon arriving at school, it is Arnold who offers her a helping hand and true kindness.

Helga confesses her love after being caught helping Arnold, by Arnold, in Hey Arnold!: The Movie though the two both agree afterward that it was in the heat of the moment. (However, like many past episodes, Helga was probably trying to hide her romantic feelings from Arnold again.)

It is also sometimes hinted in the series that Arnold has strong feelings for Helga. Events in episodes like "Married," with Arnold's nightmare of married life climaxing with a heartfelt attempt by the dream Helga to express her love, also implies he has as much trouble as Helga coming to terms with how deep his feelings are. The show's producer, Craig Bartlett, revealed during an Internet chat that had the second movie, The Jungle Movie (which was planned but never produced), been made, Arnold would have realized he and Helga were meant for each other, and finally reciprocated her feelings.

Although Helga has acknowledged her feelings regarding Arnold, she opts to keep them private by publicly denying and rejecting Arnold through displays of verbal abuse. It is suggested in various episodes that Helga treats Arnold as such due to her fear that revealing her true feelings would cause her embarrassment and humiliation. In "Helga On The Couch," Helga also expresses her fear of being rejected by Arnold.

Phoebe Heyerdahl

Phoebe Heyerdahl is Helga's Asian American best friend. The conflict between Phoebe's quieter, less demanding personality and Helga's more aggressive one occasionally emerges in episodes such as "Hall Monitor", "Preteen Scream", and "Phoebe Breaks a Leg". Phoebe often follows Helga around, taking down notes and appearing more as an assistant rather than a friend to Helga. However, the two do care about each other, as they listen to each other's concerns and help each other out. Phoebe is the only one who knows about Helga's love for Arnold, and the two refer to him as "Ice Cream" when talking about him in public (as seen in "Helga's Love Potion"). She is also understanding of Helga's rocky relationship with her family. A running gag throughout the series is when Helga says something embarrassing, she orders Phoebe to forget what she just said, which leads Phoebe to cheerfully state "forgetting!".


Brainy usually appears when Helga is in the middle of one of her private emotional monologues about Arnold, standing behind her and breathing very hard. It is apparent that he is in love with Helga, but she does not at all return these feelings; though on scant occasions, she has kissed him due to something going right for her. Usually, every encounter with Brainy ends with Helga punching him between the eyes and breaking his glasses, which is a running gag for the series. In one episode, Helga believes she has lost contact with her emotions and simply responds casually to Brainy and leaves; he becomes nervous and punches himself, being so used to getting injured by Helga.

Lila Sawyer

Helga despises and envies Lila Sawyer for being the object of Arnold's affections since season 3's "Arnold & Lila" and onwards. Unlike Helga, Lila displays indiscriminating compassion, wit, and stylishness. She was able to figure out that Helga is in love with Arnold during the production of the school play Romeo & Juliet, where she noticed Helga desperately wanted to play Juliet when Arnold was selected to play Romeo. Lila gets Helga to confess to her these feelings, and allows her to take her place as Juliet (which leads Helga to take full advantage of the death kiss scene, kissing him for a full minute). She also helps Helga to act more kindly towards others, though Helga permanently disregards this advice after Arnold accidentally calls her Lila.

  • In the episode "Big Sis", it is evident that Lila and Olga have similar personalities and interests. This in conjunction with Arnold's crush on Lila may also explain why Helga doesn't particularly care for her.


Like the other characters on the show, Helga's attire rarely changes: she usually wears a pink jumper over a white shirt, a large pink bow in her hair and white shoes. She has bright, blonde hair, which she wears in long pigtails without any visible hair ties, and a black unibrow. The color of Helga's eyes was stated to be blue by Arnold in the episode "Married," and there was actually a close up of them in "Helga Blabs it All" in which we get to see that her eyes are in fact, blue.

  • In the episode "Student Teacher", in the car on the way home from the airport, Olga comments on Helga's bow and asks her if it's new. Helga promptly replies "I've only worn it since I was four."


Helga has a very dysfunctional family. Her parents are neglectful and do not pay her any attention in a majority of the episodes. However, three episodes that show Helga getting attention from her parents are "Quantity Time", "Road Trip", and in "The Beeper Queen." The only family member that gives her attention is her perfectionistic sister, Olga. But Helga feels that her sister is disingenuous. It is heavily suggested that Helga's home situation is the root cause of her anti-social behavior.

Robert "Big Bob" Pataki

Helga's father (Maurice LaMarche), a successful pager salesman who suffers from workaholism, rarely notices her existence, favoring her over-achieving, neurotic college-aged sister Olga, whom Helga rarely gets along with. Helga refers to him as "Bob" or "Big Bob," indicating she does not really see him as her father. Bob generally does not pay attention to Helga unless she is involved in a competition, but only to serve his own competitiveness or to encourage Helga to become a carbon copy of Olga. In "Spelling Bee", Big Bob pushes Helga into winning for the sake of the family name, though she intentionally throws the contest when she finds out that her father bribed Arnold, her only other competition, into taking a dive. In most episodes, Big Bob prefers watching his big screen television to listening to Helga, and usually, absent-mindedly calls her "Olga." Although Big Bob is far more boorish in personality, he and Helga share some similarities that occasionally bond them. Both enjoy wrestling, ridiculing melodramatic theater, bullying, and eating. They also share similar speaking patterns, though Helga possesses a better command of language. Helga is deeply resentful of Big Bob's excessive attention to Olga. He also owns high-end vehicles, a Hummer and a Lincoln. However, Bob does care about Helga and it is apparent that he has difficulty showing her affection. In the episode "Quantity Time," Helga finally has enough and tells her dad to leave her alone. Initially Bob doesn't understand why Helga is upset. But he eventually realizes that he was being selfish and tries to make it up to Helga. He goes into her bedroom and removes an advertisement that a sleeping Helga left on her bed. He purchases tickets to take Helga to a play not realizing that she was interested in attending a wrestling match that had been advertised on the opposite side. In the end, Helga and Bob enjoy criticizing the play and have a bonding moment.

  • Bob Pataki has a unibrow which Helga evidently inherited.
  • His wife, Miriam, sometimes calls him "B"

Miriam Pataki

As indicated in the episode "Road Trip," her mother Miriam (Kath Soucie) was born in late 1951 or early 1952 (she says that the Summer of Love happened when she was 15). Indicated by the presence of beepers and larger cell phones, the series is set in the mid-1990s, meaning Miriam had her first child, Olga, in the mid- to late 1970s while being in her mid-20s. When Helga was born in the mid-1980s, Miriam would have been in her early to mid-30s. This corresponds closely with Helga's voice actress Francesca Smith's birthday in 1985 when Hey Arnold! premiered in 1996. In "Olga Gets Engaged," Miriam advises Olga not to make the same marital mistake she did, and in "Road Trip", Miriam reveals that she used to be a rodeo queen. In "Olga Gets Engaged," Miriam mentions to Olga's intended fiancé that she was once an Olympic class swimmer and would have most likely been a contender for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich had she not married Big Bob. Miriam often gives off hints of being an alcoholic: she looks depressed, speaks in a slow, slurred voice, exhibits emotional detachment from her husband and children, is often found asleep in odd places (behind the couch, on the living room table), drinks "smoothies" (some of which have items normally found in cocktails, such as Tabasco sauce and celery stalks) and coffee (in a misguided attempt to stay sober). She also has to do a "community service job" at an animal shelter, indicating she has committed some sort of offense. It's also implied (according to the episodes "The Beeper Queen" and "Road Trip") that Miriam is a horrible driver and has had her license revoked, possibly for DUI, which may or may not tie in with the community service job she was sentenced. In the episode "Olga Comes Home," Helga changes one of Olga's grades sending her sister into a tail spin of depression. In one scene when Miriam and Bob look into Olga's bedroom to see her crying in bed, Bob says "She can't just mope around in bed all day. It's not good." Whereby Miriam replies "Sure she can. I do." This implies that Miriam suffers from depression which would probably tie into her alcoholism. Helga also refers to her mother as "Miriam" and relates poorly to her. Though apathetic at home, it is suggested in multiple episodes that Miriam is capable of improving her life, but is stunted by her marriage to an overbearing Bob which may tie in to her depression and underwhelming lifestyle. In the episode "The Beeper Queen," Miriam's abilities are showcased when she fills in for Big Bob at his Beeper Emporium when he must stay home due to a back injury. In this episode Miriam packed Helga an exceptionally nutritious lunch, shared stories, listened to Helga and helped her with her homework. In the Thanksgiving Special, Helga left her home because of frustrating events with her family, but when she came back home, she found that Bob, Miriam and Olga searched for her. In that episode Miriam went to the police station and asked to speak with the police captain in an effort to find her "little girl."

Olga Pataki

Olga (Nika Frost) suffers from perfectionism, which creates a great strain on her relationship with Helga. She is also very warm and friendly which makes Helga feel uncomfortable when it is directed towards her (like when Olga hugs her). Olga and Helga do not relate to each other well, causing great conflict and resentment on Helga's behalf (Much of the resentment is exerted by Helga, for Olga doesn't seem to resent her little sister at all). Helga is jealous of Olga's image of perfection and of the attention she receives from both of their parents, Bob and Miriam. In the episode "Helga on the Couch" she tells the school psychologist Dr. Bliss about her home life. The viewer is soon taken back in time to when Helga was a toddler. In the scene, Olga is playing a tune on the grand piano for their parents. When Olga finishes the tune, she receives praise from Bob and Miriam. However, when Helga interrupts by tugging on Bob's pants to tell him "I have to go to preschool!" He replies "Go play outside." Eventually Helga announces that she's leaving for preschool. All the while Bob, Miriam and Olga ignore her as she walks out the door. Soon the episode returns to a 9-year-old Helga, who reveals that she believes Olga hogs all the attention and is insincere. However, throughout the series, viewers only see the sibling relationship from Helga's point of view. The viewer doesn't know with any certainty if Olga is intentionally a selfish attention seeker as Helga perceives her to be or in denial and oblivious to the family dysfunction. Overall, Olga is kind to Helga and has good intentions. But Helga does not respond to her kindness because she feels it is insincere. Olga does not listen to or address Helga's more serious concerns about their family and relationship. Olga is condescending to Helga, calling her "baby sister" which Helga finds irksome. However, during one episode, Olga, rather dramatically, retreated to her bedroom for a few days, believing that she had got a B+ grade on her report card rather than her usual straight A's. It turned out that Helga had deliberately changed it to knock her sister down a peg or two and to gain some attention for herself. Later in the episode when Helga admits to changing her grade, it is revealed that Olga does feel pressured by their parents, telling Helga that she's lucky that their parents don't notice her, whilst Olga "has to perform all the time like some little wind up doll". This indicates that to some extent, both sisters are envious of the others' predicament.

However, there are times where Helga showed some affection and concern for Olga. In the episode "Big Sis", when Olga becomes Lila's big sis after joining a "Big Sis, Little Sis" program, Helga continually tries to muck up Olga and Lila's plans unbeknownst to them. At the end, she reveals to Olga that she is jealous and envious of the relationship she has with Lila. Helga is reassured by Olga that she will always be her "baby sis" and that they have a strong "bond" that only real sisters have that no one can break. If she really didn't like Olga, she wouldn't have been jealous of her spending time with Lila and wouldn't have exerted all her time and energy into messing things up. In another episode when Olga becomes engaged to a man named "Doug," it becomes apparent to Helga that he is unfaithful. Initially Helga is amused at the thought of Olga marrying Doug and becoming a disappointment to their parents. But at the end of the episode, Helga has second thoughts and intervenes on Olga's behalf which helped end her sister's risky engagement to Doug. In the episode "Student Teacher", Helga does everything in her power to make Olga lose her assistant teacher/internship position at her school and urges Olga to become a teacher in Alaska as was Olga's original plan. After Helga has a heart to heart conversation with Olga, she eventually convinces Olga to leave for Alaska. The episode ends with Helga reading a post card she received from Olga and writing a letter in response. Helga initially writes "From" and then looks at a picture she has of Olga. After looking at the picture of her sister, she crosses out the word from and instead writes "Love".

  • In the episode "Helga on the Couch", when Helga has a flashback to when she was approximately between the ages of 3 and 5 years old, Olga is seen playing a tune on the grand piano. Helga interrupts and asks her parents, "Who's going to take me to preschool?" However, she is ignored and when Olga finishes her tune, Miriam praises her saying to Bob, "Can you believe her! Olga only fifteen years old and already a piano concertist and class valedictorian!" It can be assumed that since Helga mentions preschool, that Olga is probably 10 to 12 years older than her.
  • Although Helga says Olga attends Bennington College (a college with that name does exist in the U.S.A. within the state of Vermont), it is discovered in the episode "Olga Comes Home" that she attends Wellington College (colleges with this name also exist but they are located in England, Ireland, New Zealand and Hong Kong) and some other countries). [3]
  • In "Big Sis", it is evident that Olga and Lila have similar personalities and interests.
  • In the episode "Spelling Bee" Bob tells Helga that Olga won the spelling bee as a child because she remembered to include the silent letter "l" in the word qualm. It was after the spelling bee that Olga continued to win more trophies from other competitions and contests. So much so that they began to fill up the living which is why Bob began calling it the trophy room.


  1. T. Mike Childs, The Rocklopedia Fakebandica (Macmillan, 2004), 133.
  2. Craig Bartlett's chat transcript, June 2002, on Hey Arnold Wiki

External links

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