‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Karen Grassle Was Told To Go For Certain ‘Look’ for Audition

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

When it came time for actress Karen Grassle to audition for her part on Little House on the Prairie, she was told to aim for a type of “look.”

Well, what “look” was that to be for her?

Grassle, who played Caroline Ingalls in the NBC family drama, talks about it with the New York Post.

“In the ’70s, it was common for actresses in Hollywood to wear tight jeans and little tops that revealed their midriffs, false eyelashes, and plenty of eyeliner,” Grassle said. “That look was ‘in,’ but the look, [my] agent said, was not helping Michael Landon cast Caroline Ingalls, Pioneer Mom.”

Besides playing Charles Ingalls on the show, Landon also was the show’s executive producer and writer of some episodes.

What did Grassle do? According to the Post article, she invested $40 — a large amount of cash at the time — in a modest woolen dress with a turtle neck and flared skirt. She sneakily ignored the order to come bare-faced by dabbing on a touch of brown eyeshadow.

Ah, well Karen Grassle, that rebel! She ended up getting the role and played Caroline for a number of seasons.

Little House on the Prairie is still on the TV thanks to the world of reruns. Besides Grassle and Landon, others in the cast included Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, and Alison Arngrim.

‘Little House on the Prairie’ Talked About How She ‘Lost Contact’ with Costars

Most stars of a show like Little House on the Prairie would find a way to stay in touch. This was not the case, though, for Grassle.

She talks about this in a 2004 interview on Dave’s Gone By.

Grassle said she lived outside of California for 10 years “and I had kind of lost touch with people.”

“Occasionally, I would luck out,” she said. “Someone like Dabbs Grier [Reverend Robert Alden] would come through the town where I was living and shoot a movie or something.”

Grassle was able to introduce her then-little daughter to her Little House on the Prairie costar Grier.

She also said that she’d chat with Kevin Hagan, who played Doc Baker, on the phone.

“Occasionally, there would be a party or something and I was able to reconnect with Katherine McGregor, who played Mrs. Oleson,” Grassle said.

Well, the actress definitely made her presence felt on Little House on the Prairie.

Who might she have based her Caroline role on in her TV show?

She talked about it in an interview back in 2020. Grassle said she based it on her own mother.

“If you read [Laura Ingalls Wilder’s] books and see photos, Caroline was very tough and sturdy,” Grassle said. “My mother rode a horse barefoot to school, and as a young woman, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse!”