Just as Karen Grassle’s career on “Little House on the Prairie” was beginning, the iconic Western “Gunsmoke” was winding down. For 20 years, from 1955 to 1975, Marshal Matt Dillon kept a watchful eye over Dodge City. In 1974, “Little House on the Prairie” was in its first year of a nine-season run. And Karen Grassle, who played Caroline Ingalls opposite Michael Landon in the 19th-century drama, appeared in an episode of “Gunsmoke” that same year.
Not only that, the “Little House on the Prarie” star’s character on the Western was kidnapped. She played Fran, one of three saloon girls captured in an episode of “Gunsmoke” titled “The Wiving.” It was the second installment of the final season, and it saw a farmer order his sons to find wives for themselves. They do, quite literally, by kidnapping a group of women from the Long Branch.
Grassle’s character, Fran, quickly found herself in a tough situation. It was only after the boys rustled the girls that they attempted to court them. And in a somewhat comical depiction of what one could mistake for a case of Stockholm syndrome, the girls begin to show affection for their captors.
The episode was a fan favorite, as it received a significant amount of fan mail. In fact, it got so much that they made a follow-up episode that season. But the majority of the guest cast was different in the sequel. However, the “Little House on the Prairie” star’s appearance in “The Wiving” could have been instrumental to her career.
Karen Grassle Made a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Connection on the Set of ‘Gunsmoke’
Grassle’s time on “Gunsmoke,” although short, proved more rewarding than a typical one-episode guest role. According to Michael Landon’s biography, Grassle made a connection with a fellow “Little House on the Prairie” actor before production began. The two would go on to work together for nearly 10 years.
The 1974 episode of “Gunsmoke” was directed by Victor French. He went on to star in “Little House on the Prairie” as Isaiah Edwards. Over the course of the show’s run from 1974 to 1983, French appeared in 57 episodes. And before Grassle had officially booked the role of Ma Ingalls, she acted under the direction of her eventual co-star.
As a classically trained actress, it’s unlikely that Grassle’s small part on “Gunsmoke” was solely responsible for her casting on “Little House.” In fact, she had already met with Michael Landon about potentially playing the role. But the connection she made with Victor French couldn’t have hurt.