For years, a feud boiled behind the scenes of Little House on the Prairie between on-screen lovers Michael Landon and Karen Grassle. And it took decades for the classic TV stars to put their differences behind them.
According to the book Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma, Grassle won the role of Ma in 1973. At the time, she was “so broke and so discouraged” about her career as an actress that she decided to go back to school and learn a new trade.
But with no money, she realized she needed a temporary job to pay tuition. And that led her to an audition for Little House on the Prairie. But luckily for her, the series ended up being her big break, and she didn’t need to give up on her dreams.
During its first season, the now-legendary show was already ranked as the 13th most popular series on television. And because it was such a hit, Karen Grassle thought she deserved a pay raise, but Michael Landon didn’t agree.
“If you were on a hit series, it was common to renegotiate our contract based on its popularity. Michael did not want to give me a raise. He began to diminish my part, my value.”
Grassle’s simple request then began an era of bad blood between the two lead stars.
Landon became furious and eventually began to cut Ma out of storylines. And behind the scenes, he’d even have editors remove her major scenes. He even made fun of her body and facial expressions while reviewing footage in front of the rest of the cast and crew.
In his opinion, Grassle wasn’t a popular character, so she didn’t deserve a higher wage. And he further insulted his on-screen wife by claiming that she should only make as much as the child stars.
But despite the hostility, the actress went to work every day and continued to give her best work. And in the end, Landon finally caved and gave the star a new contract.
“It meant a lot to me,” she admitted. “But I paid a heavy price for it. I just wanted a fair wage.”
Michael Landon and Karen Grassle Didn’t Make Amends Until the 90s
However, the higher paycheck didn’t lead to a healthier relationship for Landon and Grassle. During the rest of the show’s eight-year run, the two remained at odds.
“To my dying day, I will never really understand why he dug his heels and refused as he did,” Grassle once shared with Fox News.
According to Closer, it wasn’t until 1991 that the actors finally made amends. As she said in an interview, he asked her to call him shortly before he died. And the chat freed her of “the bad feelings.”
“We had such a nice conversation,” she said. “We both chose to let bygones be bygones without actually having the conversation. But that meant so much to me.”
Landon died from cancer later that year on July 1, 1991. He was 54. And to this day, Karen Grassle continues to forgive him for his behavior during Little House on the Prairie.
“He created this show, and we’re still talking about it today, nearly 50 years later. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit,” she told Fox News.