During Karen Grassle’s stint as Caroline Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie,” she became America’s mom for millions.
Grassle, best known for playing “Ma” in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, had a loving relationship with her on-screen husband, Charles Ingalls, played by the late Michael Landon. Before she booked the gig, she auditioned alongside Landon after he insisted that she’d be perfect as the Ingalls family matriarch.
During an interview with Barnaby Marriott, Grassle confessed that she knew that the beloved series would be as iconic today as it was when it first began.
“I did know it would be a ‘hit,’ Grassle revealed. “Eight years I did not imagine. It was hard for me to stay in one place and do one character year after year. I have a somewhat restless nature. I’m terribly grateful for the continuity and security that it has provided, and the freedom I have to do interesting and creative work now.”
Karen Grassle on Her Time on ‘Little House on the Prairie’: ‘I’m Terribly Grateful’
Before booking the role on “Little House on the Prairie,” Grassle was born and grew up in Berkeley, California. As a child, she studied dramatic arts and ballet. She went to college in New Orleans before returning home to finish school at the University of California, Berkeley.
After graduating, she decided to pursue acting as a career. She was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in the United Kingdom. After the program, she began working in theater in New York City, which left her struggling financially.
“I had spent a year in England, working with a Shakespeare company and teaching. And I came back to the States flat broke, she confessed. “I was asked to fly to L.A. to play the lead in an independent movie, but when I got to the airport, there was no ticket! I’d sublet my apartment and my boyfriend was [with me], so I wrote a bad check to get one! But when I got to L.A., the movie fell through….”
After a tumultuous start to her career, her big break came when she booked her role on “Little House on the Prairie.” According to Grassle, she sought inspiration for the part from her mother.
“I based her on my mother,” Karen said. “If you read [Laura Ingalls Wilder’s] books and see photos, Caroline was very tough and sturdy. My mother rode a horse barefoot to school, and as a young woman, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse! So I took her character, strength and wisdom and infused Caroline with that.”