‘Little House on the Prairie’ Actor Karen Grassle Almost Changed Her Name, Revealed Her Options

by Clayton Edwards
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By the time Karen Grassle joined the cast of Little House on the Prairie, she was an accomplished actress. Most of her time in the acting business was spent on the stage, though. Grassle graduated from UC Berkley with degrees in both English and Drama. So, it was natural for her to transition from her academic career to one on-stage playing roles in Shakespearian classics. However, she rarely used her own name.

In fact, at one point she almost changed her name legally. Karen Grassle talked to Dave Lefkowitz about her possible name changes in a telephone interview back in 2004.

Why Karen Grassle Almost Changed Her Name

 Karen Grassle didn’t just want to change her name. She wanted to give herself a whole new persona. Changing her name was only the beginning. Grassle explained that she wanted to build a fictional backstory around the name that she took. She believed that this would help her in her future acting endeavors.

At the same time, it was a way for Karen Grassle to reinvent herself. Before starting her acting career in the United States, Grassle acted on the stage in England. While there she said she had some good jobs as well as some solid opportunities. On the other hand, she didn’t have what she would call a career. That’s what she wanted to build when she came to the States.  So, she was acting in a whole new country with an entirely different set of people. To her, reinventing herself just seemed natural.

Karen Grassle told Dave Lefkowitz that she had two names picked out. The first was Kay Dillinger. She chose that name for the infamous gangster John Dillinger. She told Lefkowitz, “I thought that would make me tough and I’ll be able to stand all the rejection.”

The other name that Karen Grassle toyed around with was Gabriel Tree. In the interview, she notes that she pronounced the name like Gabrielle, the feminine counterpart to the name. About this alias, Grassle said, “Gabriel is a very blessed name. It’s an angel’s name. Tree is the name of a very distinguished old family. So, I thought if I had the name of a very distinguished, old, moneyed family that would give me some kind of protection in this tough world.”

Grassle Kept Her Name

Karen Grassle actually auditioned for the Little House on the Prairie role under the name Gabriel Tree. Michael Landon loved her for the role. However, he didn’t like the name. So, he asked her to use her given name. In the end, she went with Landon’s suggestion.

He wasn’t the only one who was pleased that Karen used her given name in the classic series. Grassle told Lefkowitz that her father was very grateful that she didn’t change her name. Her parents had both been very supportive of her career over the years. In fact, they traveled many miles to see her perform over the years. So, it would have been hard on them if she would have gotten such a huge role while using a stage name.  

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