Karen Grassle

Karen Grassle


2/25/1944, Berkeley, California

Birth Name


out of 10
User Rating
47 votes


Born in California in 1944 (some sources state 1942), Karen Grassle became prominent on television for playing Caroline Ingalls on the long-running NBC series Little House on the Prairie. Aside from this role, Karen has guest starred on other series including Gunsmoke, Hotel, and The Love Boat. Additionally,…more


Trivia and Quotes

  • Trivia

    • Trying to boost her career in the late 1960s, Karen Grassle briefly used the alias "Kay Dillinger" in an attempt to imply that she was a daughter of the infamous gunman John Dillinger.

    • Karen Grassle's very first television credit was playing a little girl (Bonnie Draper) on the soap opera Love of Life at the age of 7.

    • Karen took over the role of Daisy in the traveling production of Driving Miss Daisy when another famed TV "mother", Michael Learned (Olivia Walton of The Waltons), became ill.

    • Karen Grassle has stayed in contact with Little House on the Prairie co-stars including Alison Arngrim and the Greenbush twins. She has said that she was not as close with Michael Landon, but she did speak to him shortly before his death in 1991. Actress Lucy Lee Flippin, who played Eliza Jane Wilder on the series, once said that Karen Grassle and Michael Landon did not always get along well off-camera, remarking that they had "different personalities entirely."

    • Gene Grassle, Karen's father, managed a service station (later he became a realtor) and his wife worked in a restaurant. Karen's mother suffered four miscarriages before Karen was born.

    • Karen Grassle has an adopted daughter named Lily.

    • Karen was an excellent student. She was valedictorian of her high school graduating class and received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United Kingdom after finishing college at Berkeley.

    • Grassle returned to theater after her successful career on television. In addition to playing numerous roles in theatrical productions in Louisville, Kentucky, she was a co-founder and director of the Resource Theatre Company in Sante Fe, New Mexico. She has starred in the Arizona Theatre Company's production of Wit and has toured recently playing the lead role in Driving Miss Daisy.

    • Karen Grassle has done little movie work. She acted in Harry's War (1981) and had a small role in the Kevin Costner movie Wyatt Earp (1994).

    • The filming of Little House on the Prairie in California's Simi Valley took place in the same county where Karen lived from the time she was a small child until she left for college.

    • Grassle was an understudy for Blythe Danner in Butterflies Are Free on Broadway.

    • As an advocate for victims of domestic violence (and other women's rights issues), Karen Grassle is credited for writing the screenplay of the 1978 TV movie Battered. She starred in the film as well. As part of the film's promotion, Grassle traveled to Washington and met with members of the US House of Representatives.

    • Because of the pioneer flavor of many episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Karen Grassle is enshrined in the "Hall of Great Performers" at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

    • Grassle graduated from Ventura High School in California and went on to attend college at the University of California at Berkeley.

    • Karen Grassle was trained in theater, her early post-collegiate work included an acting workshop in San Francisco and a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She went on to head the Voice Department at the Royal Academy.

    • Karen screen-tested for the role of Caroline Ingalls using the name "Gabriel Tree." Michael Landon persuaded her to use her real name again.

  • Quotes

    • Karen Grassle: (about "Little House on the Prairie" co-star Michael Landon) Michael was not an uncomplicated person. He had rough edges. This is not just a Mr. Nice Guy. People do an injustice if their hero worship takes them to a point where they say, "well, it was easy for him." It was very hard, and I'm sure it cost him.

    • Karen Grassle: (on acting before live audiences in the theater) The theater is the actor's medium. There's nothing between us and them. We can feel them.

    • Karen Grassle: (speaking about her inexperience with television when she auditioned for "Little House on the Prairie") When they told me that Michael Landon was directing and that he was the guy from Bonanza, I said - which one?

    • Karen Grassle: (in an interview with Barnaby Marriott and speaking on acting in the "Little House on the Prairie" episode "A Matter of Faith") "A Matter of Faith" was written for me so that I could show off a greater range. I think Mike (Michael Landon) was hoping I could be nominated for and win an Emmy. I learned a great deal about acting for the camera from that show.

  • Playing a character like "Ma Ingalls" wasn't as easy as Karen Grassle made it look. She had to play this 1880's praire woman who was reserved, oat-meal-scrubbed and God-fearing. But also fiesty, elegant and smart. No small feat!moreless

    It took such a unique actress to pull off such a multi-dimensional character. I think she made the character of "Ma" so uniquely her own that if casting directors were to cast such a chararcter again, they would say something like, "We need a 'Karen Grassle' type for this!" From what I've read about her, she is exceptionally intelligent - skipping grades in school, receiving two BA degrees from Berkely and receiving a scholarship to the Royal Acedmy of Dramatic Art in London. I think some people were a little too quick to dismiss Grassle as a leading lady because she never came across as stilted, self-aware, or decadent.moreless
  • Some actors can't truly show any depth to their characters because of the way they are written and directed.

    I don't know why everyone is giving her low marks. She played the character the way it should have been if you read the books! She portrayed a strong frontier woman taking care of her family. I especially liked the story where she thought she would have to amputate her leg and the struggle she went through spiritually and emotionally to save her life. Thankfully she didn't have to, but Karen did an astounding job with the character with what she was given on script. You work with what you have and direction given to you. Most of the storylines were not given to her they were written for the kids or for Michael/Charles, she was a background player, so she had to deal with what she had and personally I think she did great.moreless