Karen Grassle played a loving wife and mother on the hit TV series Little House on the Prairie. Although this role catapulted Grassle to stardom and provided consistent work, she admits she didn’t find the character interesting when she first read the script. Here’s what Grassle said about her TV character.
Karen Grassle on ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Grassle played Caroline Ingalls from 1974 to 1982. In her role as the wife of Charles Ingalls (played by Michael Landon), her character nurtured the family and helped the children grow into responsible young adults.
In her book, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Grassle says she based her TV character on her mother, Frae Ella Berry, because she reminded her of Caroline. She says her mother was the “living embodiment” of the “strength, devotion, and intelligence” that Caroline Ingalls had. According to Grassle, her mother rode to school on horseback and taught in a one-room schoolhouse just like Caroline did.
Karen Grassle didn’t find her TV character interesting
Grassle admits she didn’t find the Caroline Ingalls TV character interesting when she first read the script. When auditioning for the part, she says her agent told her to wear a dress and arrive makeup-free.
During her interview for the role, Grassle told the story of her start on Broadway and some of the mishaps she had at the beginning of her acting career. Once she got the role, she read the script for one of her first episodes. She says she thought Caroline was “not sexy” and “not at all shiny.” Grassle thought the character was “a bit of a drag” on the Charles Ingalls character.
Grassle worried about the role. She was concerned that playing Caroline could cause problems when she wanted to pursue other roles. “It didn’t seem exactly a star-making part nor a character who would generate lots of spell-binding roles in other projects,” wrote Grassle.
Karen Grassle learned to accept her role on ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Grassle had reservations about playing Caroline Ingalls, but she eventually accepted her role. In her book, she says she reminded herself that this was a paying job. She could finally relax a little and not worry as much about her income.
Although Grassle was relieved to have a steady paycheck, she also thought about the length of time she would be on the show. Now that she was in a TV series and not a Broadway show, she would have a longer time commitment. Grassle wondered if she could continue to work on the same project for years. She worried about “being stuck in a TV series” where she played a “negative woman” who seemed to “have no sense of her own strength.”
Grassle weighed the pros and cons of playing Caroline Ingalls. However, she knew at that point it would be too risky to audition for another TV role. She didn’t want to take a gamble and start over again. Grassle decided to be grateful for what she had and accepted the part.
Grassle says she gave herself a pep talk. “Take the damn part and be grateful you’re working,” she told herself. Grassle went on to star in Little House on the Prairie for eight seasons.