Little House on the Prairie

‘Little House on the Prairie’ star Karen Grassle: 8 surprising revelations from her tell-all book

Actress details her friendship with Michael Landon, battle with alcoholism in new memoir

Karen Grassle, who famously played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie,” is coming clean.

The actress recently wrote a memoir titled “Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House’s Ma.” in which she details her upbringing and struggles with alcoholism, as well as the troubled relationship she had on set with her former co-star and boss Michael Landon. He played her on-screen husband, Charles Ingalls.

Former co-stars didn’t immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment regarding the allegations made in Grassle’s book about Landon.

Here are eight surprising revelations the 79-year-old shared with Fox News:

Karen Grassle said she initially wasn't impressed by the role of Ma.
Karen Grassle said she initially wasn’t impressed by the role of Ma. (Courtesy of Karen Grassle)

Karen Grassle was broke before “Ma” came along.
The actress said she was “so broke and so discouraged” before “Little House on the Prairie” that she even considered pursuing a completely different profession. However, she realized her pals were earning a great paycheck pursuing television in Los Angeles. Grassle said she decided to then go on auditions in hopes that she could save money and “go back to school.”

Grassle wasn’t impressed by “Ma” at first.
When the role of “Ma” came along, Grassle initially wasn’t impressed. “When I first read the script, I thought, ‘Oh, she’s kind of a downer. She’s prudish,'” Grassle recalled. Still, Grassle took on the role, and she is forever grateful for the opportunity. 

“As I started doing the role and interacting with the children, I gained a new perspective for my character,” she explained. “She’s a woman who’s so brave and loyal heading into the wilderness with the girls. She wanted to create a better life for them. I began to experience the nobility of the character and what she truly represented.”

Michael Landon allegedly refused to give Grassle a raise.
“Where it really got tough for me was when it was time for the second season,” said Grassle. “If you were on a hit series, it was common to renegotiate your contract based on its popularity. Michael did not want to give me a raise. He began to diminish my part, my value.”

Karen Grassle alleged that Michael Landon didn't want to give her a raise despite the show's success.
Karen Grassle alleged that Michael Landon didn’t want to give her a raise despite the show’s success. (Courtesy of Karen Grassle)

There were tensions between Grassle and Landon.
Grassle said her relationship with Landon became strained after she sought a raise. “I made the decision that I would show up to work and do my job every day,” said Grassle. “But it was tough because people knew he was annoyed with me. And he showed it in many ways. So I had to go through that. But I also didn’t want to give up on myself. I worked hard to become the actress I was.”

Grassle alleged Landon humiliated her on set.
“What happened at the ‘Little House’ set was … Mike decided to humiliate me while we were doing the scenes in the bed,” Grassle claimed. “This was so awful for me. This was so unbearable, and I just tried to get through it. You know, he made these terrible jokes about the female anatomy, made a woman’s body parts sound so disgusting. I just sat there with all these men standing around laughing at his jokes, and I couldn’t do anything. We didn’t even have a word for sexual harassment.”

Grassle was a “high-functioning alcoholic.”
“For me, I got up every day with a terrible hangover. I went to work, I pulled myself together, I worked hard and I concentrated all day long,” she explained. “And when they said, ‘That’s a wrap,’ I either took a drink from the prop table or had one when I got home and started again. I thought I was under control because I was working. I hadn’t lost my job. It gave me even more rationale for continuing the way I was.”

Karen Grassle got sober in 1977.
Karen Grassle got sober in 1977. (Courtesy of Karen Grassle)

She got sober in June 1977.
“It’s so meaningful because everything changes from that day,” Grassle said of sobriety. “I looked at life in an entirely new way. I was able to truly discover who I was and what I wanted in life. And boy, it was a lot of work. And it was all worth it.”

Karen Grassle said she made peace with Michael Landon before his death.
Karen Grassle said she made peace with Michael Landon before his death. (Courtesy of Karen Grassle)

Grassle and Landon made peace before his death.
Grassle said she wrote a letter to Landon at one point to catch up. Not only did he write “the nicest note,” but they had a lengthy phone conversation. “We mended fences,” she said. “And I just felt there was a lot of forgiveness from both sides. We were remembering the better parts of our relationship. And I was so grateful for that because it was a very short time after that Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.” 

Landon died in 1991 at age 54.

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