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Karen Grassle

Karen Grassle

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For close to a decade, actress Karen Grassle was known to TV audiences as pioneer mother, Caroline Ingalls, on the hit show, Little House on the Prairie.


Karen Grassle was born February 25, 1942 in Berkeley, California. In 1968 she made her first appearance on the Broadway stage in the drama, The Gingham Dog. She made the move to TV in the mid-1970s, auditioning for Little House on the Prairie and winning the role of Caroline Ingalls. After leaving Little House, she made some TV guest appearances, but primarily returned to her theatrical roots.

Early Life

Actress Karen Grassle was born on February 25, 1942, in Berkeley, California. For close to a decade, Karen Grassle was known to television audiences as the gentle, but strong pioneer wife and mother, Caroline Ingalls, on the hit show, Little House on the Prairie. After graduating high school, she attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied English and drama. She then went on to study at the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Early Career

In 1968, Karen Grassle made her first appearance on the Broadway stage in the drama, The Gingham Dog. While the run of the play only lasted a few days, it led to other stage roles for her. Grassle appeared in the New York Shakespeare Festival's 1970 production of Cymbeline among other productions.

'Little House on the Prarie'

Karen Grassle made the move to television in the mid-1970s. Using the name Gabriel Tree at the time, she auditioned for a new television series about a pioneer family living on the American frontier in 1870s. It was based on the autobiographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She beat out more than 40 other actresses for the role of Caroline Ingalls. Michael Landon played her husband and Melissa Gilbert played her middle child Laura (who was also the show's narrator). Melissa Sue Anderson had the role of her oldest daughter, Mary, and the part of the youngest child, Carrie, was shared by twin sisters Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush. It has been said that Landon convinced Grassle to return to using her given name.

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Deb Haaland

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John Major

Little House on the Prairie debuted in the fall of 1974. While some critics found the show overly sweet and cloying, audiences loved it. They enjoyed watching the Ingalls as they struggled to overcome the challenges of pioneer life and interact with the other various residents of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Grassle's character Caroline was the glue that held the family together, helping with the farming and looking after the girls. She and Landon left the series in 1982 and the show continued as Little House on the Prairie: A New Beginning, but it only lasted another year.

Later Years

After leaving Little House, Karen Grassle made some television guest appearances, but she primarily returned to her theatrical roots. Returning to Broadway, she served as an understudy in Sweet Sue (1988), which starred Mary Tyler Moore and Lynn Redgrave. Grassle also worked behind the scenes, helping found the Resource Theatre Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Continuing to pursue her love of acting, she appeared in numerous regional and touring productions, including a 2007 tour of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy.

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