In 1974, Michael Landon left the hit Bonanza series to create and star in Little House on the Prairie.
He was also the series’ executive producer, playing Patriarch Charles Ingalls and casting Karen Grassle for the historical drama as his wife, Caroline.
Although Grassle was obviously a capable actress, due to their contrasting personalities, she and Landon appeared to clash at times. Landon had originally considered another person for the role of Caroline with a similar personality to himself, but in later seasons he ended up offering her a different role.
Originally a theater actress, Karen Grassle was
Charlotte Stewart portrayed the teacher Miss Eva Beadle in the first four seasons of Little Home. Stewart remembered reading about Grassle’s impressive list of credits in her book, Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Being Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me, when she was cast in the series.
“When I first started working with Karen Grassle, I felt like a dolt around her,” Stewart recalled in her memoir. “She didn’t have one, but two U.C. degrees.
Berkeley, which set off my inner warning bells about my inadequacy in English and Dramatic Arts. She had also done a wide variety of theaters, from Shakespeare in both the U.S. and England to a Broadway engagement.
Grassle was more focused on the stage than the small screen after doing Shakespeare in England before landing the role of Caroline Ingalls.
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Stewart wrote, “Where my little heart was always with film and television, Karen was a theater person,” “So much so that she spoke publicly about how U.S. television was almost completely foreign to her.”
Opposites between Michael Landon and Karen Grassle
For her professionalism on set, Grassle was admired, but her more serious attitude often contrasted with the relaxed style of Landon.
“She and Mike always had great chemistry on screen,” Stewart recalled of her co-stars. Unfortunately, in real life, Karen and Mike didn’t always get along. He mercilessly mocked her for being so serious, and I think she grew tired of not just his banter, but his overall casual approach to acting.
Time and time again, I saw him messing around with the crew and goofing around.
Apparently, for the part of Caroline, Landon had thought of an actor with a similar sense of humor to his own.
After choosing Grassle, at the beginning of season four, he cast her in a different role.
“The role of Caroline Ingalls almost went to Hersha Parady,” revealed Stewart. “[She] would have made the role her own, maybe a little more earthy, found little comedic touches, a little bit like Mike really. Hersha got a role later in the series as Alice Garvey, who is married to Merlin Olsen’s character Jonathan Garvey.”
“Little House” was wanted by Karen Grassle to be “grittier”
Stewart noted that in the 1800s, Grassle also felt that the series did not represent Midwestern farm life realistically.
[Grassle] thought in his analysis of subjects such as family, marriage relationships, the harshness of life on the prairie, and so on, the series was a bit too lightweight,”[Grassle] thought the series was a bit too lightweight in its exploration of themes like family, marriage relationships, the harshness of life on the prairie and so on,” “She wanted the show to be rougher, as she once said in an interview, adding that at one point she felt the show was ‘Let’s Pretend on the Prairie.’ She says she’s seen it differently over time.”
The contrasting personalities of Landon and Grassle actually made for a convincing mix on film.
Over the course of the season, the co-stars were able to establish a more enjoyable working relationship.
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“I have to say that one of the things that worked well with Mike and Karen was actually their differences,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing more boring than watching two characters who are too much alike. The sparks often fly in the area between two actors where there’s friction. … I think everyone in the cast today agrees that [Landon] did something magical by touching a lot of hearts.”