Karen Grassle (Actress) - Little House on the Prairie
Karen Grassle 1
Updated: 12/08/21

Name: Karen Grassle

Birth Name: Karen Trust Grassle

Born: February 25, 1942 in Berkeley, California, USA

Claim To Fame: Karen Grassle is an American actress best known for her role as Caroline Ingalls in the NBC television drama series Little House on the Prairie.

Family Life: She was previously married to Dr. Scott Sutherland, James Alan Radford and Leon Russom. Adopted son Zachary Radford with ex-husband James Allen Radford.

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Info: She was known as the miracle baby in her family.

Her mother, Frae Ella, was a school teacher, and her father, Eugene Frederick Grassle, owned and operated a small realty business in Ventura.

As a child, she studied ballet, acted in school plays, sang in the Baptist choir, and was vice president of the student body her senior year of high school, being awarded The Girl of the Year award.

She graduated from Ventura High School in 1959.

Attended H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (Tulane University, 1959-60) and then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley.

Graduated with BA degrees in 1965 in English and in Dramatic Art.

Received a Fulbright Fellowship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in London.

Apprenticed at the Actor's Workshop of San Francisco in 1961-62.

Grassle has lobbied for federal funding for shelters for battered women and appeared in many events to support the Equal Rights Amendment.

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Trivia: After summers at the Stanford Contemporary Workshop playing leads and two summers at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival playing classical roles, her first professional engagement was a season at the Front Street Theatre, Memphis, TN.

While living in New York City, she worked at resident and stock theatres throughout the country, also appearing on PBS and on network soap operas.

She made her Broadway debut in the short-lived 1968 play The Gingham Dog.

Grassle auditioned for the role of the mother, Caroline Ingalls, in the Little House on the Prairie TV series and won the part out of 47 other actresses who also auditioned. The series ran for nine seasons, from 1974 to 1983.

When she was offered the role of 'Caroline Ingalls,' Grassle was working under the professional stage name of "Gabriel Tree". Michael Landon and NBC felt this name sounded too unconventional for a traditional and conservative family show like this and asked her to revert to her real name.

A long-involved advocate for women's rights, she wrote and co-starred in the NBC-TV film Battered (1978), which dealt with the issues of domestic violence.

After the series ended, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and became co-founder and artistic director of Santa Fe's Resource Theater Company.

Later she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she performed with the company of actors at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1998.

In 2006, she settling in the San Francisco Bay Area and appeared in plays at San Francisco Playhouse, "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" and "Cabaret".

In 2008, she was awarded a prize for her performance in Cabaret at the San Francisco Playhouse.

She also appeared at the Aurora Theatre and in productions of "Driving Miss Daisy" at Manitoba Theatre Center, etc.

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Where Are They Now: In 2021, Grassle stars in the film Not to Forget, which was made to raise awareness and funds for the fight against Alzheimer's, with five Academy Award winners: Cloris Leachman, Louis Gossett Jr., Tatum O'Neal, George Chakiris, and Olympia Dukakis.

And last month, Grassle released her memoir titled: Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love from Little House's Ma.


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