It almost felt like actress Karen Grassle was America's mom during the 8 years she starred as Caroline Ingalls on the classic NBC show The Little House On The Prairie. Her on-screen romance with Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls) was the ultimate marriage goals and we still love watching them raise their little family in reruns of the beloved series. Just like Melissa Gilbert is most commonly associated with her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Grassle is best known for her days playing "Ma" in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
Karen Trust Grassle was born in Berkeley, California where she grew up studying dramatic arts as well as ballet. She attended college in New Orleans before transferring back home to finish school at the University of California, Berkeley. She decided to get serious about acting and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in London. She explained to Closer that after moving back to the states and getting started in theater in New York City she was really struggling financially.
"I had spent a year in England, working with a Shakespeare company and teaching, and came back to the States flat broke. I was asked to fly to L.A. to play the lead in an independent movie, but when I got to the airport, there was no ticket! I'd sublet my apartment and my boyfriend was [with me], so I wrote a bad check to get one! But when I got to L.A., the movie fell through...."
Luckily, she was able to audition for a TV show with the one and only Michael Landon. He apparently was so intent on having her play his onscreen wife after seeing nearly everyone else in Hollywood for the role of Caroline Ingalls, he demanded someone to take her to wardrobe immediately! She was a natural fit to play the matriarch of the Ingalls family and actually used personal inspiration from her own family when bringing the role to life.
"I based her on my mother," Karen told Closer. "If you read [Laura Ingalls Wilder's] books and see photos, Caroline was very tough and sturdy. My mother rode a horse barefoot to school, and as a young woman, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse! So I took her character, strength and wisdom and infused Caroline with that."
Grassle went on to appear in multiple more TV shows like Gunsmoke, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, the Little House TV movie -- Little House: The Last Farewell, and even the Kevin Costner film Wyatt Earp. But for the most part, the actress shifted her priorities when it came to her career because she wanted to raise a family.
"I did [have trouble getting roles after], but my priorities shifted because I wanted to have a family, so I was putting less energy into acting than I was into figuring out how to be a stepmom and have a child."
Nowadays, Grassle lives in the San Francisco Bay area where she has been involved in local theater productions like Cabaret and Driving Miss Daisy. She has even run her own theater companies in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Louisville, Kentucky.