Karen Grassle captured our hearts as Ma, Caroline Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. The role was her start in the industry and the actress had a thriving career beyond the western drama television series.
She was born in Berkeley, California, on February 25, 1942, to a small businessman, Gene F. Grassle and Frae Ella Berry, a school teacher. She studied ballet, acted in school plays and sang in the Baptist choir and graduated from Ventura High School.
It was during her college days at the University of California, Berkeley where she was involved in theatre productions and fall in love with performing arts. She received a Fulbright Grant to study theatre arts at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, in London.
Entry in Little House on the Prairie
After returning to the States, she debuted in a Broadway show, The Gingham Dog and her performance earned her a nomination for Best Newcomer. While the theater continued to be her first love, she auditioned for Caroline Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie and won the part.
Karen’s professional attitude towards the role made an impact on those around her, including Melissa Gilbert, who played her daughter, Laura Ingalls in the show. Following the show, she returned to her theatrical roots and appeared in numerous regional and touring productions, including a 2007 tour of Driving Miss Daisy.
She also worked behind the scenes, helping found the Resource Theatre Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She continued to appear in TV shows like The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote and movies like Wyatt Earp and My Greatest Teacher.
She co-wrote and starred in 1978 TV film, Battered, which has been one of her proudest accomplishments. In 2018, she played the role of Lillian in the 2018 horror movie, Lasso, which starred Sean Patrick Flanery and Lindsey Morgan.
Grassle was married to Leon Russon from 1966 to 1970, to James Allen Radford from 1982 to 1987 and Dr. Scott Sutherland from 1991 to 1997. Today, she resides in the San Francisco Bay area, with her daughter Lily and remains involved in local theater productions.
She stays in touch with other ‘Little House on the Prairie’ cast members, especially her friend and neighbor Charlotte Stewart, who played Miss Beadle. The 77-year-old is working on a memoir, which is likely to come out soon.
Net worth and Salary
As of 2019, she is reported to have a net worth of around $500 thousand.