Michael Landon and Karen Grassle co-starred on the historical drama Little House on the Prairie as Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Landon created the series in 1974 and served as executive producer during the show’s nine-season run.
When Grassle began lobbying for higher pay after the first season, Landon often tried to placate her and eventually lessened her screen time. She recalled one episode in particular where the former Bonanza star edited her out of a significant scene.
Tensions rose when Karen Grassle wanted to negotiate her contract
Little House was an instant hit, giving Grassle motivation to ask for a higher salary. Yet Landon wasn’t forthcoming with changing her pay rate.
“When the show was in the top 10 and I said, ‘Gee, it is time to renegotiate my contract’, Michael did not want to pay me,” Grassle told Closer Weekly. “It was very difficult.”
Grassle persisted in campaigning for more money, but Landon wouldn’t budge. According to the Little House alum, Landon downplayed her role on the show.
“Mike began to have private conversations with me to get me to give in,” the Little House alum told People. “He would say things like, ‘The network has done some testing and Ma is not the favorite character so they don’t want to give you more money’, or he’d say ‘You know, it’s a jungle out there’.”
Karen Grassle noticed her screen time getting cut
The relationship between Landon and Grassle grew tense during her attempts to get a raise, and she became aware of getting less time on the show.
“As I held out for my money, Ma became the incredible shrinking woman,” Grassle wrote in her book, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust. “Watching Mike play his sensitive director role with guest stars while I was put on ice set off alarm bells inside me.”
Grassle described the episode “At the End of the Rainbow” in season 2, where the cast got to dress up in elaborate clothes and get hair and makeup done for a dream sequence. Since the glammed-up segment was a departure from their usual hardworking farming attire on the show, Grassle saw the scene as an opportunity for the industry to view her in a different light. She was devastated when she realized she was cut from the scene.
“When that show aired, I sat down anticipating looking great and hoping this would help me to get other kinds of roles,” Grassle shared. “That stylish hat looked terrific, and its big feather fit well, but no one saw me. Mike had shot around me, cut out all the coverage of my face, left my ‘glam look’ on the cutting room floor.”
‘Little House’ star wouldn’t back down
Grassle saw the slight as further evidence of her relationship with Landon souring due to her wanting what she considered to be a fair wage.
“The mortar on the brick wall I had run into was setting hard,” she wrote. “Had Mike stopped speaking to me then? Or was he just shutting me down creatively? It’s hard for me to recall the precise order.”
Grassle’s persistence paid off. She eventually got her raise and doesn’t regret holding her ground in demanding equal pay.
“I knew I was not out of line,” she explained. “I wanted to be paid commensurate with what leading actors on top ten TV series in the mid-1970s were paid. No more. No less.”