Karen Grassle played Caroline Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie so well it’s difficult to imagine anyone but her with the role. In a recent interview, she talked about her audition for the show, as well as Michael Landon’s reaction to it.
Speaking to the New York Post about her troubled past and Little House on the Prairie, Grassle recollected her audition. “I was told to wear a dress and no make-up,” Grassle told the outlet. Wracked with nerves, she and her agent devised a strategy to sway Landon in her favor and it paid off in spades. In Grassle’s own words, Landon “sprung up from the floor like a jack-in-the-box and exclaimed: ‘Send her to wardrobe!’”
So, how did Grassle win him over? “In the 70s, it was common for actresses in Hollywood to wear tight jeans and little tops that revealed their midriffs, false eyelashes and plenty of eyeliner,” Grassle stated. “That look was ‘in,’ but the look, [my] agent said, was not helping Michael Landon cast Caroline Ingalls, Pioneer Mom.”
Grassle’s agent’s remarks prompted her to invest $40 for a modest woolen dress and flared skirt. Also, despite being instructed to not wear makeup, she snuck on a smidge of brown eyeshadow. $40 was a lot to spend for an auction at the time, but her gambit worked in her favor. Grassle played Caroline for nine years, serving as the Ingall family’s backbone and support.
Karen Grassle ‘Never Thought’ She Would Star on the Show for Nine Seasons
Nine years is a long time for someone to play a single character. Karen Grassle feels the same way and even expressed she “never thought” she’d be Caroline Ingall for nine seasons.
In an interview years ago, Grassle candidly stated “I never thought I could last that long,” when talking about the show’s longevity. She expressed gratitude about the opportunity but also appreciated being able to explore other things after the show ended.
“I love having this freedom right now to do different things,” Grassle continued. “For me, the thrill of acting is transforming yourself into a different person. So playing one person for eight years- even though I was able to go off and do some other things, it’s nice to delve back into the craft of acting.”
Interestingly, after her role on Little House on the Prairie, Grassle rejected large film and television appearances. Wanting to spend more time with her family, she opted for small roles instead. Her success on the show gave her the freedom to pick and choose parts she wanted.
“I really felt like the wonderful thing about ‘Little House was that it freed me economically. I could make my own choices about what to do with my life and what to do with my career.”