Portraying a solid pioneer woman collection in the 1870s could not have been easy. Karen Grassle, who illustrated Caroline Ingalls in Little house on the Prairie, was a little-known gibbs from Berkeley, California — a far stretch indigenous the little town the Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Exhilaration opposite Bonanza star, Michael Landon, who played Charles Ingalls, must have actually been daunting. Yet, despite the odds, Grassle made that work ending up being loved by youngsters everywhere and fondly known as “Ma.”

The NBC series was based upon the tiny House series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder of she life growing up top top the prairie. The TV collection ran from the fall of 1974 v the feather of 1982, featuring lot of the same actors throughout the nine-year run. Subsequently, Little House: A brand-new Beginning aired because that one year following, through a few key personalities missing. Here is just how the show, and also Grassle’s role, came around — and also why she left.

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Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls | NBCU photograph Bank/Getty Images

The beforehand acting years of Karen Grassle


Following high school, Grassle attend the university of California, Berkeley, graduating with BA levels in Dramatic Art and English in the mid-1960s. Follow to the little House ~ above the Prairie website, ~ above receiving a Fulbright approve to research theatre arts, Grassle to visit the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She made her Broadway debut in 1968, in The Gingham Dog, which opened up doors for an ext stage roles, according to Biography.

More than a decade later on when returning from England wherein she functioned with a Shakespeare manufacturing company, Grassle to be asked come audition for a movie i beg your pardon later fell through. Finding herself in Los Angeles and out of work, her agent argued she review for the part in a new television series, the mother of a pioneer family set in the late 19th century.

Grassle admitted to not being much of a TV-fan and also knew tiny about Landon, that was certification in the brand-new series, follow to Fox News. However, she checked out the audition. “They’d seen everyone in Hollywood that was right for the part,” she exclaimed. “They were down to the wire due to the fact that they cast everyone else. ~ I review my 2nd scene with Mike, that leaped up like a jack-in-the-box and said, ‘Bring she to wardrobe!"”

Once approved by NBC, Grassle was on her means to becoming one that the most beloved moms on television for a decade.

Portraying ‘Ma’


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Single at the time and also childless, Grassle discovered herself an on-screen family complete with husband, Charles (Landon), and also three daughters, mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), Laura (Melissa Gilbert), and also Carrie (Rachel Lindsay Greenbush and also Sidney Greenbush). Her character, “Ma,” later gave birth on the show to the Ingalls’s 4th daughter, elegant (Brenda Turnbaugh and Wendi Turnbaugh).

At first, Grassle uncovered Landon, who also directed almost one-half of the show’s episodes, “a an extremely hard worker and he can be fairly moody,” she said. In spite of finding inequities in her pay, Grassle claimed she and Landon became great friends.

Grassle based her duty on her own mother. From reading the Little House books, she learned that Caroline was “tough and also sturdy,” as was she mother. “I took her character, strength, and also wisdom and also infused Caroline v that,” she shared.

She had actually an immediate connection with the actors who depicted her daughters, particularly with Gilbert, making her function easier from the onset. “The 2 Melissas to be unbelievably well cast,” she said. “The kids were all yes, really good.”

‘A brand-new Beginning’


Happy birthday Karen Grassle who played the matriarch that the Ingalls family. #LHOTP, today at 5PM & 6PM ET. Pic.twitter.com/NqWVwl2E53

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Despite that popularity, together the Ingalls household grew up, Little House ratings went down. The Ingalls family members members were each moving in their very own direction, and also Landon made decision it to be time because that him to prevent acting in the series. ‘Pa’ and also ‘Ma’ relocated on and also a new name came to the show, Little House: A new Beginning,” with a emphasis on the younger generation.

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Grassle’s component was retired in 1982. Following, Grassle could be watched in guest appearance duties on TV native time come time, but she wanted to get back to the theatre. She helped uncovered a Santa Fe, brand-new Mexico theatre company, and toured in a selection of shows including a 2007 tour ofDriving miss Daisy. Now at 78, Grassle resides in the mountain Francisco just Area and also stays affiliated in neighborhood theatre.