Karen Grassle

Karen Grassle
Gil Gerard Karen Grassle.JPG
Gil Gerard and Karen Grassle in Little House on the Prairie (1977)
Karen Trust Grassle

(1942-02-25) February 25, 1942 (age 79)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Years active1966–present
(m. 1966; div. 1970)

James Allen Radford
(m. 1982; div. 1987)

Dr. Scott Sutherland
(m. 1991; div. 1997)

Karen Trust Grassle (/ɡræsl/ GRASS-LEE; born February 25, 1942) is an American actress, known for her role as Caroline Ingalls in the NBC television drama series Little House on the Prairie.[1]

Early life

Karen Trust Grassle was born in Berkeley, California to Frae Ella (née Berry) and Eugene Frederick Grassle on February 25, 1942. She is the elder of two daughters. Her mother was a school teacher, and her father owned and operated a small realty business in Ventura. As a teenager, she studied ballet, acted in school plays, sang in the Baptist choir, and was vice president of the student body her senior year. She graduated from Ventura High School in 1959. She attended H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (Tulane University, 1959–60) and then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley.[1] She graduated with BA degrees in 1965 in English and in Dramatic Art. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in London.[1] She apprenticed at the Actor's Workshop of San Francisco in 1961-62.


After summers at the Stanford Contemporary Workshop playing leads and two summers at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival playing classical roles, her first professional engagement was a season at the Front Street Theatre, Memphis, TN. upon return from London. While living in New York City, she worked at resident and stock theatres throughout the country, also appearing on PBS in original works and on networks in three soap operas. She made her Broadway debut in the short-lived 1968 play The Gingham Dog. Grassle played in Butterflies Are Free on Broadway (as stand-by with Gloria Swanson, Rosemary Murphy, etc.) as well as at the Elitch Theatre in Denver, Colorado, in June 1972, along with Maureen O'Sullivan and Brandon deWilde, who was killed before leaving town after the performances ended.[2] Grassle starred in the Shakespeare in the Park "Cymbeline." with Christopher Walken, Sam Waterston, and Bill Devane.

Grassle auditioned for the role of the mother, Caroline Ingalls, in the Little House on the Prairie TV series and won the part. The series ran for nine seasons, from 1974 to 1983. After making the pilot for Little House on the Prairie, Grassle appeared in one episode of Gunsmoke titled "The Wiving" as Fran, one of several saloon girls kidnapped. Subsequently, she acted in the features Harry's War, a 1981 American film where she played Kathy, the wife of Edward Herrmann's title character, and Wyatt Earp, a 1994 film starring Kevin Costner. On television, she starred in and co-wrote the NBC-TV film Battered. Other TV movies include Cocaine: One Man's Seduction, Crisis in MidAir, and Between the Darkness and the Dawn. In episodic TV, she starred in Hotel, Love Boat, and Murder She Wrote (twice.) She also appeared on Hollywood Squares and numerous talk shows such as Dinah, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and John Davidson. During this period, she lobbied for federal funding for shelters for battered women and appeared in many events to support the Equal Rights Amendment.[3]

After the series ended, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and became co-founder and artistic director of Santa Fe’s Resource Theater Company. Later she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she performed with the company of actors at Actors Theatre of Louisville.[4]

Grassle continues to perform in productions in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Palo Alto as well as tours and productions such as Driving Miss Daisy in the starring role of Miss Daisy at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in a co-production with Rubicon Theatre and at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In 2008, she was awarded a prize for her performance in Cabaret at the San Francisco Playhouse. Over the years, she has appeared in commercials such as the promotional face for Premier Bathrooms, a supplier of bathing products for the elderly and infirm.


  • LAMDA: Voice Department Chair
  • College of Santa Fe: Acting for the Camera
  • Independent Voice Teacher: Stella Adler Studio, Linklater Studio, Los Angeles, and Shakespeare and Co., England
  • Film Acting Workshop: University of California at Berkeley


  • Keely and Du Marshall University
  • Rain Actors Theatre of Louisville Apprentice Showcase
  • Cow Actors Theatre of Louisville Apprentice Showcase
  • Waiting for Godot Equity Production, Resource Theatre Co., Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune Resource Theatre Co., Santa Fe, New Mexico

In 2021, Grassle stars in the film Not To Forget (2021) together with 5 Academy Award winners: Cloris Leachman, Louis Gossett Jr., Tatum O’Neal, George Chakiris, and Olympia Dukakis. The movie, directed by Valerio Zanoli, aims to raise awareness and funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s.


Film and television roles
Year Title Role Notes
1974–82 Little House on the Prairie Caroline Ingalls 182 episodes
1974 Gunsmoke Fran Episode: "The Wiving"
1977 Emily, Emily Terry TV film
1978 The President's Mistress Donna Morton TV film
1978 Battered Susannah Hawks Also writer
1979 Crisis in Mid-air Betsy Culver TV film
1979 The Little House Years Caroline Ingalls TV special of Little House on the Prairie
1981 Harry's War Kathy Feature film
1981 The Love Boat Paula Episode: "Maid for Each Other/Lost and Found/Then There Were Two"
1983 Cocaine: One Man's Seduction Barbara Gant TV film
1983 Hotel Susan Walker Episode: "Christmas"
1984 Little House: The Last Farewell Caroline Ingalls TV film
1985 Between the Darkness and the Dawn Ellen Foster Holland TV film
1987 Murder, She Wrote Christine Stoneham Episode: "Murder in a Minor Key"
1988 Murder, She Wrote Fay Hewitt Episode: "Harbinger of Death"
1994 Wyatt Earp Mrs. Sutherland Feature film
2012 Tales of Everyday Magic Aunt Dorothy Feature film
2012 My Greatest Teacher Aunt Dorothy Feature film
2017 Lasso Lillian Feature film
2017 Where's Roman? Mysterious Woman Short film
2021 Not To Forget Melody Feature film


  1. ^ a b c Karen Grassle Biography, Biography Channel
  2. ^ Remembering Brandon.net/A Word on the Elitch Theatre While contracted by Butterflies Are Free, she continued to do experimental work with artists such as JoAnne Akalaitis and at the Public Theatre. Archived January 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Allen, Kathleen (January 12, 2001). "A fearless and funny 'Wit'". Arizona Daily Star.
  4. ^ Austen, Greg (April 20, 1990). "Karen Grassle Bucks the Odds For A Successful Acting Career". The New Mexican.

External links

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