Karen Grassle drops bomb about Michael Landon, says he made “disgusting” jokes on set of Little House

Karen Grassle achieved iconic status as an actress for her role as Caroline Ingalls in the beloved television series Little House on the Prairie.

The show remains a timeless classic, enjoyed by audiences around the globe. Many of the actors from the series have fondly recalled the positive atmosphere on set, often crediting Michael Landon for his kindness and fatherly presence.

However, Karen Grassle has revealed that the reality wasn’t always as idyllic as it seemed.

In her upcoming memoir, Grassle alleges that Michael Landon lashed out at her on multiple occasions, mocking her and making inappropriate jokes. She also recounts how Landon believed she shouldn’t earn more than the child actors on the show.

Little House on the Prairie, a legendary show that has never completely left the airwaves since its 1974 debut, is broadcast in over 100 countries. The historical drama, set around the Ingalls family in the 19th century Midwest, made household names out of many of its actors.

Among the notable stars, Michael Landon is perhaps the most well-remembered. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1991. Other key figures include Melissa Gilbert and Karen Grassle, who became icons through their roles on the show.

Grassle’s life took a significant turn when she landed the role of Caroline Ingalls, or “Ma.” Born on February 25, 1942, in California, she pursued her education at the University of California before studying at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Despite her work with a Shakespeare company, financial struggles persisted.

“I had spent a year in England, working with a Shakespeare company and teaching, and came back to the States flat broke,” Grassle told Closer Weekly.

Grassle’s big break came somewhat by chance. At the time Little House on the Prairie was casting, she was involved in another project. However, a series of fortunate coincidences led her to audition for Little House.

“I was asked to fly to LA to play the lead in an independent movie, but when I got to the airport, there was no ticket!” Grassle recalled. “I’d sublet my apartment and my boyfriend was [with me], so I wrote a bad check to get one. But when I got to LA, the movie fell through.”

Her agent then suggested she try out for a project involving Michael Landon, whom she knew only as “this guy from Bonanza.”

The role she auditioned for was Caroline Ingalls. Grassle recalls that after her second scene with Landon, he enthusiastically exclaimed, “Bring her to wardrobe!” However, NBC had to approve her first, leading to a nerve-wracking interview with network executives.

Once cast, Grassle’s initial relationship with Landon was positive. “When I came on the pilot, he was extremely kind and sensitive and a good director and really gave me a chance to find my legs because [TV] was a new medium for me,” she said.

However, tensions arose when Grassle sought a pay raise, feeling she deserved more as the show gained popularity. This led to a significant rift with Landon, who was resistant to increasing her salary.

“Michael was prodigiously talented,” she told Closer. “A complicated character from a dysfunctional family who loved his crew. But 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. It was very difficult.”

Grassle’s memoir details more of her challenging experiences with Landon, including claims that he made derogatory comments and told offensive jokes at her expense. She also felt marginalized when Landon insisted she shouldn’t be paid more than the child actors.

Despite the professional difficulties, Grassle maintained her composure and professionalism on set. She later reconnected with Landon before his death, finding some closure in their relationship.

Grassle isn’t alone in her criticisms. Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls, also described Landon as controlling and sometimes unkind in her memoir.

Michael Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1991 and passed away three months later at the age of 54. His family and fans mourned his loss deeply, remembering his contributions to television and the lasting impact of his work.

Karen Grassle’s memoir provides a nuanced view of her experiences on Little House on the Prairie, shedding light on the complexities behind the scenes of a beloved show.