‘Little House on the Prairie’: What Karen Grassle Has in Common with A-Listers Brad Pitt and Michelle Pfeiffer

Michael Landon recruited theater actor Karen Grassle to play his onscreen wife, Caroline Ingalls, in Little House on the Prairie. When Grassle asked for a raise after the first season, tension grew between her and the Bonanza alum. Soon the strain on their working relationship began to affect Grassle’s performance, so she decided to contact a well-known friend for help.

Michael Landon and Karen Grassle of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Michael Landon and Karen Grassle of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Contract negotiations caused friction on ‘Little House’ set

In her recent memoir, Grassle recalled how Landon denied her request for a higher salary and often tried to placate her into backing off. During season two of Little House, the co-stars were barely speaking outside of their onscreen interactions. The tense atmosphere was getting to Grassle, where she constantly felt on edge.

“During the first season, I was tuned up and ready to go all through the long days for when I would hear, ‘Karen, we’re ready’,” Grassle wrote in her book, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust. “For the second season, I knew that I couldn’t keep myself on ‘high alert’ for another nine months. It was too exhausting.”

Grassle found her performance in scenes lacking due to the pressure. Contracted for a minimum of five more seasons, the Little House alum worried that she couldn’t find the motivation required to authentically portray a character.

“I was in this for the long haul,” she remarked. “We were going to run for years. How would I do it? I was really distressed. The fatigue had made me irritable.”

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‘Little House’ star sought help from a friend

Grassle had previously appeared in The Gingham Dog on Broadway. Roy London had been a co-star from the play and was a gifted acting coach, so Grassle reached out to him.

“When someone asked Roy for acting lessons, he not only found his true calling, he changed hundreds of others’ lives and careers,” the Little House star explained. “Roy was a brilliant teacher, developing techniques that ultimately empowered one actor after another.”

While Grassle was holding her ground on a higher salary demand, her screen time on Little House seemed to be getting reduced. London’s coaching helped her find inspiration for scenes regardless of the content.

“I joined his class, grabbed hold of his teaching, and from then on, it didn’t matter if all I was doing was serving scrambled eggs, my character was fully engaged,” she shared. “The series, with its long hours, short prep time, and political pressure, had forced me to up my game. It was Roy who helped me do that.”

Roy London coached Hollywood heavyweights

London’s teachings became the gold standard for aspiring actors. Grassle noted that her theater pal and coach helped numerous A-listers make a name for themselves in Hollywood.

“Michelle Pfeiffer was finding a challenge in Shakespeare in the Park in New York, and Roy flew in to help,” Grassle revealed. “Jeff Goldblum sent Geena Davis, who thanked Roy when she won her Academy Award for The Accidental Tourist. Brad Pitt, one of Roy’s students, made his smashing debut in Thelma and Louise (and the rest is history). Sharon Stone, nominated for an Academy Award, won the Best Actress Golden Globe for Casino and thanked Roy.”

Grassle was thrilled for London as he achieved his own level of fame in the industry until his death in 1993. She expressed her gratitude for his unwavering support and wisdom.

“As Hollywood buzzed, ‘Roy who?’, students flocked to him,” she recalled. “As his friend, watching his life soar as he became the ‘coach to the stars’ filled me with deep satisfaction. … Roy London lives on in me and in so many of his students’ work. The audience sees him there, but I wish I could see him here. It was Roy’s wisdom that enabled me, no matter what Mike threw at me, to give myself to ‘Ma’, and to the audience.”

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