‘Little House on the Prairie’: Karen Grassle Said the Show’s Set Felt Like an ‘Old Boys Club’

Michael Landon created Little House on the Prairie in the 1970s. He based the series on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, which documented the rural life in the 1870s. The family show catapulted stars Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert, and Jason Bateman to fame while it was on-air. 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls
Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls, Michael Landon as Charles Philip Ingalls| NBCU Photo Bank

In 2014, Grassle spoke about being one of the only adult female leads on the series’s set. 

Karen Grassle had tension with Michael Landon during ‘Little House on the Prairie’ 

For nine seasons of Little House on the Prairie, Grassle played Caroline “Ma” Ingalls. The role made the stage actor a household name as the show’s popularity increased. Grassle also worked closely with Landon, who played her husband, Charles Ingalls. 

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Didn’t Know Who Michael Landon Was Before She Played ‘Laura Ingalls’

Actor Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, spoke about Grassle and Landon’s relationship. In her 2010 memoir, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, Anderson said she noticed a shift in Grassle and Landon’s dynamic around season 2. 

“I had begun to notice a subtle edginess between Mike and Karen,” she wrote. “I didn’t know exactly what it was about or what had precipitated it, but something about their relationship was definitely different – I wondered if it could be the fact that Karen didn’t have as many opportunities to ‘act’ as she might have liked. I’m just not sure if she felt appreciated enough.”

Karen Grassle said the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ set was an ‘old boys club’

In her memoir, Anderson explained that Landon had strong feelings about the direction the show was going. She said he often made decisions without the input of his cast and crew. Off-screen, Landon also played pranks on the children or drank vodka with many of the show’s crew members. 

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Real Reason Karen Grassle Thought This Episode ‘Was a Shame’

In 2014, the cast of Little House on the Prairie reunited for Entertainment Weekly. They discussed Landon’s legacy, their auditions, and what life was like in the fictional town of Walnut Grove. While most of the cast recalled having friends on the show, Grassle faced difficult moments when the cameras stopped rolling. During the interview, Grassle said the set’s environment was more comfortable for her male counterparts. 

“There was a lot of old-boys’-club stuff going on,” she said. “Every Monday it was like, ‘How about those Rams?’ That wasn’t my scene.”

Karen Grassle bonded with one male co-star on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ 

While Landon and Grassle allegedly had a rocky relationship, she said she bonded with one of the show’s early male actors. Grassle became close to Karl Swenson, who played Lars Hanson. In 1978, Swenson’s character died of a stroke, forcing him to exit the series. 

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Michael Landon Ensured Melissa Gilbert Played ‘Laura Ingalls’

Shortly after his final Little House on the Prairie scene, Swenson died of a heart attack. The episode regarding his character’s death came out several days later. 

“He was an exceptionally smart man,” Grassle said of Swenson. “And I always loved it when he came on set.”