‘Little House on the Prairie’: Karen Grassle Says Michael Landon Made a Suicide Joke That ‘Cut’ Her

Little House on the Prairie star Karen Grassle invites readers inside her world for a glimpse at what her  life was like before, during, and after the show. Here’s what Grassle shared about a comment she says Landon made that “cut” her.

Karen Grassle says her father often tried to commit suicide  

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls and Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls | NBCU Photo Bank

In her book Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Grassle discussed her childhood and her relationship with her parents. She says her father had moments when he was fun, but he also had moments when his behavior suddenly shifted. She recalled times when her father would drink and not come home for hours.

Grassle says her father was a hard worker who tried his best to provide for the family. However, he faced personal struggles. Grassle says her father had challenges with alcoholism and mental health. “When he was soaked with drink, I could see but couldn’t stop the dark pool of his depression overflowing and swamping us all,” writes Grassle.

When Grassle was in college, her mother confided in her and told her about her father’s suicidal behavior. Grassle says her mother told her she would sometimes find suicide notes in her father’s drawers or pockets. The letters were undated, so she had no way of knowing if the letters were recent. Years later, Grassle’s father died by suicide.

Karen Grassle says Michael Landon made a joke about suicide

Grassle says when she returned to work after her father’s funeral, she was feeling a mix of raw emotions. She describes feeling “fragile” from being newly sober. She also felt the sting of “shock and grief” because of her father’s sudden death. “I felt vulnerable and bereft,” says Grassle in her book.

Grassle figured she would feel better the next day when she arrived on the set of Little House on the Prairie. She likely felt the familiar environment would provide some comfort. However, according to her, the pain of her father’s death came rushing back. She says when she was in the makeup trailer, Michael Landon made a joke about suicide.

“It cut me,” says Grassle. “Did he know?” Grassle wasn’t sure if the joke was made on purpose or if it was a coincidence. She describes feeling “dumbstruck.” She says she gathered all the strength she had so that she wouldn’t react. Grassle reasoned that if Landon knew about what happened to her father, his comment was cruel, and she didn’t want to “give him the satisfaction” of seeing her in a state of grief.

On the other hand, Grassle says if it was a coincidence, she needed to move on and not focus on what happened. She decided to spend time away from the others whenever she wasn’t needed for a scene. This gave her time alone to collect herself.

Grassle says the kindness of others was “saving” her. One of the workers responsible for transportation drove Grassle back when she was needed for a scene. She also notes Katherine MacGregor’s kindness, and how she invited her to eat dinner with her.

Michael Landon’s mother reportedly made suicide attempts

Landon says he had a parent who attempted suicide. During a 1991 interview with Life magazine, he spoke about his mother’s mental illness. He said she tried to commit suicide on many occasions. According to him, when he was a little boy, he would find his mother with her head in the oven.

“I’m this little boy and I’d walk into the kitchen and find her with her head in the oven and gas turned on,” said Landon. “But she always left the kitchen window open and put a pad down to kneel on.”

How to get help: In the U.S. and Canada, text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to reach a crisis counselor for support.

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