‘Little House on the Prairie’: Michael Landon Told Karen Grassle ‘Ma Is Not the Favorite Character’ to Avoid Giving Her a Raise

Michael Landon created Little House on the Prairie in 1974 and starred in the show throughout its nine seasons. Playing the lead role of Charles Ingalls, Landon cast theater actor Karen Grassle to portray his wife, Caroline. Grassle is now sharing some behind-the scenes details of the classic drama, including a pay dispute she had with Landon.

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls, and Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls on 'Little House on the Prairie'
Karen Grassle and Michael Landon of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Michael Landon and Karen Grassle’s relationship ‘started out great’

Grassle described Landon as generous and easygoing when Little House on the Prairie first launched, but their initial amicable relationship didn’t last.

“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 told People. “So I have to say it started out really, really great. It didn’t stay great.” 

According to Closer Weekly, Grassle said Landon was “prodigiously talented” and “a complicated character from a dysfunctional family” which could make him a bit unpredictable. Once the NBC drama hit popularity and Grassle wanted a pay increase, Landon pushed back.

“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,” Grassle explained. “It was very difficult.”


‘Little House’ star told Karen Grassle she wasn’t a fan favorite

When Grassle began lobbying with the network and Landon for a raise, Landon attempted to get her to back off by downplaying her character on the show.

“Mike began to have private conversations with me to get me to give in,” the Little House alum said. “He would say things like, ‘The network has done some testing and Ma is not the favorite character so they don’t want to give you more money’, or he’d say ‘You know, it’s a jungle out there’.”

Landon wanted Grassle’s salary to be on par with those of the younger cast members like Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls) and Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls). Though eventually Grassle was given an increase, she was discouraged by the entire process.

“I felt insulted as his co-star on a hit series,” she told the New York Post. “I didn’t want to gouge anybody, but I expected a fair wage.”

Melissa Sue Anderson noted the on-set tension between Michael Landon and Karen Grassle

In her 2010 memoir, “The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House“, Anderson recalled a distinct shift in Landon and Grassle’s relationship during season two. Her recount coincides with Grassle’s request for contract negotiations.

“I had begun to notice a subtle edginess between Mike and Karen,” Anderson 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.”


‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Sue Anderson Recalled the Day Karen Grassle ‘Stormed Off the Set’

Anderson described how the mounting friction between the two actors reached a point where they were barely on speaking terms.

“Any creative ideas Karen may have had were consistently shot down by Mike,” Anderson revealed. “It must have been very frustrating for her. The situation progressively worsened to the point where the two of them only spoke to each other when absolutely necessary. … The tension on the set was high at these times.”

Despite the past discord, Grassle and Landon made amends before his death in 1991. “Mike and I ended on a positive note,” she said. “I was so, so glad for that.”