‘Little House on the Prairie’ Stars Karen Grassle and Victor French Shared a Destructive Vice: ‘We Would Both Pay a Price’
Michael Landon and Karen Grassle starred as Charles and Caroline Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie from 1974 to 1982. Landon created the historical drama and cast his pal Victor French in the role of lovable Walnut Grove neighbor Isaiah Edwards. Grassle and French formed a friendship though neither realized they shared the same addiction.
Karen Grassle discusses alcoholism in new memoir
In her memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Grassle explains how she grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. She also became addicted to drinking, though she was functional on set at first. Soon, alcohol began to impact all areas of her life.
“I got up every day with a terrible hangover,” she told Fox News in December. “I went to work, I pulled myself together, I worked hard, and I concentrated all day long. And when they said, ‘That’s a wrap,’ I either took a drink from the prop table or had one when I got home and started again. I thought I was under control because I was working – I hadn’t lost my job. It gave me even more rationale for continuing the way I was.”
Grassle refused to face her dependency on alcohol and continued in a downward spiral.
“I resisted help for a long time,” the Little House alum said. “I tried to keep everything under control for a long time – I did not realize the extent to which my alcohol problem was playing a negative part in my life, but this is very common.”
Victor French and Karen Grassle didn’t acknowledge their alcoholism
Grassle described bonding with French early in the series during a conversation on the Little House set.
“One day, Vic and I sat on a log getting to know each other,” she wrote in her book. “He loved to talk. And I began to get to know this big, lumpy man, whose gnarled face fit his rough prairie costume, whose breast expanded with love – his love of his art, love of his son. … A fine actor, passionate, so dedicated to his craft, he’d expound on the art of acting until your ears buzzed.”
French was set to direct an episode of Bonanza and cast Grassle in a guest role, bringing their friendship even closer. She expressed her appreciation for their friendship, as well as her sadness of their shared alcoholism. Grassle also noted that they both chose to bury their heads in the sand on the issue.
“All of us in the cast had such fun working with him and together that we all bonded,” she recalled. “Vic turned out to be a drunk, too. Of course, neither of us knew this at the time. As years went by, we would both pay a price. But that day on the log, it was all blue sky and optimism.”
Michael Landon shared his thoughts on Victor French’s death
French died in June 1989 at the age of 54. Though the cause of death was listed as lung cancer, Grassle was told something different from Michael Landon.
“Drank himself to death,” Landon to Grassle, according to her memoir.
“The obits said lung cancer, but Mike knew better,” Grassle wrote. “Another big, gifted guy killed by alcoholism.”
Grassle embarked on a path of sobriety in June 1977 and is grateful for the life-changing decision.
“It’s so meaningful because everything changes from that day,” she remarked. “I looked at life in an entirely new way. I was able to truly discover who I was and what I wanted in life. And boy, it was a lot of work. And it was all worth it.”
How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.