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Karen Grassle Never Had Any Biological Children - She Refused Many Roles Wanting a Family

Gracious Egedegbe
Mar 07, 2022
06:20 A.M.
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Karen Grassle turned down many roles because she had her sights set on becoming a mother in real life — she never got biological kids, but she did end up with a stepchild and an adopted one. Here are the details. 

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Karen Grassle, who played "Ma" in "Little House," was born in Berkeley, California, and despite her stardom, it's where she still lives today.

She grew up with a father who was a suicidal alcoholic, but her mother, Frae, had been long-suffering. Still, in the end, it was because of her determination that she was able to stay afloat during the great depression as a schoolteacher. 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls in "Little House of the Prairie" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images

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Grassle got the coveted role of Ma in January 1973 after she left New York for Los Angeles. While operating out of Manhattan, the thespian, who trained in London, mainly appeared in theater. 

It didn't pay her much, and that helped her keep her drinking habits in check, but that changed when she landed the role in "Little House." 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls in "Little House of the Prairie" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images

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Despite how terrible things got with her drinking, Grassle still looks back on some parts of her time as Ma with fondness — it was one of the times she felt like a mother even if it had been acting. 

During the filming of "Little House's" first season, Grassle established a special connection with Melissa Gilbert, who played her movie daughter, Laura Ingalls, aka "Half Pint." 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls in "Little House of the Prairie" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images

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She also spent time developing a relationship with her other on-screen children so they would feel comfortable with being called her kids during the scenes that would be filmed. 

Grassle put a lot of effort into that, but only a few could have guessed it was because she loved the idea of being a caring mother even though, in reality, the actress had no biological kids. 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls in "Little House of the Prairie" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images

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HER LIFE BEFORE THE SHOW

Karen Grassle was broke when she was awarded the role of Caroline "Ma" Ingalls" in "Little House on The Prairie." When she landed the life-changing role, she had spent a year in England, teaching and collaborating with a Shakespeare company.

She had been petitioned to travel down to LA to play the lead role in an independent movie, but when she arrived at the airport, there was no ticket, and when she eventually made it to LA, the film didn't pan out. 

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Unrelenting, her agent had her try out for a series featuring Michael Landon, and it ended up being "Little House on the Prairie." 

She was told to appear at Paramount studios in a dress and with no makeup, but Grassle cheated a bit by dabbing on a bit of brown eyeshadow. Nevertheless, her performance pleased Landon, who asked them to send her "to the wardrobe." 

Karen Grassle and John Beck attend the party for 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 12, 1981 at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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"Little House" is a period drama that followed every adventure the Ingalls family were drawn into in the 19th century American Midwest. When it came to playing "Ma," Grassle channeled a woman she had admired even as a child, her mother, Caroline. 

The show did very well, even entering the top 10, and it got Grassle out of poverty even though she wasn't getting paid as much as she could have been at the beginning. 

Actress Karen Grassle on October 4, 1987 dines at Spago in West Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

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HER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE COSTARS

When Grassle got on the cast of "Little House," Michael Landon, who was acting as "Pa," had been easy on her, giving her a smooth entry into the world of screen acting. According to the actress who admitted to being "selfish," parenthood taught her patience.

When filming began, Grassle quickly developed a relationship with the cast to make it easier to work with them. She shared a close relationship with all her on-screen children, but her bond with Melissa Gilbert was the strongest.  

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They seemed to like each other genuinely, but where Melissa Sue Anderson and identical twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush are concerned, she just wanted to get comfortable so they would be at ease doing scenes with her as their mother. 

Her relationship with the kids remained relatively constant throughout the series, but she and Landon had a falling out at some point because he didn't want the network to review her pay. 

She believed she deserved it as the show had been doing well in its second season, but Landon had reportedly tried to get her to stand down several times, saying goodbye she didn't know how it was out there.  

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After all, was said and done, negotiations began, and Grassle won the network. Following her victory, "ma" appeared less and less in scenes, and Landon acted "moody" when she came around. 

The worst he reportedly used crude language during their shared bedroom scenes. They were parts she had anticipated, but he deliberately ruined them for her. The actor is late now, but Grassle reportedly made up with him before his death. 

Melissa Gilbert, Matthew Laborteaux, Melisssa Sue Anderson, Linwood Boomer, Michael Landon, Lindsay or Sydney Greenbush, and Karen Grassle on the set of "Little House on the Prairie" | Source: Getty Images

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SHE HAS THREE FAILED MARRIAGES 

Grassle put a lot into playing her role on "Little House," but not many know that the actress is also a big fan of family in reality even though she has had more than three different husbands, none of whom made her happy enough to stay. 

The first was Leon Russom, who she was married to between 1966 and 1970. They met while they were both trying to build their careers as performers. 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls in "Little House of the Prairie" in 1979 | Source: Getty Images.

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They got married on a leap of faith, but they had financial constraints as they hunted for steady jobs in Hollywood. The marriage became an unhappy one over time, and eventually, they chose to end things. 

The second man Grassle married was James Alan Radford, and they adopted two kids, Zachary and Lily, during the marriage, which began in 1982 and ended in 1987. Even though the marriage didn't last long, Grassle still keeps in touch with Radford, and together they raised their two kids. 

Dr. Scott Sutherland is the third man she tied the knot with, but while the marriage lasted from 1991 until 1997, very little information is out on the Web about the details of the relationship.

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Karen Grassle attends the party for 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 12, 1981 at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

SHE WITHDREW TO PURSUE MOTHERHOOD

Grassle found fame with "Little House," After the show ended in 1983, she kept pursuing her acting career even though she claimed to have been typecast. She told Closer Weekly:

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"Yeah, a lot of scripts were sent to me with people who wore a bun. I did [have trouble getting roles after]."

It didn't matter because, after the show, her priorities shifted to having a family, so she spent more of her time learning to become a better stepmom and trying to have a child of her own. Despite her effort, she never had a biological child of her own and has instead tried to be the best stepmom. 

Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls and Lindsay or Sydney Greenbush as Carrie Ingalls in "Little House of the Prairie" in 1974 | Source: Getty Images

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SHE LOVES BEING A MOM

Grassle's path to motherhood was not smooth, but that hasn't stopped her from enjoying her role as a doting mother who enjoys spending time with her son. 

Regarding becoming a parent, Grassle described it as a life-changing realization that someone is utterly dependent on you to live. 

Actress Karen Grassle attends the Cable Show in California in 2014 | Source: Getty Images.

According to the actress who admitted to being "selfish," parenthood taught her patience. She now lives about two miles from where she was born and enjoyed a blessed life with her son. 

When they are not hiking the hills and the redwoods, find them tide pooling by the Pacific or simply enjoying each other's company during a visit or over good food. A blessed life indeed. 

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