Michael Landon recruited some pals from Bonanza to help him launch Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Serving as executive producer and main character Charles Ingalls, Landon cast theater actor Karen Grassle to portray his onscreen wife, Caroline. Grassle noted an immediate bond between the men on the cast and crew and often felt like the “odd person out”. Yet one episode helped her achieve some camaraderie from the guys on the Little House set.
Karen Grassle considered ‘Little House’ set a ‘boys’ world’
In a recent interview to promote her memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Grassle recalled the somewhat exclusive club-like atmosphere created by the men on the set of Little House.
“Little House was a boys’ world,” she told Next Avenue in November 2021. “A lot of them worked together on Bonanza for years. They were family. They talked about sports every Monday, they all drank hard. I was definitely the odd person out.”
Grassle discussed the dynamic in her book, describing how her male colleagues would talk sports at the beginning of each work week.
“Mike [Landon] and the crew had enviable camaraderie on Mondays,” she wrote in Bright Lights, Prairie Dust. “All about the game. ‘How ’bout them…!’ For a while I tried to read the sports pages so I could at least follow their dialogue, if not participate, but that didn’t last. I was not one of the boys. And they knew I was no jock.”
Season 1 episode brought a challenge for Karen Grassle
In the season one episode “School Mom”, Grassle had to substitute teach the kids of Walnut Grove in place of Miss Beadle (Charlotte Stewart). When the school children doubt Caroline’s credentials in teaching, a student challenges her to hit a baseball. Caroline gives it a try in the hopes of earning their favor.
“So she takes the whole bunch out to the school yard,” Grassle explained of the scene. “[The student] hits a big one. She congratulates him; he challenges her to hit the ball. And she knocks it away, gaining the kids’ respect.”
Grassle had no training in baseball and was apprehensive about being able to pull off the scene. She tried some imagery exercises to psyche herself up for the task.
“I’d read about famous athletes who visualized plays over and over, seeing themselves succeeding,” the Little House alum wrote. “So now as Caroline, nervous about my ability to even hit the ball, I grabbed every second – eating breakfast, riding in the car, in line at the bank – to close my eyes and picture myself hitting that ball. Again. And again.”
Karen Grassle knocked it out of the park
Grassle was nervous the day she had to film the scene and knew the crew probably had low expectations of her baseball prowess.
“I imagine the crew was preparing to be patient, even to fake the shot, if necessary,” she remembered. “But then came the pitch, and… whack! I knocked that ball home – a crack shot, take that! The best boy jumped back, the gaffer’s head snapped sideways, eyebrows shot up like birds taking off, heads shaking as the director called, ‘Cut’.”
The Little House star was applauded by her male colleagues and felt she was seen in a different light – at least for that day.
“The guys gave me a big hand, turned to each other and chuckled,” Grassle shared. “I was as stunned as they were, but that hit earned me brotherhood, for that moment, just as it earned Caroline respect with the school kids.”
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