Karen Grassle

Active - 1974 - 2021  |   Born - Feb 25, 1942 in Berkeley, California  |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Karen Grassle entered the University of California-Berkeley as an English major, but active participation in school plays led her to change her field of interest and to graduate with a BA in drama. Supporting herself with menial jobs, Grassle went on to study in a San Francisco acting workshop, then went to London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on a Fulbright scholarship. After acting in regional repertory, Grassle received her first New York break in the 1968 play The Gingham Tree...which lasted all of five performances, but which led to steadier engagements with producer Joseph Papp and several Manhattan-based TV soap operas. Hoping to boost her career, Grassle briefly changed her professional name to Kay Dillinger, claiming to be the illegitimate offspring of the notorious 1930s bank robber (who died ten years before Karen was born!) When she came to LA in 1973 for a never-completed movie project, she was calling herself Gabriel Tree, and it was under this name that she beat out 47 other actresses for the role of Caroline Ingalls in the long-running TV drama Little House on the Prairie (co-star Michael Landon convinced her to revert to her given name). During the nine-year run of Little House, Karen Grassle frequently groused about the limitations of her role, but in recent years she has been seen on TV commercials, warmly endorsing a videotaped collection of the best Little House on the Prairie episodes.

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