Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Happy Birthday to Karen Grassle!

Welcome to a new feature around here, something we've been wanting to do for a while -- birthday salutes to some of our favorite television performers! Today we've got a great one, to the lovely and talented Karen Grassle, probably best known and certainly much beloved for her role as Caroline Ingalls on Michael Landon's immortal Little House on the Prairie Series, from the 1970s. Karen was born on February 25, 1944 (some sources say 1942) in Berkeley, California, and after extensive theatrical training and appearances she was one of nearly fifty actresses who read for the part of Mrs. Ingalls.

Lucky for us all, she got the part and along with the entire cast helped put Walnut Grove into the hearts of audiences everywhere. Producer/star Michael Landon certainly knew what he was doing with Little House on the Prairie; the show holds up beautifully today and I daresay we'll probably never see a show as humane, inspirational, and charming as this one.

While the show's primary strength and appeal lay in its excellence as an ensemble vehicle, Karen Grassle had several episodes which showcased her individual virtuosity, most impressively so in "A Matter of Faith" from the show's second season. Caroline Ingalls' leg is scratched by a rusty nail, she is left alone when the rest of the family goes off on a short trip, she develops a virulent infection, and amidst hallucinations and intense agony she fights desperately for her life. It's completely harrowing, a riveting piece of acting on Grassle's part, and you can find highlights of the episode on YouTube, starting here.

Another excellent and slightly different side of Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls is seen in the fourth season episode "The Handyman" when the very appealling Gil Gerard guest stars as an itinerant laborer who is hired by Caroline to fix some things while Charles is away on business. Though Caroline's devotion to her husband is never in question, there's a frisson of attraction between the two and it's quite intriguing. The whole episode is on YouTube, beginning here.

Though it's a little histrionic, here's an interesting clip to look at, from the episode "The Bully Boys". Town roughnecks have manhandled and scared Caroline, and Charles doesn't like it one little bit.

Since Little House on the Prairie, Karen Grassle has been active on television, in the theatre in many capacities, and you may have seen her current commercials for Premier Bathrooms, who make those nifty safe bathtubs. (Little House currently airs on the Hallmark Channel.)

A big Flaming Nose Happy Birthday to one of television's favorite actresses, Karen Grassle!

(This photo is from the episode "At the End of the Rainbow" when Laura thinks she's found gold and dreams of her family all fancied up and driving around in a white carriage. Gorgeous, isn't she?)


LAGal said...

Wow. I didn't know this would be a new feature. Very exciting.

I couldn't agree more. This show was indeed inspirational, humane and charming.


Jane said...

To Ms. Karen Grassle-Happy Birthday! To Ms. Lisa: "You're playing them out of order...why must you play them out of order!"

Sorry, could not resist a KTLA historical reference which has delighted me for years when it comes to "Little House".

Lisa said...

Yes, Jane, I remember so well when I'd pull a Halloween ep or something to play on the holiday, and get the phone calls. Goodness knows I'm more of a purist about TV than most of the nuts out there, but taking the calls was always part fun and part frustration!

I think we are the perfect place to salute folks on birthdays! Please chime in!

I just *love* "Little House", especially the first few seasons, before, as I always say, everybody seemed to go blind. Those early years were tremendous television and Hallmark is running some of the early ones now. Tune in!

Jane said...

Little House on the Prairie is the TV series equivalent of the "Train to Willoughby" episode of Twilight Zone for me. It's a return to a less complicated, cluttered, psychotic time when people carried lunches in pails and community meant something more comforting than a bunch of connected social networking profiles. I find modern life so relentlessly stressful and devoid of pleasure, it would almost be worth going blind to live in turn of the century Walnut Grove.