Fans of the Little House on the Prairie TV series could never forget Ma—a.k.a. Caroline Ingalls—who was played by Karen Grassle on the series for eight seasons. And Grassle herself is still inspired by the character today, too. "Caroline was an incredibly strong woman with a nature full of texture," the actor told the New York Post in 2021. "Her spirit is one to live by."
Now, it's been 40 years since Grassle played Ma on the show, but at 80, she's still acting. The performer appears both on stage—where she got her start before Little House—and on screen. Read on to find out more about her life today, from her most recent roles to her other endeavors.
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Grassle is still working at 80.
Around the time Little House on the Prairie was on the air, Grassle was also in several TV movies and episodes of Murder, She Wrote; The Love Boat, and Hotel. Later, after the 1980s, her onscreen career slowed down. She was in the movie Wyatt Earp in 1994, but then did not return on movie and TV work until 2011. Most recently, she was in the 2017 movie Lasso and the 2021 movie Not to Forget.
She also has a career in theater.
Grassle studied theater at the University of California at Berkeley and at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. When she was cast in Little House on the Prairie, she had already been acting on stage in New York City, including on Broadway.
Grassle has continued to perform in plays. Recently, she was in a run of On Golden Pond at the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia in Ontario, Canada, which she documented on Instagram.
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She wrote a memoir.
Grassle published her memoir, Bright Lights, Prairie Dust: Reflections on Life, Loss, and Love by House's Ma, in 2021. The book talks about her experience making Little House on the Prairie, including her sometimes strained relationship with co-star Michael Landon, as well as stories from her personal life. Grassle goes into detail about her struggles with drinking and her experience being sober since the late '70s.
In one part of the book, she writes about realizing the connection she shares with her character. "I didn't suspect that my true desire was for stability, a husband who wanted a family, and children of my own," Grassle writes (via the New York Post). "I didn't have a clue that I wanted what Caroline Ingalls actually had."
She loves spending time with her son.
Grassle has been married three times and divorced her last husband in 1997. With her second husband, James Allen Radford, she welcomed a son, Zach Radford, in 1985. The actor sometimes posts about spending time with him on her Instagram account, such as his recent birthday celebration. She wrote on her website, "Several years ago, my son, Zach Radford, an IT guy by trade, moved to this area and that has enhanced my life immeasurably—though he doesn't expect to stay here. Maybe he has to roam until he finds his home. In the meantime, we hike in the hills and the redwoods, go tide pooling by the Pacific, and meet to eat and visit."
She attends fan conventions.
Grassle attends conventions where she can meet fans of Little House on the Prairie. At one recent convention, she reunited with co-stars Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson.
"I am still so thrilled at how much fun I had with @melissagilbertofficial and @alisonarngrim at Fanboy Expo last weekend!" Grassle wrote on Instagram.