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'My own family was more complicated': Little House On The Prairie's Ma reflects on growing up on the South Coast before finding fame

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Karen Grassle
Karen Grassle, who played Ma in Little House On The Prairie, has released her memoir

It was one of the most popular TV shows of the 70s and 80s – but did you know that Little House On The Prairie’s Ma – played by Karen Grassle grew up in Ventura?

She played Ma - Caroline Ingalls in the drama series – Little House on the Prairie – which premiered on NBC in 1974 and ended in 1982.

Now 79, Karen Grassle has penned a memoir about her time on the show.

She was one of the best-known actresses on TV at a time when roles for women were few and far between.

"You start out knowing that there just are not going to be as many parts, your road is going to be tougher," said Grassle.

"You have to look great all the time. I had to be at the make-up table at 6.30am and Mike [Michael Landon] would have to be there at 7.30.

"There are lots of challenges that come up especially for women - particularly for young innocent women that generally don't come up for men, in the way of the #metoo movement," she told KCLU.

Karen grew up in Ventura, graduating from Ventura High School in the class of 1959 and getting her start in acting with a starring role in the senior play.

"I love Ventura. At the time I had no idea what a paradise it was," she said.

"My dad used to say, 'Isn't that fog great?'" she laughs.

But despite the successful career – behind the scenes, Karen struggled with alcoholism and depression.

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Lisa Keating
Karen Grassle

"Little House was an idealized family," she told KCLU. "And I wanted to also speak to families who were more complicated. My own family were more complicated.

"My dad was alcoholic. He was a depressive. I inherited his alcoholism and his depression. I was beaten by that by the time I had been on the show for 2 or 3 years. My health was going down fast and I had to do something."

She says that a friend intervened to encourage her to seek help, which she did.

"My own father died of alcoholism right there in Ventura," she told KCLU.

She said she needed support of professionals and friends, to give up alcohol.

"If you have the disease then alcohol gives you something that's so special and immediately do you not go, get that medicine?"

On Saturday November 20, she will be back in Ventura, talking about her new book and signing copies at Timbre Books. The store asks that attendees RSVP via email to

Bright Lights, Prairie Dust – Reflections on Life, Loss and Love from Little House’s Ma is published on November 16.

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She's signing copies of her new book on Saturday in Ventura

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award this year, and also won two further first place awards, for Lifestyle Feature and Personality Profile/Interview. Last year, Caroline won first place for Use Of Sound. She also won two Golden Mike Awards this year, for Best News Reporting and Best Entertainment Reporting, as well as a National Arts & Entertainment Award from LA Press Club for One-on-One interview. Caroline started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and she was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007. She moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and is both an American and British citizen. Caroline lives in Agoura Hills with her daughter - her proudest production.