Karen Grassle starred in the NBC family drama Little House on the Prairie set in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Michael Landon created the series in 1974 and the two played lead characters, Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Landon assembled a cast from varied backgrounds to play family members and townspeople, including this actor who Grassle claimed could be quite a charmer.
Grassle considered ‘Little House’ co-stars solid actors
Landon didn’t go for high-profile names when he cast the community of Walnut Grove. Hiring actors from the stage and small screen, the Bonanza alum sought to provide an earthiness to the characters. Grassle noticed how some of her co-stars were very similar to the roles they played.
“Richard Bull… was the quintessential actor,” Grassle wrote in her book Bright Lights, Prairie Dust of Bull, who played store owner Nels Oleson. “Fully prepared, always excellent, with never a moment of friction. … He had the virtues of modesty and humility, just as Mr. Oleson did, and never made a big deal of himself.”
Dabbs Greer portrayed Reverend Alden, the town’s mild-mannered minister. Grassle credited his gentle spirit in real life as to why he was so often cast as a man of the cloth.
“He emanated the quality of simple kindness,” Grassle shared. “His work was clean and specific and full. He was prompt, no nonsense, easily delivering in a timely manner. Whenever Dabbs was on set, I felt glad, he was so warm and gentlemanly and had such a light touch. He lived in Pasadena, where he took care of his elderly mother.”
Walnut Grove’s Doc Baker tended to be a ladies’ man
Kevin Hagen played the town doctor, Hiram Baker. His parents were professional ballroom dancers and the actor apparently inherited their talent.
“As Doc Baker, Kevin Hagen had romantic appeal hidden by his character’s spectacles,” Grassle revealed. “Red-headed and tall, he was warm, and a graceful dancer.”
According to IMDb, Hagen started acting in the late 1950s and appeared in televisions shows such as Young Derringer, The Outcasts, and Land of the Giants. He was married four times, which may explain why Grassle considered him to be somewhat of a Romeo.
“He was also something of a lady-killer,” she wrote. “As Doc, his mellow voice, wise face, and bright blue eyes inspired confidence, and few of us could have guessed he was a dedicated single parent raising a young son.”
Michael Landon purposely recruited unknown actors
Charlotte Stewart played school teacher Miss Beadle on Little House for the show’s first four seasons. She noted that Landon had a strategy when casting the series, and sought out lesser known actors for specific reasons.
“Ultimately this approach to casting accomplished a few things,” Stewart remarked in her memoir Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me. “First, Mike got us pretty inexpensively by Hollywood standards. … Even Kevin Hagen said publicly once that they ‘got us cheap.’”
She also pointed out that with many of their previous roles being technically unmemorable, there was no risk of the actors being typecast.
“The second thing is that since none of us brought any identification with other shows or films, it was easy for the audience to see us more purely as characters in the world of Walnut Grove,” Stewart explained. “For example, you didn’t look at Mr. Oleson and say to yourself, ‘He’s good here but he was great in My Favorite Martian‘, or anything like that.”
Stewart added one more significant factor, writing, “Finally, and I’m not trying to be snarky by saying this, it ensured that Mike was the star of the show.”