Karen Grassle was born on February 25th, 1944 in Berkeley, California. Karen was known as the miracle baby in her family because, previous to her birth, her mother had 4 miscarriages. Her father, Gene Grassle, ran a gas station and her mother managed a restaurant.
By the time she graduated high school in 1960, she was the vice president of the student body. Karen Grassle entered the University of California-Berkeley as an English major, but later added Theatre to her studies. She then attended a San Francisco acting workshop, received a scholarship and went to London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she later became the head of the Voice Department. Her first New York break was the play "The Gingham Tree." She had to borrow a dollar from a friend to go to the audition!
She changed her name to Gabriel Tree, which was the name under which she auditioned for "Little House on the Prairie", but Michael Landon convinced her to change it back. Karen Grassle was one of 48 actresses vying for the part of "Ma". After the series, she was featured as a guest star on various television shows and toured the country performing in numerous plays. Later on, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to continue her work in the theatre. She was the co-founder and artistic director of Sante Fe’s Resource Theatre Company and recently starred in “Wit” at the Arizona Theater Company. She was married twice, first to Leon Russom, then to J. Alan Radford in 1982. She now lives in Pacific Palisades, California, with her adopted daughter, Lily.