Friday, March 4, 2022

Bright Lights, Prairie Dust by Karen Grassle

Growing up, I have memories of heading downstairs on Monday nights to watch Little House on the Prairie. Given my age and the show's run from from 1974 to 1982, I must have picked it up in the 5th or 6th season. Likely, it was shortly before I started reading the books that I started to watch the show. I caught the older episodes in reruns (syndication) and was totally into the show. Of course, it romanticized the life of a family on the prairie, showing some of the hard work and hardships but mostly focusing on the family and the great times that they had together.

Of course, as with most shows that run that long, you become attached to the characters and you begin to identify the actors as those poeple. Sure, there were lots of celebrity guests that there was no problem coorelating them to other roles. I remember the first time I saw Melissa Gilbert in another role and how strange it was to see her in a modern day setting.

When I read a few months back that Karen Grassle was releasing a book, I decided that I wanted to read it and promptly placed a hold on it at the library. I started reading it last month and finished it up a few days ago, coincidentally on Karen Grassle's 80th birthday (February 25th). I was scrolling Facebook and there was a birthday wish to Karen Grassle - how did it know that I was reading that book, that is one of many things that always surprise me a bit.

Grassle lead a very interesting life, far differnt than the character I knew from the show. Obviously, that is to be expected but still there were so many things in her life that I didn't know about. She struggled to get where she is and overcame a lot of obstacles on her journey.

I had in part expected that there would be more about Little House on the Prairie in the book but really, the focus was on Grassle's life - the challenges and obstacles that she faced, how she dealt with them and eventually overcame many of them. The book was engrossing and reasonably well-written, although there were times where it followed a path to tie up a loose end and then returned to the time that she went off on the tangent. She tells her story with honesty and perspective.

I enjoyed learning more about her parents, her childhood and her sister. You could feel the love for her parents and knew that she was raised in a loving home - "All they wanted was to have a family, give them a good education and be able to tell anyone to go to hell" - even though it was troubled with addictions and her parent's coping methods were not always ideal. I found it interesting that as a child she studied ballet, and was pretty good at it, before moving into acting. I enjoyed learning about her growing up, her college years and the time that she spent in England on a Fulbright Fellowship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

She brought the reader along for the journey as she pursued her dreams, with financial support when needed from her parents, in the tumultuous era of the 60s and 70s. She found her fair share of trouble and actively sought counseling to help her through things. She was a participant and supporter of the activism that was part of coming of age in that era, and there was evidence of the influence it had on her as she continued to be an advocate for change. Her experiences working in the theatre and her classical training were influential in how she approached acting throughout her career. It was interesting to learn about the shifts that she had to make in approach as she moved into television and the schedules that they keep in television series.

When we first meet Michael Landon in her book, I totally expected a great relationship but as I continued I learned about several struggles that she experienced. I was not aware of those issues, like her struggle to acheive fair compensation. and never would have guessed it based on all my years watching the show, both while new and in reruns. It was interesting to learn more about some of the other actors and which she was friend's with off the set. I was not aware of the other side projects that she had worked on while filming Little House on the Prairie, including a show that she helped research, write and act in about abusive relationships. A show that impacted a lot of people and drove change for the good.

In the last bit of the book, she shared with the reader about finally recognizing that she needed help with her alcoholism. The efforts she made, the support she needed and the struggles as she sought to overcome it and move forward. She talked about the life that she was able to start to live. About finding love and having a family.

All and all, I enjoyed getting to know Karen Grassle for who she is and where she came from. She did a good job telling her story; honestly sharing with the readers about her life, her values, her challenges, her mistakes and her achievements. I liked learning about her life experiences and the people that crossed her path and how both impacted her life and the person she became. She faced many struggles and challenges and wasn't proud of some of the things that she had done but as she turned 80, I think she is good with where she is and who she ultimately is. In my mind, she will always be Ma living on the Prairie with Pa and the kids but now I feel like I know the rest of her story.

No compensation was received for this review and I got the copy I read through my local library. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.