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Why ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Karen Grassle Divorced Her First Husband

Little House on the Prairie star Karen Grassle shared some of the significant events from her life and career. Here’s what she said about her first marriage and why it didn’t last.

Karen Grassle’s first marriage

Grassle met her first husband, Leon Russom, during their early days as theatre actors. She says Russom recognized her from a photo and decided to say hello. Grassle says she found out later that Russom said he was going to fall in love with her after he saw her picture.

The newlyweds were trying to carve out a path and make a name for themselves in theatre. They clicked instantly, and became like “two peas in a pod,” says Grassle in her book Bright Lights, Prairie Dust. The two grew close and eventually moved into together. Grassle says they initially had cold feet about getting married but decided to “take a leap of faith” in 1966 and get married at a courthouse.

Financial trouble

Grassle and her new husband struggled to make ends meet. At first, they lived with a friend, then they took up housesitting jobs. Grassle describes living in places with “roach armies” and hearing rodents scampering across the floor (she was afraid they were rats).

Grassle learned how to stretch her money so that she and her husband could get through the month. Eventually, Russom got steady work. However, this didn’t solve the couple’s money woes.

Why ‘Little House on the Prairie’ star Karen Grassle divorced her first husband

Grassle says one day a “wolf” came to their apartment door. The man was a debt collector looking for payment on unpaid bills. Grassle says she was confused and ashamed by the visit. She didn’t understand what was going on. She says she later discovered her husband hadn’t been paying the bills. According to her, their bank account was also empty.  

Grassle says she was mad at her husband, but her anger didn’t change their financial situation. “We were broke,” she says in her book. It would be a few years before she landed the role as Caroline Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie, so money was tight.

Grassle’s husband accepted a theatre job, and she took on a job as a fit model so she could help with the bills. However, things suddenly went downhill after Grassle’s husband announced he wanted to move out. She believes their financial issues strained their marriage.

Grassle went to Boston to take a theatre job. She hoped her husband would reconsider the divorce while she was away. She says her husband unexpectedly showed up in Boston. He was able to get a theatre job there. The two briefly got back together but things began to go bad again. Grassle says when she went to deposit her check and withdraw money for a train ticket, she discovered there was no money in the account. According to her, all of her money was gone from the check she deposited a few weeks prior for her work in a Broadway show.  

This situation made Grassle seriously consider divorce. The first time this happened, she figured it was a mistake, but the second time, Grassle concluded her husband wasn’t responsible with money.

“I knew I couldn’t live like this,” she wrote. They separated and briefly reunited a few months later, but Grassle ultimately decided to divorce her husband. She says the final straw was when he didn’t contact her for an extended period of time. She declared “something snapped” inside of her and she decided she had enough. The couple divorced in 1970.

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: Karen Grassle Says Michael Landon Got Close to Her During a Rehearsal

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