Interview with Steven Swenson
This interview with Karl's son Steven was made through e-mail in July 2006.
BIG thanks to Steven for taking the time to answer my questions!
I'm told Karl was of Swedish descent but born in the USA. Do you know
when his family first arrived in the USA (and who they were), and possibly
where in Sweden they were from?
Steven: Karl was born in Brooklyn, NY.
I believe his parents were born in Sweden, came to the states, returned to Sweden once, and then came back to the states. My grandfather was, I believe a carpenter. We used to have some of his carpentry tools.
I visited Swedish relatives in June of 1967. There were two brothers in Bromma, a suburb of Stockholm. Their last name was Mjönes. One was a Lutheran (state church) minister and the other was a doctor specializing in geriatrics.
I also visited Svensson relatives on the same trip. They were farmers living near Anten in the western part of Sweden.
Do you know if Karl ever visited Sweden?
Steven: I believe Karl and Joan visited these same relatives before I was there.
Karl was quite known for doing roles with a Scandinavian accents, but did he speak Swedish himself, or was he just able to do a good accent?
Steven: I seem to remember my father saying that he could speak Swedish, but only after he'd sat and listened to others speaking it for a while. My Grandmother used to speak Swedish to my brothers and me but only enough to tell us to wash our hands.
Was there any part in all the movies and shows he appeared on that he was especially proud of, or especially enjoyed filming?
Steven: I believe he enjoyed doing radio more than television or movies. His friends from radio were like aunts and uncles to my brothers and me. There was a radio show called Lorenzo Jones in which Karl Swenson had the lead. The writers of Lorenzo Jones were Teddy and Mat Ferro and they were family friends and were sincerely interested in how we Swenson boys were doing.
How did Karl get the part of Lars Hanson on Little House on the Prairie?
Steven: Joan and Karl moved to California around 1957. The prognosis for radio drama was not good because the radio audience had largely become a television audience. Karl Swenson was a freelance actor before "Little House" and in some of his parts he played Swedes. There was a Gunsmoke episode from 1966 where he played a Swedish immigrant and Jon Voight played his son. He also played a Swede in the John Wayne picture, "North to Alaska".
Sadly, Karl passed away 8 days before the Little House episode where his character Mr Hanson died aired on television in the USA. Do you know if he had decided to leave the show because of his own health problems, or was it just a tragic coincidence?
Steven: As far as I know he did not request to be written out of the show.
For many of us who are used to hearing Karl's Scandinavian accent it is quite a change to hear him as the very British sounding Merlin in Disney's The Sword in the Stone. Did Karl have a special interest in doing different accents?
Steven: When my father was studying acting two of his teachers, Maria Ouspenskya and Tamara Dakarhanova, had been involved with the Moscow Art Theatre. This, to me, indicates that they would teach "method" (Stanislavsky) acting.
Karl Swenson did play Russians, Germans and Englishmen. He even played a Norwegian!